gavintaylor

I am an experienced interdisciplinary researcher and have focused on using computational methods to derive insights into biological systems. My academic research took me from collecting insects in tropical rainforests to imaging them in synchrotrons. I have become progressively more involved with the Effective Altruism community over several years and I am now aiming to apply my expertise in areas that more directly benefit society. To that end, I have recently redirected my research towards exploring novel technical countermeasures against viral pandemics.

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Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

If it is possible to just get a check as an individual, I imagine that that's the best option.

 

One other benefit of a virtual research institute is that they can act as formal employers for independent researchers, which may be desirable for things like receiving healthcare coverage or welfare benefits.

 

Thanks for mentioning Theiss, I didn't know of them before. Their website doesn't look so active now, but it's good to know about the  history of the independent research scene.

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

Thanks for the perspective, this is interesting and a useful update for me.

[Help please/Updated] Best EA use of $250,000AUD/$190,000 USD for metascience?

I'm glad to see interest in directing money to support impactful metascience projects - my intuition is that work on metascience could make a substantial contribution to advancing several EA cause areas, although I don't think enough work has been done yet on developing an EA perspective to confidently indicate specific aspects worth pursuing. Still, in parallel to trying to conduct impactful scientific research myself, I've grown interested in open science and metascience over the last couple of years and am on the board of the Institute for Globally Distributed Open Research and  Education (IGDORE), so I'll throw out a few suggestions of donation ready Open Science projects that seem promising. However, I should note that while I think these initiatives could contribute to expanding OS, I haven't evaluated the space comprehensively and I can't say these are the best opportunities, nor could I claim that this will substantially contribute to any EA cause area beyond the general refrain of 'making science more open and reproducible will generally be beneficial for society'.  

One initiative I'm particularly excited about at the moment is Free Our Knowledge (FOK) - a platform for researchers to take collective action pledges that lead to positive changes in research culture. Although COS does have a 5-step pyramid for changing research culture, I think that FOK  could go along way towards accelerating culture change towards Open Science. For instance, in one of Björn Brembs's Open Science TV interviews (I think the 3rd or 4th) he comments that he often hears 'I don’t care about these journals but everybody else does' from physicists about why they continue to publish in pay-walled journals. Using a collective action pledge could break this coordination problem rapidly. (Interestingly, LessWrong also has a discussion on coordinated action which seems to be entirely disconnected from FOK.) Anyway,  FOK is currently unfunded, and I'm sure a bit of funding would go a long way. The founder (Cooper Smout) has previously applied for funding with COS as a fiscal sponsor and could probably receive money via them, but as he is based in Brisbane and might be able to form a non-profit to receive an Australian tax-deductible donation directly. I can put you in touch with Cooper to talk further if you'd like. 

Another initiative I'm quite enthusiastic about is the Open Science MOOC (OS MOOC). They have a good reputation in the OS community and are a grass-roots effort to develop educational courses on different aspects of OS.  I'm not sure what their current funding situation is, but I do know that it's mostly a volunteer-led project so I expect they could productively use some further funding. Unfortunately, as OS MOOC is EU based, I doubt there will be a way to make any donation tax-deductible. Again, I could put you in touch with somebody on the steering committee if this is of interest. 

Lastly, while it's a bit self-serving, I should point to IGDORE as a potential funding recipient as it's another organisation I'm naturally quite excited about. We are a virtual institute committed to supporting and encouraging scientists to conduct open and replicable research, with the longer-term goal of providing services around good scientific practices and scientific education, and less EA relevant, to promote improved quality of life for scientists and support independent researchers. IGDORE members include both passionate advocates of open science, as well as students and researchers who wish to conduct open science but are either not supported or otherwise hindered in doing this at their primary academia institution. As the organisations above, we are unfunded and volunteer-led, so even a modest donation could substantially develop the organisation. Our immediate goals are to develop a package of OS Support Services to offer via a research consultancy and an educational platform that will initially host OS content and then be grown into a Massively Online Open Science Training (MOOST) service that provides supervised research training that goes beyond standard MOOCs. While both of these initiatives aim to generate revenue to make IGDORE self-sustainable in the long term, we need seed funding to higher administrative and technical services to move them forward. Let me know if you'd like to talk more about this. (while IGDORE is distributed, our financial address is in Sweden, so probably not tax-deductible). You are also more than welcome to post about this on the On Science and Academia forum, which is an open forum maintained by IGDORE and used by members of the other two organisations mentioned above, if you'd like to engage the OS community directly in discussing your donation.

I should also point out that besides being on the board of IGDORE, I know the people from FOK and OS MOOC quite well as several are also members of IGDORE. So my recommendations generally lean towards what would be considered the more 'radially progressive' branch of the OS community, that pushes for systemic reform of academia and publishing if they can't adopt open and replicable principles in their current format. A more mainstream OS perspective is represented by the organisations that presented at Metascience 2019 (which includes COS). However, as the OS community is still quite small, I think it will be hard to find completely un-conflicted recommendations.

PS. I wouldn't be so confident about COS's funding security. While they do list many funders on their site, I have heard they are now more funding constrained and last year they started monetising most of the Open Science Framework services. This might not be a problem for services used by larger institutions, and I appreciate that COS needs to make its services financially sustainable, but this has put pressure on academic communities using OSF Preprints (particularly those from developing countries), and I believe some have now moved to other platforms (see more here). 

 

[Help please/Updated] Best EA use of $250,000AUD/$190,000 USD for metascience?

I joined a few sessions at the AIMOS (Association for Interdisciplinary Metascience and Open Science) conference a few weeks ago. It was great and I wrote up some notes about the talks I caught here. That said, beyond hosting their annual conference, I'm not really sure what other plans AIMOS has. If it's of interest I can put the OP in touch with the incoming 2021 president (Jason Chin from USyd Law School) to talk further.

Otherwise, many of the speakers were from Australia and you might find other ideas for local donation recipients on the AIMOS program. Paul Glasziou from Bond Uni mentioned something in his plenary that stood out to me - inefficient ethical reviews can be a huge source of wasted research time and money (to the tune of $160 million per annum in Australia) - if that's of interest he may be able to suggest a way to spend the money to push for ethical review reforms in Australia.

The Intellectual and Moral Decline in Academic Research

I think they could help with some things. But as  I wrote here, I am not sure if it would be appropriate to only fund academic research through lotteries. 

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

I received my LTF grant while living in Brazil (I forwarded the details of the Brazilian tax lawyer I consulted to CEA staff). However, I built up my grantee expectations while doing research in Australia and Sweden, and was happy they were also valid in Brazil. 
My intuition is that most countries that allow either PhD students or postdocs to receive tax-free income for doing research at universities will probably also allow CEA grants to individuals to be declared in a tax-free manner, at least if the grant is for a research project.

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

Several comments have mentioned that CEA provides good infrastructure for making tax-deductible grants to individuals and also that the LTF  often does, and is well suited to, make grants to individual researchers. Would it make sense for either the LTF or CEA to develop some further guidelines about the practicalities of receiving and administering grants for individuals (or even non-charitable organisations) that are not familiar with this sort of income, to help funds get used effectively?
 
As a motivating example, when I recently received an LTF grant, I sought legal advice in my tax jurisdiction and found out the grant was tax-exempt. However, prior to that CEA staff said that many grantees do pay tax on grant funds and they would consider it reasonable for me to do so. I have been paid on scholarships and fellowships for nearly 10 years and had the strong expectation that such funding is typically tax-free, which lead me to follow this up with a taxation lawyer; still, I wonder if other people, who haven't previously received grant income, come into this with different expectations and end up paying tax unnecessarily. While specifics vary between tax-jurisdictions, having the right set of expectations for being a grantee helped me a lot. Maybe there would also be other general areas of grant receipt/administration that would be useful to provide advice on.

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

Just to add a comment with regards to sustainable funding for independent researchers. There haven't previously been many options available for this, however, there are a growing number of virtual research institutes through which affiliated researchers can apply to academic funding agencies. The virtual institute can then administer the grant for a researcher (usually for much lower overheads than a traditional institution), while they effectively still do independent work. The Ronin Institute administers funding from US granters, and I am a Board member at IGDORE which can receive funding from some European granters. That said, it may still be quite difficult for individuals to secure academic funding without having some traditional academic credentials (PhD, publications, etc.). 

AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

It seems like most progress to date has come from research in the natural/formal/applied sciences leading to technological advances (or correct me if I'm wrong?). Do you expect that trend to continue, or could you see a case for research in the social sciences/humanities (that lead to social advances) making a more prominent contribution to future progress?

Long-Term Future Fund: Ask Us Anything!

Are there any areas covered by the fund's scope where you'd like to receive more applications?

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