Ian Turner

495 karmaJoined Jan 2023


His could be interesting as a counterpoint to (for example) this essay.

Seems like the Geneva convention falls into this category?

The most good you can do is a Schwartz Set.

Basically I think the idea is that because of inevitable uncertainty, there will be multiple activists/option/donations that may all be considered “the best”, or at least among which it is not possible to draw a comparison.

I think this is true even if all moral outcomes are comparable, but of course if not then it follows that all activities are probably not comparable either.

According to the article, there are high-performing PFAS alternatives, but they are more expensive. So instead Verstergaard allegedly went with the cheaper, lower-performing option.

So, to be clear, it's not like I have a back-of-the-envelope calculation or anything.

The way I see it, charity is hard mainly because it's hard to identify opportunities that scale, and even when we do, most of our efforts are wasted. With Deworm The World, for example, only about half of treated children have any worm infection at all. Targeting charitable interventions is usually not cost-effective because the best beneficiaries can be hard to find. This is even harder if we need the reasoning and evidence to be legible.

But, if we are able to identify targeted cases "by accident" (or, in the course of living life), then we get the benefits of targeting for free, without either the cost of finding beneficiaries or the cost of legible/rigorous impact evaluation.

In the rich world, I think this sort of impact usually comes from behaviors that are free or very low cost to the donor. An example is giving CPR in a public place — it could potentially save a life, for a pretty small opportunity cost, but it wouldn't be worth it to give up your career just to be around in case someone needs CPR. Or a more minor (but also maybe more common) example might be introducing two people who are well positioned to help one another, where the potential connection is discovered incidentally, or by accident.

Does that make sense?

My prior is that there are a lot of cost effective actions in everyday life, even if you don’t live in Uganda, but that it is hard to scale. The circumstances of your life are probably exposing you to more significant scaling opportunities though, even compare to others living in Uganda.

I agree, and to be clear I’m not trying to say that any forum policy change is needed at this time.

Hi Ben,

It seems to me that one should draw a distinction between, “I see this cause as offering good value for money, and here is my reasoning why”, and “I have this cause that I like and I hope I can get EA to fund it”. Sometimes the latter is masquerading as the former, using questionable reasoning.

Some examples that seem like they might be in the latter category to me:

In any case though, I’m not sure it makes a difference in terms of the right way to respond. If the reasoning is suspect, or the claims of evidence are missing, we can assume good faith and respond with questions like, “why did you choose this program”, “why did you conduct the analysis in this way”, or “have you thought about these potentially offsetting considerations”. In the examples above, the original posters generally haven’t engaged with these kind of questions.

If we end up with people coming to EA looking for resources for ineffective causes, and then sealioning over the reasoning, I guess that could be a problem, but I haven’t seen that here much, and I doubt that sort of behavior would ultimately be rewarded in any way. 


I guess any report must be considered on its own terms but I’ve been pretty down on this stuff as a category ever since I heard the Center for Strategic and International Studies was cheerleading the idea that there were WMDs in Iraq.

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