Jonas loves his wife, being in nature, and exploring interesting worlds both fictional and real. He uses his bamboo bike daily to get around in Munich. During the day, he writes software to track bednets for AMF. At night, he enjoys playing Ultimate and dancing.


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New cause area: Violence against women and girls

This is an updated version of my initial comment, hopefully more polite and fact-based.

I would agree with Question Mark that it is worth exploring opportunities to reduce violence against men, in addition to what the present post does for violence against women. Like Question Mark writes, the scale of this problem is large. Presumably, males experience violence more often than females, albeit for different reasons.

That said, I think the comparisons put forward by Question Mark are creating a biased impression. Here are a few points to keep in mind for a balanced picture:

  • While this post focuses on interventions to prevent intimate partner violence, the homicide statistics by gender look at a different type of violence. This is not an apples-for-apples comparison. If we instead consider sexual violence and intimate partner violence, we find that 90% of (US) adult rape victims are female, and that women are more affected than men in all categories of intimate partner violence.

    Keeping the focus on intimate partner violence rather than general violence also makes interventions more tractable. General violence / homicide are broad topics with complex reasons for why men are more affected, including reasons that have to do with male behavior.

  • Question Mark's comment also compares female genital mutilation (FGM) with male circumcision. My impression was that the comment considered them comparably harmful (but maybe this is just an uncharitable reading of my part; apologies in this case). I believe that there are good reasons to think of FGM as a larger problem, such as:

With these considerations in mind, I think that interventions focused specifically on violence against girls and women make sense. Girls and women often suffer from particularly gruesome forms of violence, which are also tractable to address, as shown by the interventions in this post.

The Strange Shortage of Moral Optimizers

Whether you'd enjoy the book and benefit from it depends strongly on your background, I think.

To me, this was a good read because I learned about a broad range of interventions for helping people -- graduation programs and child sponsorships being probably the most notable examples. The book really changed my mind on child sponsorships. I had thought of them as a rather high-overhead intervention that was popular because it appeals to emotion to get donors' money... but now I think they can be cost-effective when done well.

That said, if your goal is to learn about various effective interventions (beyond the few that GiveWell writes about), then a good and free resource would be the life you can save book.

The second reason to recommend the book is its good discussion on "flourishing", that is, a holistic view of health, wellbeing, and prosperity. Finally, a third reason to read it is to get a Christian perspective on the subject, or give the book to Christian friends.

New cause area: Violence against women and girls

These issues are of indeed difficult to talk about. And I admit that I haven't been very friendly in this discussion so far. Apologies for that.

Even with nuance, the difference between FGM and male circumcision seems staggering to me. Here's an example of a study that estimates a 3% life quality loss due to FGM. Over an entire life, that amounts to more than 1 QALY lost due to the mutilation. Granted, there are less severe forms... but I find 1 QALY a horrifying amount.

Male circumcision on the other hand has positive effects as well as negative. I don't want to downplay the negative effects... but circumcision is probably legal nearly everywhere because these effects are small.

The Strange Shortage of Moral Optimizers

A bit more generally: I think we can look at religions as a set of Alt-EA movements.

Most religions have strong prescriptions and incentives for their members to do good. Many of them also advocate for donating a part of one's income.

All these religions also have members that think hard about how to do the most good in a cost-effective way. Here, "good" follows the definition of the religion and might include aspects such as bringing people closer to God. However, it is usually correlated with EA notions of utility or wellbeing or freedom from suffering. And indeed one can find faith-based organizations with large positive effects: For example, AMF could not distribute its bednets without local partner organizations, and in that list are many faith-based ones like IMA or World Vision.

I'm not claiming that the effect of religion overall is robustly positive -- that's a very difficult question to answer -- but that EA-like intentions, and sometimes actions, can be found in many religious people and organizations.

The Strange Shortage of Moral Optimizers

I've read one alternative approach that is well written and made in good faith: Bruce Wydick's book "Shrewd Samaritan".

It's a Christian perspective on doing good, and arrives at many conclusions that are similar to effective altruism. The main difference is an emphasis on "flourishing" in a more holistic way than what is typically done by a narrowly-focused effective charity like AMF. Wydick relates this to the Hebrew concept of Shalom, that is, holistic peace and wellbeing and blessing.

In practical terms, this means that Wydick more strongly (compared to, say, GiveWell) recommends interventions that focus on more than one aspect of wellbeing. For example, child sponsorships or graduation approaches, where poor people get an asset (cash or a cow or similar) plus the ability to save (e.g., a bank account) plus training.

I believe that these approaches fare pretty well when evaluated, and indeed there are some RCTs evaluating them. These programs are more complex to evaluate, however, than programs that do one thing, like distributing bednets. That said, the rationale that "cash + saving + training > cash only" is intuitive to me, and so this might be an area where GiveWell/EA is a bit biased toward stuff that is more easily measurable.

New cause area: Violence against women and girls

A clarification, after having read more about the interventions:

The studies asked women whether they experienced various forms of intimate partner violence over the last year. If a woman reported any form of violence, that was coded as a "case of IPV". Multiple or repeated experiences within the last year do not change the coding, it is still just one "case of IPV". The "Unite for a better life" intervention averts one case per US$194.

This means one woman more who did not experience violence in the last year. Which probably also means that she is in a lower-risk relationship, and that this state will persist for some time in the future.

New cause area: Violence against women and girls

In addition to the difference in VAWG burden, there are also differences in implementation costs. Interventions will be cheaper in low-income countries than in high-income countries.

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