All of Phil_Thomas's Comments + Replies

EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization
Third, at the moment, this cultural movement (whatever you want to call it) is not orchestrated top-down or directly backed by the formal structures of power (legislative, executive, and judicial branches of American government, and the military), in stark contrast to the Cultural Revolution.

Right, and the Democratic Party would have to be much weaker as an institution to allow a leader with this intent to gain power. This is why political scientists seemed happy with the results of the primary -- it meant we had at least one partially functioning major party.

Uncertainty and sensitivity analyses of GiveWell's cost-effectiveness analyses

Thanks for putting this together, it's really interesting! Based on this analysis, it seems the worm wars may have been warranted after all.

I worked on a related project a few years ago, but I was mainly looking for evidence of a "return" to altruistic risk taking. I had a hard time finding impact estimates that quantified their uncertainty, but eventually found a few sources that might interest you. I listed all the standalone sources here, then tried to combine them in a meta-analysis here. I don't have access to most of the underly... (read more)

How do EA Orgs Account for Uncertainty in their Analysis?

That’s interesting! I worked on something similar, but it only allows for normal distributions and requires pre-calculated returns and variances. Using the GiveWell estimates to create your own probability distributions is an interesting idea -- I spent some time looking through sources like the DCP2 and Copenhagen Consensus data but couldn’t find a source that did a good job of quantifying their uncertainty (although DCP2 does at least include the spread of their point estimates that I used for an analysis here ).

One thing I wondered about while working... (read more)

Is effective altruism overlooking human happiness and mental health? I argue it is.

Yeah I think “inevitable” might be an overstatement, but there do seem to be some pretty promising companies in the area of cCBT for depression right now.

I know less about the apps focused on happiness. Their completion rates might be closer to those of open online courses (~7% on average) because the users might be more motivated. I think building a support community around the app could be important, maybe with users coaching each other? Duplication of effort isn’t necessarily a bad thing at this point because a lot of different approaches are needed to find the right combination of technology/content/support.

Is effective altruism overlooking human happiness and mental health? I argue it is.

What is the actual effect size of CBT run "in the wild" via a scalable delivery mechanism like an app? How much of depression can we expect it to mitigate? Is the main problem to solve here finding a good intervention, or distributing it (i.e. getting people to use the CBT app or whatever)?

From what I can tell, the problem is more with outreach and retention than with effectiveness. Most of what I've read shows that computer based cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) is as effective as in-person CBT for anxiety and depression in the context of... (read more)

Is effective altruism overlooking human happiness and mental health? I argue it is.

I’m glad to see some discussion of this topic here, I think it could be a pretty effective area for EAs to work. I have a few comments specifically related to electronic delivery of therapy. I’ve been following the area for awhile, although most of what I’ve read is in the context of anxiety and depression treatment so it might not be applicable to interventions focused on general happiness.

cCBT is as effective as in-person CBT for anxiety and depression in the context of a RCT. But when you change over to open access therapies, rates of adherence dro... (read more)

0MichaelPlant5yPhil, this is all really helpful. thanks for the links to the other pieces of research and to a couple of eCBT companies I hadn't heard of yet. Also interesting to see that the challenge is substantially behavioural. I do hope this outcome is inevitable too, and I hope I can speed it along, rather than uselessly duplicating the work of others.
Earning to Give: Programming Language Choice

Epicodus put their entire Ruby/Rails program online for free here. I don't know enough to judge the quality, but it might be useful.

Earning to Give: Programming Language Choice

I have also found Python to be very useful. I learned through Udacity's Intro to Computer Science course, which was really user friendly.

March Open Thread

I just came across an interesting set of short, user friendly videos describing how QALYs are derived using the standard gamble or time tradeoff techniques. They mainly focus on applications in the US healthcare system, but I think they could be useful for anyone trying to communicate the ideas of cost effectiveness research.

Determining utilities using the standard gamble and time tradeoff techniques

Calculating QALYs, and applying them to the healthcare system

They're written by Aaron Carroll, who regularly writes for the NYTimes, and blogs at The Inciden... (read more)

Should your choice of charity change based on how much money you have?

I think GiveWell was initially much more critical of the Gates Foundation than they are today. Perhaps this is because during the OPP they found that what Gates does is (1) very difficult and that (2) Gates (or other foundations/govs) had already funded many of the most promising opportunities.

It's probably best to evaluate the GF like a venture capitalist rather than on a project by project basis.

Should your choice of charity change based on how much money you have?

I'm especially interested in coordinating with others, something like a crowdfunding site with prescreened projects would be great.

Otherwise, gambling's cool too :)

Christmas 2014 Open Thread (Open Thread 7)

There was an interesting interview with Dean Karlan from Innovations for Poverty Action on PBS. Some excerpts:

Dean Karlan: I divide my thinking into short-run and long-run. For the long-run, I want to invest. I want to think about how we get better information, better evidence [for what we give], because we need to help future children, not just today’s children. In fact, there are many more children in the future than today so I put more money into the long-run. And for that, I support Innovations for Poverty Action which is doing research to figure o

... (read more)
Spitballing EA career ideas

Once it is viable, capital is naturally invested where its marginal product is highest, which in turn increases the marginal product of its compliments, like labour.

I think the main challenge is finding out how to make investments viable, which is really hard for a number of reasons that are often grouped into the term "poor business environment". It seems like the debate centers around whether anything can be done to improve the business environment, or if we're better off treating the symptoms of poverty while economies sort themselves out.... (read more)

Spitballing EA career ideas

It's not that a country is investing in low productivity industries, this is just what is naturally happening. Poor people from the countryside are moving to cities for a marginally better life, but they're selling trinkets on the street when in the past they may have been manufacturing the trinkets. The point is to figure out how to encourage high productivity jobs, not just observe that they're unavailable.

0Larks7yMy argument is that this is not really an accurate description. The difference between selling trinkets and manufacturing jobs is that the latter requires a large amount of upfront capital investment. If people are not doing this, we need to work out why and address it. Once it is viable, capital is naturally invested where its marginal product is highest, which in turn increases the marginal product of its compliments, like labour. As the wage rate is equal to the marginal productivity of labour, this ultimately increases the wage rate.
Spitballing EA career ideas

This actually isn't a bad idea, something like the IT industry in India. Dani Rodrik keeps making the point that the labor force in many developing nations is making the transition directly from low productivity agriculture jobs to low productivity service jobs without going through high productivity manufacturing jobs that have traditionally led to the formation of a middle class. Some way to get people trained for high productivity service jobs, like in IT, could be really helpful for economic development, although there is probably a massive education... (read more)

1Larks7yWhy would a country invest in lower-productivity industries? If a country is moving to low productivity service jobs it's probably because high productivity jobs are not available.
Why long-run focused effective altruism is more common sense

Something like the efficient frontier in modern portfolio theory comes to mind, where you have a tradeoff between risk and return. We have nowhere near enough data, and don't have a uniform metric of return, as the $/DALY seems too controversial, but I can still dream.

Why long-run focused effective altruism is more common sense

I get the general sense that the field of development economics is starting to ask the bigger questions again, often using different techniques than randomization. This is from an interesting blog post I read recently:

Economic development is about the transition of whole economies from low-productivity, poor places into high-productivity industrial economies. This transition encompasses several aspects: a move out of agriculture and into manufacturing or services, urbanization, declining fertility rates, integration with global markets. Current research

... (read more)
Certificates of impact

This idea also reminds me a little bit of performance based incentives in aid, such as Cash On Delivery programs. Performance based incentives are relatively new, though, so I haven't been able to find many impact evaluations, although initial reports are promising for health interventions (1, 2). There was even talk a few years ago of creating a stock market for charities, but I don't think that has gone anywhere. Robert Shiller also proposed something called a Participation Nonprofit at one point where people would buy shares in a nonprofit then spend... (read more)

Effective Altruism at Your Work

Offering to match donations seems like it would be particularly effective. In that case, you're acting alongside someone else rather than telling them to do something. Also, this could be even more effective if your company has a matching gifts policy.

How Much Can We Generalize from Impact Evaluations? (link)

Note, the author is Eva Vivalt from AidGrade. They have a new blog post here saying they have new data and papers coming out over the next few weeks.

From the post:

We have a lot of new results coming out over the next few weeks – watch this space!

First up: updated data in the meta-analysis app. Data on 10 new interventions were added: >contract teachers; financial literacy; HIV education; irrigation; microhealth insurance; >micronutrients; SMS reminders; performance pay; rural electrification; and women’s >empowerment programs.

There is a

... (read more)
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

Yeah, reading some of the other comments on here leads me to think I might have a misconception of what EA includes, or how others define EA. This may be because I come from the global health/ development economics side of things. I wasn't really sure what LessWrong or MIRI were for a long time, or how they related to the EA community. It might be pretty common for people to have an incomplete picture of what EA is depending on the intellectual route they took to get here. So even if the movement is more broad and inclusive, the public perception of th... (read more)

4Toby_Ord7yNote that you could certainly include contributions to R&D for infectious diseases as part of the existing GWWC pledge. GWWC doesn't have any recommendations in that area, but we certainly see it as a plausibly very effective way of helping. The same is presumably true of your other examples. Anything J-PAL or IPA promote as effective is probably well worth looking into. I personally donate to both J-PAL and IPA themselves.
Should Giving What We Can change its Pledge?

I am not currently a GWWC member, but I intend to join in the future. This change wouldn't have a large effect on me either way, but I would support it.

I have watched the EA movement evolve over the last few years, and it seems to be broadening its scope. This has been especially evident at with GiveWell's Open Philanthropy Project (OPP). When I first became familiar with GiveWell, my initial reaction was that they were missing the big picture. The OPP has been a big positive for me because it addresses areas that could have massive impact, even if t... (read more)

3Vincent_deB7yThis may be a semantic question about what you class under EA, but the scope's always seemed pretty broad - with LessWrong and MIRI big, and GiveWell considering areas other than poverty, before GWWC. GWWC slotted in as the poverty pledge organisation, but that didn't constrain the scope of EA. To that extent I don't think the following is quite right, because GWWC doesn't define the whole EA movement, and the movement already has plenty of visible advocates of other causes:
One month in - it's time for more introductions

Hi everyone, I'm Phil. I have a background in engineering and biology, and am currently considering career paths. I started out working on infrastructure projects in the developing world as an undergrad, and then began to learn about development economics more broadly. This led me to read about J-PAL, IPA and then eventually to GiveWell, GWWC and 80,000 hours. My background makes me most interested in global health and development, but I also find arguments for existential risk mitigation and effective animal altruism pretty convincing. In general, I find it hard to find a group of people thinking along the same lines as effective altruists, so I'm glad to find this forum!

On Progress and Prosperity

I'm relatively new to the area of existential risk, and come more from the development economics/ global health side of things. I find this argument really interesting, and have a few questions and comments.

(1) Economic development in emerging economies generally leads to a demographic transition where birth rates eventually stabilize at or below the replacement rate. It seems to me that if this transition were hastened, it could lead to a smaller steady state population in the long term and lower long term resource consumption (even if consumption is ... (read more)