What are the 'PlayPumps' of cause prioritisation?
Answer by LarksJun 24, 202111

I think plastic straws are likely to be your best bet, but here are some alternatives. In each case I'm aiming for popular causes (not just individual laws or the like) where your readers should be able to see why people thought it was a good idea, even if ultimately unsuccessful:

  • Prohibition
  • Liberia
  • Opposition to GMOs
  • Opposition to Nuclear Power
  • US anti-war activism prior to Pearl Harbour
  • Western pro-Soviet activism before their atrocities were well known.
Type Checking GiveWell's GiveDirectly Cost Effective Analysis

Thanks for doing this analysis, and for writing up in such  a way as to introduce this technique to a wider audience!

What are some examples of successful social change?

This is a very broad category; Belisarius reconquered Italy with a carefully planned campaign and an army on the approximate scale of the EA movement!

Which non-EA-funded organisations did well on Covid?

He was also apparently instrumental in pushing through a big grant for Our World In Data despite the sclerotic procurement process.

What are some moral catastrophes events in history?
Answer by LarksJun 22, 202126

A lot of this is going to rest on your specific moral views and the way you define the question, rather than historical factual issues, I suspect.

  • The clearest examples are going to be things like genocides and wars. For example, the An Lushan Rebellion was (arguably?) responsible for the largest fraction of humanity to be killed in on event. There have been enough of these that you could fill a very respectable list.
  • If you relax your definition of what constitutes an event, things like 'all murder ever' are going to qualify. But these are clearly less dense in space-time than genocides, and many people would not count them as 'an event'.
  • If you accept events that are less bad per capita, but more widespread, things like the denial of education to women, which has been quite common, and could plausibly qualify.
  • If you think that government acts should be judged similarly to private ones, mass taxation, conscription, imprisonment and immigration restrictions might qualify. 
  • If you accept more indirect responsibility, the failure to accelerate technological development resulted in hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths from disease.
  • If you believe in a right to a competent electorate, voters supporting predictably incompetent or immoral governments could qualify.
  • If you accept ex ante rather than ex post catastrophes, early nuclear testing, where there was a plausible risk the atmosphere might catch fire, could qualify, though maybe the responsibility is not widespread enough.
  • If you accept victims other than adult humans, things like factory farming and abortion will qualify.
  • If you assign a lot of weight to children's preferences, mandatory schooling which forces them into strict compliance for most of the day could qualify.
Has anyone found an effective way to scrub indoor CO2?

We have no solution better than opening windows, at the cost of losing control of the temperature.

RyanCarey's Shortform

What's especially interesting is that the one article that kick-started her career was, by truth-orientated standards, quite poor. For example, she suggested that Amazon was able to charge unprofitably low prices by selling equity/debt to raise more cash - but you only have to look at Amazon's accounts to see that they have been almost entirely self-financing for a long time. This is because Amazon has actually been cashflow positive, in contrast to the impression you would get from Khan's piece. (More detail on this and other problems here).

Depressingly this suggests to me that a good strategy for gaining political power is to pick a growing, popular movement, become an extreme advocate of it, and trust that people will simply ignore the logical problems with the position. 

What should the norms around privacy and evaluation in the EA community be?

Yup, I agree with that, and am typically happy to make such requested changes. 

2018-2019 Long Term Future Fund Grantees: How did they do?

Thanks very much for doing this useful work! This seems like the sort of project that should definitely exist, but basically inexplicably fails to come about until some random person decides to do it.

I hate to give you more work after you have perhaps already put in more time on this than everyone else combined, but I can think of two things that might make this even more useful:

  • Conclusions about the types of grants that performed well or badly, e.g.
    • Did they tend to be larger organisations or individuals?
    • Were they more speculative or have a concrete roadmap?
    • Were they research based, skill acquiring or community organising?
  • Comparisons to other granters. 
    • A 30-40% success ratio isn't that informative if readers don't have a strong sense of what success means to you (because readers can't see what you've classified as a failure), so we don't know how good or bad this is for the LTFF. But if we could compare it to the other EA Funds, or to OpenPhil or GiveWell or the SFF, that could give useful context and help people decide which one to donate to.
What should the norms around privacy and evaluation in the EA community be?
Answer by LarksJun 16, 202142

I'd also be curious about whether evaluators generally should or shouldn't give the people and organizations being evaluated the chance to respond before publication. 

My experience is that it is generally good to share a draft, because organisations can be very touchy about irrelevant details that you don't really care much about and are happy to correct. If you don't give them this opportunity they will be annoyed and your credibility will be reduced when the truth comes out, even if it doesn't have any real logical bearing on your conclusions. This doesn't protect you against different people in the org having different views on the draft, and some objecting afterwards, but it should get you most of the way there.

On the other hand it is a little harder if you want to be anonymous, perhaps because you are afraid of retribution, and you're definitely right that it adds a lot of time cost.

I don't think there's any obligation to print their response in the main text however. If you think their objections are valid, you should adjust your conclusions; if they are specious, let them duke it out in the comment section. You could include them inline, but I wouldn't feel obliged to quote verbatim. Something like this would seem perfectly responsible to me:

Organisation X said they were going to research ways to prevent famines using new crop varieties, but seem to lack scientific expertise. In an email they disputed this, pointing to their head of research, Dr Wesley Stadtler, but all his publications are in low quality journals and unrelated fields.

This allows readers to see the other POV, assuming you summarise it fairly, without giving them excessive space on the page or the last word.

I agree that any organisation that is soliciting funds or similar from the public is fair game. It's unclear to me to what extend this also applies to those which solicit money from a fund like the LTFF which is itself primarily dependant on soliciting money from the public.

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