All of Lucas Lewit-Mendes's Comments + Replies

Why You Should Give a TEDX Talk

Such an amazing talk, well done!! :) 

Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

Thanks for the response Samuel, would be interesting to hear GiveWell's rationale on using the log of average(earnings+consumption). 

Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

Hi Joel, thanks for your response on this! 

I think my concern is that we can only "illustrate what would happen if GiveWell added decay to their model" if we have the right starting value. In the decay model's current form, I believe the model is not only adding decay, but also inadvertently changes the total earnings effect over the first 11 years of adulthood (yet we already have evidence on the total earnings effect for these years). 

However, as you noted, the main point certainly still holds either way. 

Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

As a separate note, I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it appears HLI has calculated log effects slightly differently to GiveWell. 

  • GiveWell takes the average of earnings and consumption, and then calculates the log change.
  • HLI does the reverse, i.e. calculates the log of earnings and the log of consumption, and then takes the average. 
  • If we were to follow the GiveWell method, the effect at the second follow-up would be 0.239 instead of 0.185, i.e. there would be no decay between the first and second follow-up (but the size of the decay betwee
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4Samuel Dupret16d
Thank you for your comment! Indeed, we did take the average of the logs instead of the log of the averages. This doesn’t change the end and start point, so it wouldn’t change the overall decay rate we estimate. We could do more complex modelling where effects between KLPS2 and KLPS3 see small growth and KLPS3 and KLPS4 see large decay. I think this shows that the overall results are sensitive to how we model effect across time. See Figure 4 of the appendix, which shows, whether in earnings or in consumption, that the relative gains, as shown by the log difference, decrease over time. We used the pooled data because it is what GiveWell does. In the appendix we note that the consumption and earnings data look different. So, perhaps a more principle way would be to look at the decay within earnings and within consumption. The decay within earnings (84%) and the decay within consumption (81%) are both stronger (i.e., would lead to smaller effects) than the 88% pooled decay.
6Karthik Tadepalli17d
Average of the log is more principled and I'm pretty surprised that givewell did it the reverse. These two quantities are always different (Jensen's inequality) and only one of them is what we care about. Log increase in consumption/income represents the % increase in that quantity. We want to find the average % increase across all people, so we should take the average of the log increase.
3Vaidehi Agarwalla16d
Thank you!
Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

Full disclosure: I'm the primary author of a yet to be published SoGive report on deworming, however I'm commenting here in a personal capacity. 

Thanks for this thought provoking and well-written analysis! 

I have a query about whether the exponential decay model appropriately reflects the evidence: 

  • If I understand the model correctly, this cell seems to imply that the annual consumption effect of deworming in the first year of adulthood is 0.006 logs.
  • As HLI is aware, this is based on GiveWell's estimated annual earnings effect - GiveWell get
... (read more)
6JoelMcGuire16d
Thank you for your comment Lucas! Looking forward to seeing your forthcoming report. Firstly, to clarify, we are doing a comparison between GiveWell’s model without decay and with decay. So to make the closest comparison possible we use the starting value and the time values that GiveWell uses. Rows 17, 18, and 19 of their CEA show the values they use for these. They consider the effects of starting 8 years after the deworming ends (~when participants start joining the labour force, see here [https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NxN6SO8GNv1AhpHMy1-IGu-tStT7py29W8AFU0u_bLw/edit] ) and continuing for 40 years with 0.006 each year. We get the same (similar because of our discretisation) total effects as GiveWell of 0.115 (0.113) for their model and show that if we use the exponential decay, we get a ~60% smaller total effect of 0.047. While it’s plausible there’s a better value to start with; we’re trying to illustrate what would happen if GiveWell added decay to their model. It’s unclear if they would also change the starting value too, but seems like a plausible choice. The advantage of exponential decay is that it is based on % and so we can extract it from the study and use it on any start value and period, as long as we use the same as GW on these, we can get a proportional decrease in the effect. We also considered linear decay. When we used linear decay, we found that the reduction in benefits is more dramatic: an 88% reduction. With linear decay, we had to change the start value, but we did this both for the constant effect model and the decay models so we could compare the proportional change. Of course, a more complex analysis, which neither ourselves nor GiveWell present, would be to model this with the whole individual data. The main point here is that the effect is very sensitive to the choice of modelling over time and thereby should be explicitly mentioned in GiveWell’s analysis and reporting. I think this point holds.
5Lucas Lewit-Mendes17d
As a separate note, I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it appears HLI has calculated log effects slightly differently to GiveWell. * GiveWell [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1MNEPqRhIndfpeJT3LxCK1Bvrn-N81n0PlvsXRjc3fb4/edit#gid=0&range=D7] takes the average of earnings and consumption, and then calculates the log change. * HLI [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1x2HKCCKDI1Rh4ckAOMHqn1J6ONM2NNmDiDMrBHD8rh8/edit?pli=1#gid=0&range=I13:I15] does the reverse, i.e. calculates the log of earnings and the log of consumption, and then takes the average. * If we were to follow the GiveWell method, the effect at the second follow-up would be 0.239 [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Ob-hJ8rGQZZS6P1gE-sSKMs19B31SxKzjYR2_J8IlCU/edit#gid=0&range=L14] instead of 0.185, i.e. there would be no decay between the first and second follow-up (but the size of the decay between the first and third follow-up would be unaffected). * If the decay theory relies only on a single data point, does this place the theory on slightly shakier ground? I don't have a good intuition on which of these approaches is better. Was there any rationale for applying the second approach for this calculation?
How effective is your Altruism?

Thank you for writing this Mitra, it's always valuable to hear critiques of current approaches in the EA community. As Peter noted above, your experiences and views would be greatly valued by the community. 

I will attempt to respond to some of these questions, but note that my responses may not reflect the views of everyone in the community, and I may miss some crucial points. 

  • Are you effective enough to notice that you could be 10x more effective if instead of selling wells to villages, you focused resources of finding and supporting local entre
... (read more)
3Mitra2mo
Thanks Lucas I should have numbered the points, would make it easier to reference ! I agree with the critique in that post you linked - RCTs will rarely show you what intervention will be catalytic and change things in the long run, it will systematically under-prioritize high-risk, and ignore approaches that require refining to get to scale. This is why I don't pay much attention to GiveWell, though it might catch the first kind of saving (a cheaper well) but GiveWell's methodology - like those of most other charity evaluators - is designed to ignore most of the other questions that determine effectiveness. For example their RCT won't be back in 10 years to see if the wells are still working. The rest of that post you refer to is about economic arguments (direct versus indirect poverty elimination) - from what I've seen it is probably only partially correct (and I haven't had time to read the whole article) , GDP is lousy measure of "happiness" and the GDP/capita measure also ignores HOW that wealth is spread, inequality not only means that a rich country can have a lot of very poor (e.g. in the US) but inequality is itself a significant cause of unhappiness. Reasonable people could hold reasoned positions on different sides of that argument so I don't want to dive too deep. In terms of impact measurement, I argue that it mostly collects meaningless numbers based on experience in the field, the measurement is typically designed to gather the numbers the donors want, not the numbers that actually reflect an increase in effectiveness. More importantly collecting and reporting data is a significant cost, often as much as 5-10% of the total budget, and that means 5-10% of the budget is diverted from creating impact to measuring it. Any effective organization is gathering data, but is gathering data that help it determine whether what its doing is effective, so for example it might just take a small time-bound sample - enough to know it should change something, and
Demandingness and Time/Money Tradeoffs are Orthogonal

Thanks for writing this Caroline, really interesting post! I think it's probably true that having talented people doing important things work really hard is higher impact than having people donate a little bit more money. 

However, I am concerned about the idea that one should prioritize their impact over relationships with family, friends, romantic partners, or children, for two reasons: 

  1. I think it's important to note that, personally, donating 10-20% of my income to effective charities literally makes zero difference to my life enjoyment.* But n
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Identifying the most pressing global problems for an Australian policy context

Thanks for writing this up Rumtin and Krystal! 

Does the scope of the project allow for engagment with academics as well as policy-makers/public servants? While there obvious risks with expanding the scope too broadly, I wonder whether collaboration with academia could be valuable for research efforts. There is also the possibility that some academic work (e.g. gain-of function research) could undermine policy efforts, so perhaps coordination between EA-aligned policy-makers/public servants and academics could reduce this risk? 

Free-spending EA might be a big problem for optics and epistemics

Thanks for writing this up!

This post does resonate with me, as when I was first introduced to EA, I was sceptical about the idea of "discussing the best ways to do good". This was because I wanted to volunteer rather than just talk about doing good (this was before I realised how much more impact I could have with my career/donations) and I think I would’ve been even more deterred if I’d heard that donated funds were being spent on my dinners.

However, it sounds like my attitude might have been quite different to others, reading the comments here. Also, I suspect I would’ve ended up becoming involved in EA either way as long as I heard about the core ideas.

FTX/CEA - show us your numbers!

Thanks Nathan, that would make a lot of sense, and motivates the conversation about whether CEA can realisticly attract as many people through advertising as Goldman etc. 

I guess the question is then whether: 

a) Goldman's activities are actually effective at attracting students; and

b) This is a relevant baseline prior for the types of activities that local EA groups undertake with CEA's funding (e.g. dinners for EA scholars students)

FTX/CEA - show us your numbers!

Hi Jessica, 

Thanks for outlining your reasoning here, and I'm really excited about the progress EA groups are making around the world. 

I could easily be missing something here, but why are we comparing the value of CEA's community building grants to the value of Mckinsey etc? 

Isn't the relevant comparison CEA's community building grants vs other EA spending, for example GiveWell's marginally funded programs (around 5x the cost-effectiveness of cash transfers)? 

If CEA is getting funding from non-EA sources, however, this query would be i... (read more)

I'm obviously not speaking for Jessica here, but I think the reason the comparison is relevant is that the high spend by Goldman ect suggests that spending a lot on recruitment at unis is effective. 

If this is the case, which I think is also supported by the success of well funded groups with full or part time organisers, and that EA is in an adversarial relationship to  with these large firms, which I think is large true, then it makes sense for EA to spend similar amounts of money trying to attract students. 

The relvent comparison is then comparing the value of the marginal student recurited with malaria nets ect. 

Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics

Really interesting and well-written post about the Australian political context! Do you think EA grant makers should consider funding political campaigns by minor parties, or would you prefer to see EA-aligned volunteers/staff leverage other sources of funds?

Thanks, Lucas

2Ren Springlea4mo
Thanks Lucas - good question. If Farrer's theory is on the right track (which I think it is), then traditional orgs and political parties are substitutable strategies to achieve any particular policy goal. The most effective strategy would depend on the goal and the context. Given this, it would make perfect sense for EA grant makers to also consider funding political campaigns by minor parties. I've seen that grant makers often explicitly exclude political parties, which I gather is an understandable concession to optics. An argument against this is neglectedness - at least in my experience with the AJP, the party can readily generate its own funds through fundraising around election time. The government also provides funding for parties that achieve a particular threshold (not sure if this happens in other countries). Since minor political parties have access to these two sources of funding, this is a good reason why grant makers might choose not to fund political parties. To me, it would make sense for EA grant makers to consider funding campaigns (subject to optics considerations of course), but it would also make sense for grant makers to require a strong argument why the political party in question can't get its funding from sources like these.
Concerns about AMF from GiveWell reading - Part 4

Thank you for raising some interesting concerns JP.

I just wanted to note that the value of a market for bednets may be small relative to the value of philanthropic funding for several reasons: 

  • Having gone down the philanthropy path, ceasing to provide bednets philanthropically now would be unlikely to lead to a flourishing bednet market. See more on this here under "People may not purchase ITNs because they are unavailable in local markets or because they expect to be given them for free"
  • There are many reasons people may buy fewer bednets in a market
... (read more)
2JPHoughton5mo
Thanks Lucas. Agree that these may be reasons for 100% coverage to be a reasonable philanthropic target which would be unachievable through commercial means. Your first point includes the idea that some people may not purchase ITNs because they expect to be given them for free. This reinforces the idea in the essay that there is an extra cost to such distributions as nobody can make a living from selling nets in areas where people think the price should be zero.
Open Thread: Spring 2022

Thanks, these are really interesting and useful thoughts!

Where are you donating in 2021, and why?

Thanks very much Saulius, that all makes sense! 

Happy new year! 

Where are you donating in 2021, and why?

Thanks for your reply Saulius! 

I wasn't sure if the 65 years (or 569,400 hours) per dollar already accounts for the number of hours lived in disabling/excruciating pain (as opposed to milder suffering)? 

To be more precise, if each hen lives for ~1.27 years (i.e. 11,125 hours), and a caged hen spends ~431 hours in disabling/excruciating pain, while an aviary hen spends ~156 hours in disabling/excruciating pain, I was thinking that the reduction in hours of suffering per dollar is actually 569400*(431-156)/11125 = 14,075  hours (or 1.6 years)?... (read more)

3saulius8mo
Hi Lucas. No, 65 years estimate doesn't account for the number of hours lived in disabling/excruciating pain. It just means that this how many years chickens spend in better conditions per dollar spent. I found that for every dollar spent on cage-free campaigns, the campaigns caused 60 years of hens being in cage-free rather than caged environments. For every dollar spent on broiler campaigns, the campaigns caused 72 years of broilers being grown in better conditions (most of the impact comes from Europe). Since these numbers are similar, I just said one number (65 years) which says how many years both cage-free and caged campaigns impact per dollar. I did not estimate hours of pain the campaigns prevented. Note that this is cost-effectiveness of an average dollar, not of the additional dollar that you might be donating. And there are many other things that this estimate doesn't take into account that are listed here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/L5EZjjXKdNgcm253H/corporate-campaigns-affect-9-to-120-years-of-chicken-life#Ways_this_estimate_could_be_misleading] (this is for the old estimate, but I think all the same points would apply for this new estimate too).
Where are you donating in 2021, and why?

Thanks Saulius and Johannes! Sounds like these are both fantastic giving opportunities. 

Re the Welfare Footprint Project, my understanding is that we need these welfare estimates to calculate the effect of the Better Chicken Commitment (for example) on years of suffering averted, i.e. something like: 65 years of chicken life * (difference in hours per chicken life of disabling or excruciating pain between slower growing breeds and faster growing breeds / hours lived per chicken life). Is that the approach you would take Saulius? 

Johannes, thanks for linking that cost-effectiveness work, and looking forward to seeing further updates! 

3saulius8mo
Yes, that is the approach I would take. You don't need to divide by hours lived per chicken life though because that's already taken into account in the metric of hours in pain endured throughout the life time. If anything, you might want to adjust for the fact that cage-free hens currently lay fewer eggs throughout their lifetime than caged hens but this will make at most maybe 10% difference. Also, the difference between eggs per hen might shrink as they might optimize cage-free production more when its scale becomes bigger. When it comes to cost-effectiveness of broiler vs. cage-free campaigns, my estimates suggest that it was quite similar for the years 2019-2020 (I'm just telling this because you would need to know that too to make that estimate).
Where are you donating in 2021, and why?

I am continuing monthly donations to The Humane League, as I think their past campaigns are likely to have been more cost-effective at averting suffering than GiveWell top charities, based on this report. I am also donating to GiveWell top charities as they are clearly the gold standard for global poverty. Finally, I allocate a smaller portion of my donations to the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), which I think could plausibly be more cost-effective given the vast costs of climate change, though I would like to see some attempt to quantify the cost-effectiven... (read more)

1[comment deleted]8mo

Hey, I am the author of the corporate campaigns cost-effectiveness estimate you mention. In case it's relevant, I recently spent 3 months doing another (much more detailed) cost-effectiveness estimate of chicken welfare reforms (corporate and legislative) that I unfortunately can not make public.  According to this new estimate, in 2019-2020 chicken welfare reforms affected 65 years of chicken life per dollar spent. According to the same new estimate, the cost-effectiveness in 2016-2018 was about 2.5 times higher. So while it's true that lately campai... (read more)

Open Thread: Spring 2022

Update - I just came across this article, which suggests that harvesting/pasture deaths are probably higher for beef than plants anyway, so it seems a pretty clear decision that being vegan is best in expectation! 

Concerns about AMF from GiveWell reading - Part 2

Hi JPHoughton, 

After looking at this a bit more closely, it appears that the % of funding to each country (rows 7,19) is actually purely arbitary GiveWell's most recent cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA). Hence, the 19% figure I quoted above is not meaningful. Apologies for my misleading comment.  

I suspect that this new approach of using arbitrary percentages reflects the complex question of "room for more funding" outlined in GiveWell's recent blog post. Nonetheless, my understanding is that the funding GiveWell actually allocated to AMF in 2020... (read more)

Open Thread: Spring 2022

Thanks Charles for your thoughtful response. 

"Most informed people agree that beef and dairy cows live the best life of all factory farmed animals, more so than pigs, and much much more so than chickens. " 

I just wanted to note that I'm referring to 100% pasture fed lamb/beef. I think it's very unlikely that it's ethically permissable to eat factory farmed lamb/beef, even if it's less bad than eating chickens, etc. I'd also caution against eating dairy since calves and mothers show signs of sadness when separated, although each dairy cow pro... (read more)

2Charles He9mo
Everything you said is fair and valid and seems right to me. Thank you for your thoughtful choices and reasoning. Edit: I forgot you said entirely pasture/grass fed beef, so this waives the thoughts below. A quibble: 1. It seems that beef and dairy cows both use feed, not just grass. Because eating dairy/beef requires more calories of feed (trophic levels), it is possible the amount of land needed for beef might be large compared to land needed for soy. 2. Grass crops are a use of land that might have ambiguous effects on animal suffering. I don't know about either of 1) or 2) above. I guess I am saying it is either good to be uncertain, or else get a good canonical source.
Open Thread: Spring 2022

Hi everyone! 

I was wondering if anyone had an opinion on whether it is more ethical to eat 100% grass-fed beef/lamb from trusted suppliers in Australia (i.e. CCTV in slaughter houses and minimal transport) or more tofu/beans? 

The pros of tofu/beans are clearly that it does not require taking the life from a cow or lamb who wants to live (although note that it takes lots of meals  to cause the death of one cow), and also that it dramatically reduces carbon emissions. 

The pros of instead eating 100% grass-fed beef/lamb are that it ma... (read more)

2Babel7mo
From a consequentialist perspective, I think what matters more is how these options affect your psychology and epistemics (in particular, whether doing this will increase or decrease your speciesist bias, and whether doing this makes you uncomfortable), instead of the amount of suffering they directly produce or reduce. After all, your major impact on the world is from your words and actions, not what you eat. That being said, I think non-consequentialist views deserve some considerations too, if only due to moral uncertainty. I'm less certain about what are their implications though, especially when taking into account things like WAS. A few minor notes to your points: At least where I live, vitamin supplements can be super cheap if you go for the pharmaceutical products instead of those health products wrapped up in fancy packages. I'm taking 5 kinds of supplements simultaneously, and in total they cost me no more than (the RMB equivalent of) several dollars per month. It might be hard to hide that from your friends if you are eating meat when being alone. All the time people mindlessly say things they aren't supposed to say. Also when your friends ask you about your eating habit you'll have to lie, which might be a bad thing even for consequentialists [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/CfcvPBY9hdsenMHCr/integrity-for-consequentialists] .
5Lucas Lewit-Mendes8mo
Update - I just came across this article [http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc], which suggests that harvesting/pasture deaths are probably higher for beef than plants anyway, so it seems a pretty clear decision that being vegan is best in expectation!
2Charles He9mo
This is a really thoughtful and useful question. Most informed people agree that beef and dairy cows live the best life of all factory farmed animals, more so than pigs, and much much more so than chickens. Further, as you point out, beef and dairy cows produce much more food per animal (or suffering weighted days alive). A calculator here can help make make the above thoughts more concrete [https://reducing-suffering.org/how-much-direct-suffering-is-caused-by-various-animal-foods/] , maybe you have seen it. I think you meant prevents painful deaths? With this change, I don't know, but this seems plausible. (I think amount of suffering depends on the land use and pesticides, but I don't know if the scientific understanding is settled, and this subtopic may be distracting.) I think you have a great question. Note that extreme suffering in factory farming probably comes from very specific issues, concentrated in a few types of animals (caged hens suffering to death [https://countinganimals.com/is-vegan-outreach-right-about-how-many-animals-suffer-to-death/#:~:text=Chickens%20arrive%20dead%20for%20a,days%20to%20reduce%20fecal%20contamination.] by the millions and other graphic situations). This means that, if the assumptions in this discussion are true, and our concern is on animal suffering, decisions like beef versus tofu, or even much larger dietary decisions, seem small in comparison.
2JPHoughton9mo
Thanks Lucas. You are right that there is a version 3 of this spreadsheet and my post is based on version 2. I originally took a copy of the spreadsheet in late August and v3 appeared in September. The only difference I can see between the two is the allocation of funding across countries (row 7), with the rest of the values agreeing once this is adjusted. Still, this is a vital difference for my essay, and agree v3 gets the average cost-per-life-saved pretty close to the stated range. GiveWell don't justify this change in their changelog [https://www.givewell.org/how-we-work/our-criteria/cost-effectiveness/cost-effectiveness-models/changelog-2021] and it seems a little finger-in-the-air to me. Some quick research shows AMF's $108m of recently committed funding [https://www.againstmalaria.com/ImmediateFundingGap.aspx] almost exclusively went to DRC. That said, it's not clear where the next $80m will go as AMF do not publicly identify countries involved until an Agreement is signed. Loreno, thanks again for your efforts here. I agree with what you said, and have tweaked the post to say "2021 v2" for clarity.
Concerns about AMF from GiveWell reading - Part 2

Hi JPHoughton, 

"Virtually all donations today to the Against Malaria Foundation will go towards long lasting insecticidal nets for the Democratic Republic of Congo."

As far as I can tell from GiveWell's current cost-effectiveness analysis, only 19% of donations will go to DRC? https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1B1fODKVbnGP4fejsZCVNvBm5zvI1jC7DhkaJpFk6zfo/edit#gid=1364064522 (row 19) 

Taking a weighted average of each country's cost-effectiveness by the % of donations, I get a cost-effectiveness of $5,636. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d... (read more)

1Lorenzo9mo
I get "Access Denied" trying to access your spreadsheets. In any case the most recent released model is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11HsJLpq0Suf3SK_PmzzWpK1tr_BTd364j0l3xVvSCQw/edit#gid=1364064522 [https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11HsJLpq0Suf3SK_PmzzWpK1tr_BTd364j0l3xVvSCQw/edit#gid=1364064522] . The "Percentage of funding to be allocated to each country with marginal donations", described as "percentage of funding we expect the charity would allocate to each country if it were to receive additional funding." seems to be 100% to DRC. I assume that's what JPHoughton is referring to, I think it might be helpful to clarify it in the main post