Stuart Buck

Executive Director @ Good Science Project
257Joined Dec 2021

Bio

I lead a small think tank dedicated to accelerating the pace of scientific advancement by improving the conditions of science funding. As well, I'm a senior advisor to the Social Science Research Council. Prior to these roles, I spent some 9 years at Arnold Ventures (formerly the Laura and John Arnold Foundation) as VP of Research. 

How I can help others

Science policy, reproducibility, and philanthropy. 

Comments
14

What would have been really interesting is if someone wrote a piece critiquing the EA movement for showing little to no interest in scrutinizing the ethics and morality of Sam Bankman-Fried's wealth. 

To put a fine point on it, has any of his wealth come from taking fees from the many scams, Ponzi schemes, securities fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, etc. in the crypto markets? FTX has been affiliated with some shady actors (such as Binance), and seems to be buying up more of them (such as BlockFi, known for securities fraud). Why isn't there more curiosity on the part of  EA, and more transparency on the part of FTX? Maybe there's a perfectly good explanation (and if so, I'll certainly retract and apologize), but it seems like that explanation ought to be more widely known. 

I submitted an entry to Open Phil (not sure if it came through) that was short and sweet. Reprinted here: 

This essay will be short and simple. 

The problem at hand is this: Far too much potential philanthropy isn’t happening at all. 

First, when you look at the list of Giving Pledge signatories (https://givingpledge.org/pledgerlist), all of whom are billionaires who have promised to give away half their wealth, most of them haven’t set up foundations or made any significant effort to actually follow through on their pledge. Indeed, even the Pledgers that have engaged in serious philanthropy have often been able to increase their net worth by more than they gave away (see https://www.marketwatch.com/story/giving-away-money-well-is-very-hard-the-giving-pledge-turns-10-and-its-signers-are-richer-than-ever-2020-08-08).

Second, the Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving estimates that over $1 trillion is locked up in private foundations and donor-advised funds, most of which don’t provide any transparent way to apply for funding. Indeed, the major firms that manage DAFs (e.g., Schwab) are highly incentivized by management fees not to facilitate transfers out to actual charities. 

Open Philanthropy and associated efforts in EA have focused on how to optimize the philanthropy that already occurs. But what if a focused public campaign and some policy work on DAFs etc. could vastly increase the amount of philanthropy available to optimize? Getting DAFs and Giving Pledge members to distribute 5% of their assets a year could be worth at least $50 billion a year. 

FTX is in trouble with the FDIC: https://www.fdic.gov/news/press-releases/2022/ftx-harrison-letter.pdf

Unsurprisingly, I really like this article and the simulation-based approach here. :) 

This NY Post story also struck me as  odd: https://nypost.com/2022/07/06/sam-bankman-fried-has-few-billion-to-help-crypto-industry/

On one or two occasions, Bankman-Fried, who made billions arbitraging cryptocurrency prices in Asia beginning in 2017, said he has used his own cash to backstop failing crypto companies when it didn’t make sense for FTX to do so.

“FTX has shareholders and we have a duty to do reasonable things by them and I certainly feel more comfortable incinerating my own money,” he said.

Since when do people go to such lengths (including their own personal cash!) to bail out other people's Ponzi schemes or securities fraud

Lots of great points here, and I agree with much of what you say!

Just to clarify, I didn't mean to focus solely on RCTs, and tried throughout to use broader terms like R&D, or "other forms of evaluation," or "difference-in-differences," so as to encompass other research methods that might be more suitable for everything from 1) trying to develop a new program, to 2) evaluating country-wide policies that could never be subjected to an RCT.

Fair point!  Perhaps a more modest standard would be appropriate -- i.e., "giving that produces a net positive effect in the world, something more than 1x."  

If the bar is set so high, then obviously there will be almost nothing worth funding except for a miniscule set of interventions on a miniscule number of issues, and large foundations will be left with piles of money that they don't know what to do with, and meanwhile the world still has lots of problems that need solving even if there's no 10X intervention in sight. 

Fair enough, that was probably too dramatic of a rhetorical flourish! :) 

I guess my point is that if you want top corporate counsel to consider working for Open Phil, you have to the market into account. Someone who could make $700k as General Counsel for the Gates Foundation or $1m+ at a public corporation probably isn't going to take an 80% or 90% pay cut to work at Open Phil. Even the most well-motivated altruist is probably still going to find a reason to convince themselves that they'll do as much good for the world at Gates, and they'll have much more money to contribute to charity themselves, so they might as well take the job that allows them to easily pay for their kids' college, etc. 

Is the submission system working? I clicked "submit," but then saw a blank page: 

  

 

I also asked for my submission to be emailed to me, but it wasn't. 

Thanks! 

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