All of Derek's Comments + Replies

Sleep: effective ways to improve it

Thanks. I tried 5-HTP a few years ago and didn't notice any benefit, but maybe I'll give it another go.

Donating money, buying happiness: new meta-analyses comparing the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers and psychotherapy in terms of subjective well-being

Thanks for the reply. I don't have much more time to think about this at the moment, but some quick thoughts:

  1. On time discounting: It might have been reasonable to omit discounting in this case for the reasons you suggest, but (a) it limits comparability across analyses if you or others do it elsewhere; (b) for various reasons, it would be good to have some estimate of the absolute, not just relative, costs and effects of these interventions; and (c) it's pretty easy to implement in most software, e.g. Excel and R (maybe less so in Guesstimate), so there is
... (read more)
1JoelMcGuire1moHi Derek, thank you for your comment and for clarifying a few things. 1. Time discounting: We will revisit time discounting when looking at interventions with longer time scales. To be clear, we plan to update these analyses for backwards compatibility as we introduce refinements to our models and analyse new interventions. 2. Costs: You’re right, expenses in an organisation can be lumpy over time. If costs are high in all previous years but low in 2019 and we only use the 2019 figures, we'd probably be making a wrong prediction about future costs. I think a reasonable way to account for this is by treating the cost for an organisation as an average of the previous years, where you give more weight increasingly to years closer to the present. 3. Depression data: Thanks for the clarification; I think I understand better now. We make a critical assumption that a one-unit improvement in depression scales corresponds to the same improvement in well-being as a one-unit change in subjective well-being scales. If SWB is our gold standard, we can ask if depression scale changes predict SWB scale changes. Our preliminary analyses suggest that the difference here would, in any case, be pretty small. For cash transfers, we found the 'SWB only' effect would be about 13% larger than the pooled 'SWB-and-MH' effect (see page 10, footnote 16 [http://www.happierlivesinstitute.org/uploads/1/0/9/9/109970865/the_cost-effectiveness_of_cash_transfers_at_increasing_subjective_well-being_and_affective_mental_health_oct25.pdf] ). To assess therapy, we looked at some psychological interventions that had outcome measures in SWB and MH and found the SWB effect was 11% smaller (see p27-8) [https://www.happierlivesinstitute.org/uploads/1/0/9/9/109970865/cost-effectiveness_analysis__group_or_task-shifted_psychotherapy_to_treat_depression_oct21.pdf] . We'd like to dig further into this in the future. But these
Donating money, buying happiness: new meta-analyses comparing the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers and psychotherapy in terms of subjective well-being

There is much to be admired in this report, and I don't find it intuitively implausible that mental health interventions are several times more cost-effective than cash transfers in terms of wellbeing (which I also agree is probably what matters most). That said, I have several concerns/questions about certain aspects of the methodology, most of which have already been raised by others. Here are just a few of them, in roughly ascending order of importance:

  1. Outcomes should be time-discounted, for at least two reasons. First, to account for uncertainty as to
... (read more)
1JoelMcGuire2moHi Derek, it’s good to hear from you, and I appreciate your detailed comments. You suggest several features we should consider in our following intervention comparison and version of these analyses. I think trying to test the robustness of our results to more fundamental assumptions is where we are likeliest to see our uncertainty expand. But I moderately disagree that this is straightforward to adapt our model to. I’ll address your points in turn. * Time discounting: We omitted time-discounting because we only look at effects lasting ten years or less. Given our limited time available, adding a section discussing time-discounting would not be worth the effort. It’s worth noting that adding time discounting would only make psychotherapy look better because cash transfers’ benefits last longer. * Cost of StrongMinds: We include all costs StrongMinds incurs. The cost is "total expenditure of StrongMinds" / "number of people treated". We don't record any monetary cost to the beneficiary. If an expense to a beneficiary is bad because it decreases their wellbeing, we expect subjective well-being to account for that. * Only depression data? We have subjective well-being and mental health measures for cash transfers, but only the latter for psychotherapy. We discuss why we don’t think differences between MH and SWB measures will make much difference in sections 3.1 of the CT CEA and Appendix A of the psychotherapy report. Section 4.4 of the psychotherapy report discusses the literature on social desirability/experimenter demand (what I take you’re pointing to with your concern about “loading the dice”). The limited evidence suggests, perhaps surprisingly, that people don’t seem very responsive to the perceived demands of the experimenter, in general, or in LMIC settings. * Spillovers: We are working on updating our analysis to include household spillovers. We discuss the intra village spillovers in the cost-effectiven
Sleep: effective ways to improve it

Is the CO2 accumulation entirely due to human (or I suppose animal) respiration? So it will typically be worse in small houses with lots of people (holding other factors, like ventilation, constant)?

In a modern house, with no open fires, lead paint etc, what "household air pollution" might there be?

2RayTaylor9dMore than you would think - a lot from kitchen, some from (newer) furniture, some faecal matter from mites, house dust which is largely human skin, cleaning chemicals, ozone, positive ions (the bad ones) from laptops especially Macbooks, mould spores, etc. www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/indoor-air-pollution/causes-and-effects [https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/indoor-air-pollution/causes-and-effects] www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality [https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/introduction-indoor-air-quality] but in may countries the original source of 'household' (indoor) air pollution is actually from outside the home: www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-indoor-air-pollution.php [https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-indoor-air-pollution.php] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5089137 [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5089137/] I bought two HEPA filters to help protect others during a home isolation, but I also had in mind that it would be useful afterwards!
Sleep: effective ways to improve it

Thanks - this is useful and I will explore some of the suggestions.

Is there much research comparing immediate vs extended release melatonin? E.g.:

  1. Is IR better for speeding sleep onset, as one might expect?
  2. Does XR actually improve sleep maintenance/duration more than IR? 
  3. Do they have the same effect on sleep efficiency?
  4. Is the optimal dose the same for each?
  5. Dose aside, do combined IR/XR supplements, or taking a bit of each, give you the 'best of both worlds'?
2RayTaylor9dThe decision may be between IR melatonin and ER 5-HTP which is a precursor: www.foodstuffs.ca/scrapbookmain/2017/5/14/5-htp-vs-melatonin "For some people, taking melatonin will help induce and maintain sleep. However, melatonin supplements usually only work if a person has low levels of melatonin in their system (this situation is commonly found in elderly persons). In other words, if you have normal levels of melatonin, taking melatonin supplements won't be as effective in helping you sleep. That's where 5-HTP comes in. Since it works on serotonin as well (and indirectly on melatonin), it may be a better supplement to take for individuals with normal levels of melatonin that are suffering from insomnia. Because it interacts with serotonin, people who are already on anti-depressants or MAOIs should talk to their doctor before trying 5-HTP (melatonin, on the other hand, is generally safe to use with these other drugs when taken as directed)." www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-taking-melatonin-and-5HTP [https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-taking-melatonin-and-5HTP] General intro to 5-HTP and uses: www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/5-hydroxytryptophan-5-htp [https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/5-hydroxytryptophan-5-htp]
EA-Aligned Impact Investing: Mind Ease Case Study

[Edited on 19 Nov 2021: I removed links to my models and report, as I was asked to do so.]

Just to clarify, our (Derek Foster's/Rethink Priorities') estimated Effect Size of ~0.01–0.02 DALYs averted per paying user assumes a counterfactual of no treatment for anxiety. It is misleading to estimate total DALYs averted without taking into account the proportion of users who would have sought other treatment, such as a different app, and the relative effectiveness of that treatment. 

In our Main Model, these inputs are named "Relative impact of Alternative ... (read more)

8jh2moHi Derek, hope you are doing well. Thank you for sharing your views on this analysis that you completed while you were at Rethink Priorities. The difference between your estimates and Hauke's certainly made our work more interesting. A few points that may be of general interest: * For both analysts we used 3 estimates, an 'optimistic guess', 'best guess' and 'pessimistic guess'. * For users from middle-income countries we doubled the impact estimates. Without reviewing our report/notes in detail, I don't recall the rationale for the specific value of this multiplier. The basic idea is that high-income countries are better served, more competitive markets, so apps are more likely to find users with worse counterfactuals in middle income countries. * The estimates were meant to be conditional on Mind Ease achieving some degree of success. We simply assumed the impact of failure scenarios is 0. Hauke's analysis seems to have made more clear use of this aspect. Not only is Hauke's reading of the literature more optimistic, but he is more optimistic about how much more effective a successful Mind Ease will be relative to the competition. * Indeed the values we used for Derek's analysis, for high income countries, were all less than 0.01. We simplified the 3 estimates, doing a weighted average across the two types of countries, into the single value of 0.01 for Derek's analysis after rounding up (I think the true number may be more like 0.006). The calculations in the post use rounded values so it is easier for a reader to follow. Nevertheless, the results are in line with our more detailed calculations in the original report. * Similar to this point of rounding, we simplified the explanation of the robustness tilt we applied. It wasn't just about Derek vs Hauke. It was also along the dimensions of the business analysis (e.g. success probabilities). We simplified the framing of the robustness tilt both here
EA-Aligned Impact Investing: Mind Ease Case Study

[Edited on 19 Nov 2021: I was asked to remove the links.]

For those who are interested, here is the write-up of my per-user impact estimate (which was based in part on statistical analyses by David Moss): [removed]

The Main Model in Guesstimate is here: [removed]

The Effect Size model, which feeds into the Main Model, is here: [removed]

I was asked to compare it to GiveDirectly donations, so results are expressed as such. Here is the top-level summary:

Our analysis suggests that, compared to doing nothing to relieve anxiety, MindEase causes about as much benefi

... (read more)
Health and happiness research topics—Part 1: Background on QALYs and DALYs

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the comments.

1. Have you done much stakeholder engagement? No. I discuss this a little bit in this section of Part 2, but I basically just suggest that people look into this and come up with a strategy before spending a huge amount of time on the research. I do know of academics who would may be able to advise on this, e.g. people who have developed previous metrics in consultation with NICE etc, but they’re busy and I suspect they wouldn’t want to invest a lot of time into efforts outside academia.

I think they’d reject the assumption tha... (read more)

Health and happiness research topics—Part 1: Background on QALYs and DALYs

I've made a few edits to address some of these issues, e.g.:

Clearly, there are many possible “wellbeing approaches” to economic evaluation and population health summary, defined both by the unit of value (hedonic states, preferences, objective lists, SWB) and by how they aggregate those units when calculating total value. Indeed, welfarism can be understood as a specific form of desire theory combined with a maximising principle (i.e., simple additive aggregation); and extra-welfarism, in some forms, is just an objective list theory plus equity (i.e., no

... (read more)
Health and happiness research topics—Part 1: Background on QALYs and DALYs

Hi Michael. Thanks for the feedback.

A few general points to begin with:

  1. I think it’s generally fine to use terminology any way you like as long as you’re clear about what you mean.
  2. In this piece I was summarising debates in health economics, and my framing reflects that literature.
  3. The main objective of these posts is to highlight particular issues that may deserve further attention from researchers, and sometimes that has to come at the expense of conceptual rigour (or at least I couldn’t think of a way to avoid that tradeoff). Like you, my natural incli
... (read more)
1Derek1yI've made a few edits to address some of these issues, e.g.: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Changed the first two problem headings to avoid ambiguity and, in the first case, to focus on the result of the problem rather than the cause, which helps distinguish it from 5.
EA Forum feature suggestion thread

As far as I can tell, it isn't possible to have line breaks in footnotes (though I may just be doing something wrong). This also precludes bulleted/numbered lists, block quotes, etc. Any chance that could be changed? 

3Aaron Gertler1ySee the "long footnote with multiple blocks" syntax here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/fQ4HGx4AR2QXHR5RL/ea-forum-footnotes-are-live-and-other-updates#Footnotes_are_live] . You need to indent successive lines within a footnote to add line breaks by adding four spaces in front of each line. See here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/E7AJ3CurdZ9RJFbkQ/u-s-executive-branch-appointments-why-you-may-want-to-pursue#_ftnref13] for an example of someone doing this in a post.
EA Forum feature suggestion thread

H3s are still being converted to regular Paragraph format when I paste them in from GDocs. What am I doing wrong?

3Aaron Gertler1yH3 headers should be available again soon; the feature broke after a recent migration.
3MichaelA1yI had the same problem when posting a few days ago. Though I think level 3 headings work for me if I use the markdown editor (e.g., a paragraph that only has "### How often have people been wrong about such things in the past?" will show up as a level 3 heading). And when I just put a sentence fragment in a line by itself and in bold, it at least showed up in the sidebar as if it was a level three heading. (Well, one of them didn't initially work, but then I fixed it somehow - I think the fix was simple, but can't remember.)
A counterfactual QALY for USD 2.60–28.94?

I'm sure there are many giving opportunities in global health that are better than the GiveWell top charities, and I'm pleased to see promising small or medium-sized projects like this being brought to the attention of EAs. 

However, I think you should try to get better estimates of QALYs gained (or DALYs averted)—especially if you're going to feature the cost-effectiveness ratio so prominently in your write-up. This should be possible by referring to the relevant literature. The current estimates don't seem all that plausible to me, e.g. an episode of... (read more)

1brb2431yHello! I found the dataset that I thought I saw before: the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Disability Weights [http://ghdx.healthdata.org/record/ihme-data/gbd-2017-disability-weights]. Disability weights are the changes of Health-related Quality of Life (HRQoL) due to a condition. I re-ran the calculations [https://drive.google.com/file/d/1r1R4uVOsv6oquLVmTWUj9299ocj5PyOL/view?usp=sharing] and found the cost-effectiveness of the mobile clinics project as 26.63 USD/QALY , with a low estimate of 184.14 USD/QALY and high estimate of 6.33 USD/QALY. I used the same data to estimate the cost-effectiveness of AMF and found 56.07 USD/QALY (low 112.14 and high 11.21). The Business Insider [https://www.businessinsider.com/the-worlds-best-charity-can-save-a-life-for-333706-and-thats-a-steal-2015-7?IR=T] AMF number is about 49.76 USD/QALY. Thus, these updated calculations may be more accurate. Still, the calculations do not take into account the preventive care outcomes, deaths averted due to the Ebola outbreak response, and economic benefits (e. g. of deworming) that may lead to further health improvements, leave alone the positive long-term virtuous cycle of improved health and wealth - but that may apply to other health-related programs too.
1brb2431yHello. I apologize for the late reply. I was moving over the weekend. I am looking at the IHME DALY by cause data [http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbd-results-tool] (my calculations here [https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VcjgkDarnn8rumt-7TDz1nH28kxXarnI/view?usp=sharing] ) but these do not seem to take into account the long-term effects of the diseases. For example, deworming and vitamin A supplementation may have positive long-term effects in terms of schooling and economic gains that may far outweigh the direct short-term QALY losses. From there the upper estimate of 5. Simple malaria I would presume one that does not require immediate medical attention but one that still may result in severe condition if untreated (CDC [https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/faqs.html#:~:text=Symptoms%20and%20Diagnosis,-What%20are%20the&text=Malaria%20may%20cause%20anemia%20and,confusion%2C%20coma%2C%20and%20death.] ). For the life-threatening conditions, my rationale was also that children treated with severe acute malnutrition are younger than average-age patients and that persons who survive 5 years live on average longer than life expectancy. Also, the QALY estimates are not taking into account the effects of preventive measures - e. g. almost 90,000 persons informed on STIs and the response to a cholera outbreak (training and material provided) - before the intervention, 5 persons died, after no other deaths occurred. On that note, I would actually appreciate if anyone could provide more credible estimates, taking into account the effectiveness and long-term consequences of the treatment. I am sure that REO would welcome such cooperation, also for capacity building reasons.
EA Forum feature suggestion thread

''Next" and "Previous" arrows/buttons at the bottom of a post, to move to the next/previous post - useful when you haven't read the forum for a while and want to catch up. This would obviously have to assume a certain ordering (e.g. chronological vs karma) and selection (e.g. all or excluding Community/Questions), which could perhaps be adjusted in Settings.

EA Forum feature suggestion thread

Level 3 headings should be supported. Unless it's changed recently, it currently jumps from Level 2 to Level 4, which makes it hard to logically format complex documents.

4JP Addison2yIt has. We no longer apply the same styling to h2 and h3. While you still can’t create h3s using the editor, you can paste in from google docs and they will appear correctly. Sorry for not mentioning this anywhere, it’s such an invisible change — I don’t know what I was thinking. (Unfortunately, I will need to remake this change once the new editor ships. LessWrong does not want its posts to have more than 3 levels of headings [h1, h2 and bold text]. I don’t think that’s the right choice for the EA Forum, but sometimes their updates won’t be checked for compatibility with minor features of the Forum).
6willbradshaw2yStrongly agree with this, have been very frustrated in the past with how the Forum (via LessWrong) coerces my header usage. It looks bad in the sidebar too.
Market-shaping approaches to accelerate COVID-19 response: a role for option-based guarantees?

Thanks for the comments!

1. The put could cover ~90% of the cost of the accelerated production, taking into account the additional costs.

2. Sales are likely to be higher if they move more quickly: the company with the first billion vaccines is likely to sell a lot more items than the company with the second, and this could more than offset any additional costs. (The second may not sell any, even if it’s a good product, if the first can meet all needs quickly enough.)

3. Some variants outlined in the brief, such as declining payouts, can further incent... (read more)

1edcon2yThanks for your response! I think this is a really promising idea. Just a few minor points 1/ I agree that if set up right could incentivise pace if it includes accelerated cost esp. if it erred on the side being overly generous. Though just sceptical it will do this to a large extent, as some costs for haste are hard to quantify, eg. moving best/more staff onto this project at the detriment of other projects, and I doubt would be covered in a politically feasible payout structure (eg. 1% a month). 2/ I think the market incentive to coming first to market is quite small, as there is large social pressure to sell these products at low margins and the market for some of these products (esp. vaccines) are so huge, compared to manufacturing capability, so seems small first mover advantage , though this certainty on size of market if the put options are not used will not apply to all products.
What posts do you want someone to write?

Should Covid-19 be a priority for EAs?

A scale-neglectedness-tractability assessment, or even a full cost-effectiveness analysis, of Covid as a cause area (compared to other EA causes) could be useful. I'm starting to look into this now – please let me know if it's already been done.

1El-Nino99moWas asking myself the same question
Coronavirus: how much is a life worth?

Suicide is a very poor indicator of the dead/neutral point, for a host of reasons.

A few small, preliminary surveys I've seen place it around 2/10, though it ranges from about 0.5 to 6 depending on whom and how you ask.

(I share your concerns in parentheses, and am doing some work along these lines - it's been sidelined in part due to covid projects.)

1bfinn2yOK, well reworking the numbers with a 2/10 neutral point (and Imperial's latest figures as noted below): Death is now a fall from 5.17 to 2 points, i.e. by 3.17 points, though presumably out of 8 not 10 as we've compressed our scale. So 4.5 years = 4.5 x 3.17/8 = 1.78 WALYs lost. So 1.9 to 24 million deaths = 3.4 to 43 WALYs lost. Presumably the WALYs lost by the financial crisis is also out of 8 not 10, i.e. 0.2/8 per person = 194 million WALYs. Which is 4.5 to 57 times worse than the deaths.
What posts you are planning on writing?

Hah! I was working on them before getting sidelined with covid stuff.

I can send you the drafts if you send me a PM. The content is >80% done (I've decided to add more, so the % complete has dropped) but they need reorganising into ~10 manageable posts rather than 3 massive ones.

Founders Pledge Charity Recommendation: Action for Happiness

Thanks Aidan! Hope you're feeling better now.

Most of your comments sound about right.

On retention rates: Your general methods seem to make sense, since one would expect gradual tapering off of benefits, but your inputs seem even more optimistic than I originally thought.

I'm not sure Strong Minds is a great benchmark for retention rates, partly because of the stark differences in context (rural Uganda vs UK cities), and partly because IIRC there were a number of issues with SM's study, e.g. a non-randomised allocation and evidence of social ... (read more)

2AidanGoth2yYes, feeling much better now fortunately! Thanks for these thoughts and studies, Derek. Given our time constraints, we did make some judgements relatively quickly but in a way that seemed reasonable for the purposes of deciding whether to recommend AfH. So this can certainly be improved and I expect your suggestions to be helpful in doing so. This conversation has also made me think it would be good to explore six monthly/quarterly/monthly retention rates rather than annual ones - thanks for that. :) Our retention rates for StrongMinds were also based partly on this study [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00737-012-0280-4], but I wasn't involved in that analysis so I'm not sure on the details of the retention rates there.
AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

Do you think GiveWell top charities are the best of all current giving opportunities? If so, what is the next best opportunity?

AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

Do you think adopting subjective wellbeing as your primary focus would materially affect your recommendations?

In particular:

(a) Would using SWB as the primary outcome measure in your cost-effectiveness analysis change the rank ordering of your current top charities in terms of estimated cost-effectiveness?

(b) If it did, would that affect the ranking of your recommendations?

(c) Would it likely cause any of your current top charities to no longer be recommended?

(d) Would it likely cause the introduction of other charities (such as ones focused on mental health) into your top charity list?

AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

How likely is it that GiveWell will ultimately (e.g. over a 100-year or 10,000-year period) do more harm than good? If that happens, what is the most likely explanation?

AMA: Elie Hassenfeld, co-founder and CEO of GiveWell

A recent post on this forum (one of the most upvoted of all time) argued that "randomista" development projects like GiveWell's top charities are probably less cost-effective than projects to promote economic growth. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Founders Pledge Charity Recommendation: Action for Happiness

I like your general approach to this evaluation, especially:

  • the use of formal Bayesian updating from a prior derived in part from evidence for related programmes
  • transparent manual discounting of the effect size based on particular concerns about the direct study
  • acknowledgement of most of the important limitations of your analysis and of the RCT on which it was based
  • careful consideration of factors beyond the cost-effectiveness estimate.

I'd like to see more of this kind of medium-depth evaluation in EA.

I don't have time at the moment for a close ... (read more)

2AidanGoth2yThanks very much for this thoughtful comment and for taking the time to read and provide feedback on the report. Sorry about the delay in replying - I was ill for most of last week. 1. Yes, you're absolutely right. The current bounds are very wide and they represent extreme, unlikely scenarios. We're keen to develop probabilistic models in future cost-effectiveness analyses to produce e.g. 90% confidence intervals and carry out sensitivity analyses, probably using Guesstimate or R. We didn't have time to do so for this project but this is high on our list of methodological improvements. 2. Estimating the retention rates is challenging so it's helpful for us to know that you think our values are too high. We based this primarily on our retention rate for StrongMinds, but adjusted downwards. It's possible we anchored on this too much. However, it's not clear to me that our values are too high. In particular, if our best-guess retention rate for AfH is too high, then this is probably also true for StrongMinds. Since we're using StrongMinds as a benchmark, this might not change our conclusions very much. The total benefits are calculated somewhat confusingly and I appreciate you haven't had the chance to look at the CEA in detail. If x is the effect directly post-treatment and r is the retention rate, we calculated the total benefits as 12x+∞∑i=1rix=x(1+r)2(1−r)That is, we assume half a year of full effect, and then discount each year that follows by r each time. We calculated it in this way because for StrongMinds, we had 6 month follow-up data. However, it's not clear that this approach is best in this case. It might have been better to: * Assume 0.15 years at full effect * Since the study has only an 8 week follow-up, as you mention * Assume somewhere in between 0.15 and 0.5 years at full effect * Since the effects still looked very good at 8 week follow-up (albeit with no control) and evidence from interventions such as StrongMinds that suggest longe
Founders Pledge Charity Recommendation: Action for Happiness
There is also evidence that health problems have a much smaller effect on subjective well-being than one might imagine.

This is only the case for (some) physical health problems, especially those associated with reduced mobility. People tend to underestimate the SWB impact of (at least some) mental health problems. See e.g. Gilbert & Wilson, 2000; De Wit et al., 2000; Dolan & Kahneman, 2007; Dolan 2008; Pyne et al., 2009; Karimi et al., 2017

2AidanGoth2yYes, we had physical health problems in mind here. I appreciate this isn't clear though - thanks for pointing out. Indeed, we are aware of the underestimation of the badness of mental health problems and aim to take this into account in future research in the subjective well-being space.
3Aaron Gertler2yAdded a note, thanks!
A Local Community Course That Raises Mental Wellbeing and Pro-Sociality

Thanks - I missed that on my skim. But the "extended" follow-up is only for another two months. It does seem to indicate that effects persist for at least that period, without any trend towards baseline, which is promising (though without a control group the counterfactual is impossible to establish with confidence). I wonder why they didn't continue to collect data beyond this period.

A Local Community Course That Raises Mental Wellbeing and Pro-Sociality

Thanks - "trained facilitator" might be a bit misleading. Still, it looks like there were two volunteer course leaders for each course, selected in part for their unspecified "skills", who were given "on-going guidance and support" to facilitate the sessions, and who have to arrange a venue etc themselves, then go through a follow-up process when it's over. So it's not a trivial amount of overhead for an average of 13 participants.

A Local Community Course That Raises Mental Wellbeing and Pro-Sociality

I don't have much time to spend on this, but here are a few thoughts based on a quick skim of the paper.

The study was done by some of the world's leading experts in wellbeing and the study design seems okay-ish ('waitlist randomisation'). The main concern with internal validity, which the authors acknowledge, is that changes in the biomarkers, while mostly heading in the right direction, were far from statistically significant. This could indicate that the effects reported on other measures were due to some factor other than actual SWB ... (read more)

2cole_haus2yThis is how they describe their facilitators: Not sure if that's what you had understood and meant with 'trained facilitator' (just wanted to make it clear that it doesn't mean licensed behavioral therapist or something).
2cole_haus2yThanks for your thoughts! Yes, regarding persistence they also note:
The EA Hotel is now the Centre for Enabling EA Learning & Research (CEEALAR)

You could keep the name but drop the first 'A': CEELAR. Excluding the 'A' of Altruism isn't great, but I think you're allowed to take major liberties with acronyms. And really, almost anything is better than CEEALAR.

4MarisaJurczyk2yValid. I also like this.
AMA: Rob Mather, founder and CEO of the Against Malaria Foundation

Thanks Rob!

As you've said, in addition to averting deaths it looks like AMF considerably improves lives, e.g. by improving economic outcomes and reducing episodes of illness. Have you considered collecting data on subjective wellbeing in order to help quantify these improvements? Could that be integrated into your program without too much expense/difficulty?

On the other side of the coin, one possible negative impact of programs that increase wealth and/or population size is the suffering of animals farmed for food (since better-off people tend to eat more meat). Do you have any data on dietary changes resulting from bed net distribution (or similar programs)? Would it be feasible to collect that data in future?

2RobM2yHave you considered collecting data on subjective wellbeing in order to help quantify these improvements? Could that be integrated into your program without too much expense/difficulty? We haven’t considered this, no, but an interesting thought and we’ll keep the suggestion in mind. Do you have any data on dietary changes resulting from bed net distribution (or similar programs)? Would it be feasible to collect that data in future? No, we don’t have any data here. I suppose it may be possible to collect those data but I wouldn’t see it as a priority for AMF. I am comfortable that our focus on helping prevent deaths and illness is a good one and I cannot currently conceive of negative impacts of this work that would change that focus.
AMA: Rob Mather, founder and CEO of the Against Malaria Foundation

A recent post on this forum (the fourth most popular ever, at the time of writing) argued that "randomista" development projects like AMF are probably less cost-effective than projects to promote economic growth. Do you have any thoughts on this?


I’d be interested to read more about that.

If other projects, including projects to promote economic growth, can be demonstrated to be very or more-cost effective at saving lives (than funding and distributing long-lasting insecticidal nets) I would be interested in supporting them.

The problem we have today is people falling ill with, and dying from, malaria. Currently, the bednet is the most effective way of preventing that so it seems good and sensible to put funds into distributing nets.

My over-riding thought is that protecting people from malari... (read more)

AMA: Rob Mather, founder and CEO of the Against Malaria Foundation

What are your thoughts on the indirect ("flow-through") effects of AMF? For example:

1. What do you think are the main positive and negative indirect impacts of the program, both long- and short-term? (E.g. increasing productivity and economic growth, increasing/decreasing total population, strengthening health systems, greenhouse gas emissions, consumption of factory-farmed meat...) Do you have any data on these? Are you planning to gather data on any of them?

2. What proportion of the long-term benefit from the program is due to short-term direct... (read more)

1. What do you think are the main positive and negative indirect impacts of the program, both long- and short-term? (E.g. increasing productivity and economic growth, increasing/decreasing total population, strengthening health systems, greenhouse gas emissions, consumption of factory-farmed meat...) Do you have any data on these? Are you planning to gather data on any of them?

The main positive indirect impact of distributing nets is to improve the economy in the areas in which the nets are distributed. If people are sick, they cannot teach, they cannot dr... (read more)

Katriel Friedman: The benefits of starting your own charity
It's a core part of the research ethics that they teach you when you're being trained to run an RCT — whether you can run them if you have equipoise (i.e., are certain that an intervention works).

You might want to clarify this. Equipoise is uncertainty about whether the intervention works, and is often considered a pre-requisite for an RCT. I'm sure Katriel understands this but the phrasing here is misleading.

Perhaps I should have written 20 minute ‘approach’ rather than rule.

Sometimes when I wish to achieve an objective, I think about how I might do so with 20 minutes of effort.

It doesn’t apply to all circumstances, but the idea is to focus thinking on how best to go about getting something done and come up with suitable actions.

Actions compatible with the objective.

For me, the 20 minutes begins once you start ‘doing’ something i.e. picking up the phone or writing an email to someone. You can have as much thinking time befor... (read more)

Relatedly, could you explain a case where the 20 minute rule failed to produce a good outcome?

Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering

Do you have any thoughts on whether valenced experience is asymmetrical, i.e. whether the most negative experiences (e.g. 10/10 on some suitable pain scale) are more bad than the most positive ones (e.g. 10/10 on some suitable pleasure scale) are good?

My hunch is that the worst experiences are more intense, at least if you exclude weird/rare things like Jhanas and 5-MeO-DMT trips, e.g. I'd give up days or weeks of 'maximum happiness' to avoid being burned alive for a minute. But not everyone shares this intuition, and I'm not sure how to settle the debate (at least until you prove and operationalise your symmetry theory of valence).


Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering

Thanks for this - very interesting.

Do you think your claims would apply to broader measures of subjective wellbeing, e.g. questions like "Overall, how satisfied are you with your life?" and "Overall, how happy were you yesterday?" (often on a 0-10 scale)? Or even to more specific measures of valenced experience, like depression (e.g. PHQ-9)?

Because I've been wondering whether:

(a) the Weber-Fechner law is limited to perception of clear physical stimuli (weight, pain, spicyness, etc), as distinct from 'internal' states and ... (read more)

Physical Exercise for EAs – Why and How

This is very good, but I think busy (or unmotivated) EAs without much exercise experience would benefit from even more specific recommendations, especially for resistance exercises (i.e. strength training).

I found the Start Bodyweight program useful when beginning resistance training at home with no equipment other than a pull-up bar. An EA recommended the book Overcoming Gravity for more detailed information on bodyweight exercises.

I now I prefer to use the gym. At a glance, the following (which I just found with a quick Google search) seem like sensible ... (read more)

2saulius1yI just want to add that if the above gym programs seem a bit too intense or time-consuming, I recommend this beginner gym workout routine [https://www.aworkoutroutine.com/the-beginner-weight-training-workout-routine/]. I personally do a similar program at home with some substitutions. E.g. pushups instead of bench press. I just want to note that multiple sources I trust don't recommend situps in particular. E.g. this [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMgWyTivrTI]
5severintroesch2yThanks for your input Derek. I think you are right: The recommendations in my post are sometimes a bit unspecific. This is because I wanted to present a generic overview of the existing evidence – one that gives the necessary knowledge-basics but can (and must) be used according to personal taste. However, your links and hints are definitely valuable and I encourage everybody to check them out!
3M_Allcock2yI can also vouch for the Stronglifts 5x5 programme. Training with a team and focusing on improvement (e.g. weight lifted, running time for a given distance, rock climbing grade), where improved health and well-being is the secondary benefit, has helped with my motivation a lot.
2019 AI Alignment Literature Review and Charity Comparison

Why isn't there a GiveWell-style evaluator for longtermist (or specifically AI safety) orgs?

I'd guess it's because it's very hard to apply a GiveWell approach (i.e. explicit quantitative modeling based on a substantial body of empirical evidence) to many long-termist orgs (whose impacts will often definitionally be unknown for the foreseeable future, and around which there is large and pervasive uncertainty). Open Philanthropy describes an evaluation methodology that seems more suited to long-termist orgs.

New research on moral weights

Section 4 on subjective wellbeing is interesting.

• Across poor respondents in Kenya and Ghana, the average life satisfaction ladder score is 2.8 (where 0 is the lowest and 10 is the highest score).
• Respondents with higher consumption have higher life satisfaction ladder scores; doubling consumption is associated with being 0.4 steps higher on the ladder.
• When describing different points on the ladder respondents most often referred to levels of money and material goods. In contrast, health states were mentioned much less often with r
... (read more)
Uncertainty and sensitivity analyses of GiveWell's cost-effectiveness analyses

Did you ever get round to running the analysis with your best guess inputs?

If that revealed substantial decision uncertainty (and especially if you were very uncertain about your inputs), I'd also like to see it run with GiveWell's inputs. They could be aggregated distributions from multiple staff members, elicited using standard methods, or in some cases perhaps 'official' GiveWell consensus distributions. I'm kind of surprised this doesn't seem to have been done already, given obvious issues with using point estimates in non-linear models. Or do you have reason to believe the ranking and cost-effectiveness ratios would not be sensitive to methodological changes like this?

Is mindfulness good for you?

This is very useful – thanks for writing it up.

This heterogeneity across intervention types means that we should be cautious about broad claims about the efficacy of mindfulness for depression and anxiety.

True, but that applies equally to claims of null or small effect sizes, e.g. some forms of mindfulness could be very effective even if 'on average' it's not. Did any of the meta-analyses contain useful subgroup analyses?

(For what it's worth, a few years ago I used the Headspace app ~5x/week for 3 months and found it to be active... (read more)

Learning to ask action-relevant questions

I guess "action-relevant" has a better noun form, which could be a non-trivial advantage.

Learning to ask action-relevant questions
Ask yourself: “If I imagine a world in which I have answered this question, what would look different?”

This sounds like the "importance" part of the ITN framework. From EA Concepts:

If all problems in the area could be solved, how much better would the world be?
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