What are some high-EV but failed EA projects?

post by MichaelDickens · 2022-05-13T16:01:22.286Z · EA · GW · 13 comments

This is a question post.

EAs should take on ambitious projects with high expected value, even if they have a high chance of failure. And people deserve praise for taking on those projects, whether they succeed or fail.

I want to give praise to those people. Who are they?

One example is No Lean Season[1]—a promising global poverty intervention that turned out not to work as well as expected. Good on them for running this project, and good on them for shutting it down when it didn't pan out.

What are some other examples? If you did something that you thought was high-EV but ended up failing, feel free to name yourself!

  1. H/T Will MacAskill for this example. ↩︎


answer by Peter Wildeford · 2022-05-13T19:55:43.943Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Few people know that we tried to start something pretty similar to Rethink Priorities in 2016 (our actual founding was in 2018). We (Marcus and me, the RP co-founders, plus some others) did some initial work but failed to get sustained funding and traction so we gave up for >1 year before trying again. Given that RP -2018 seems to have turned out to be quite successful, I think RP-2016 could be an example of a failed project?

comment by IanDavidMoss · 2022-05-14T00:07:48.506Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's fascinating! What do you think were the key differences between the 2016 approach and the 2018 approach, and how much was just luck of timing?

Replies from: Peter_Hurford
comment by Peter Wildeford (Peter_Hurford) · 2022-05-14T01:14:49.104Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think three key differences:

  • By 2018, we had more of a track record before starting.

  • For the 2018 attempt, we self-funded for six months before seeking funding to build an even bigger track record, rather than trying to get funding right at the beginning.

  • EA funding was notably more plentiful in 2018 than 2016. (Though still notably less plentiful than in 2022.)

answer by MathiasKB · 2022-05-13T17:11:19.534Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

the longtermist entrepreneurship incubator [EA · GW] still seems like a promising project to me, though difficult to execute.

answer by Isaac King · 2022-05-19T06:48:41.566Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Carrick Flynn's congressional campaign just failed.


answer by MichaelDickens · 2022-05-13T16:10:19.936Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I will give an example of one of my own failed projects: I spent a couple months writing Should Global Poverty Donors Give Now or Later? It's an important question, and my approach was at least sort of correct, but it had some flaws that made my approach pretty much useless.

answer by MaxRa · 2022-05-13T21:49:21.909Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

See: How many EAs failed in high risk, high reward projects? https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/JtE2srazz4Yu6NcuQ/how-many-eas-failed-in-zhigh-risk-high-reward-projects [EA · GW]

comment by MichaelDickens · 2022-05-13T22:22:41.749Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I hadn't seen this previous post!

answer by Jeff Kaufman · 2022-05-25T11:16:53.608Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wave's first attempt to build a mobile money system was in Ethiopia. I joined them to help with it, and was laid off when it failed.

(They've more recently been successful in Senegal and elsewhere; it's just the initial Ethiopia project that failed.)

answer by Linch · 2022-05-13T19:07:59.239Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If I was smarter and more careful, I probably could've been able to figure out that this wasn't high impact even ex ante, but at the time I thought that running a large utilitarian memes page [EA · GW] could've been pretty high impact. 

comment by Kaleem · 2022-05-13T20:12:21.532Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

don't underestimate how much utility that page has produced Linch !

answer by Jonas Vollmer · 2022-05-14T14:06:32.446Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I added a response to the other post [EA(p) · GW(p)].

answer by AnonymousEAForumAccount · 2022-09-02T19:19:36.602Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it is fair to call EA Ventures, the Pareto Fellowship, and EA Grants failed projects, and I think each had high-EV. I’ve written evaluations of each of them here [EA · GW]. I also discuss the EA Librarian project [EA · GW] (though I don’t conduct a full evaluation) which also seems to have failed.


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