Why isn't GV psychedelics grantmaking housed under Open Phil?

post by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-05T17:10:45.959Z · EA · GW · 17 comments

This is a question post.

Good Ventures, the foundation that supports the Open Philanthropy Project, has made a series of grants to psychedelic research organizations:

These grants are relatively small compared to the foundation's overall grantmaking capacity, but seem to indicate that Good Ventures has a clear & consistent interest in supporting psychedelic research.

There isn't any record of these grants on the Open Phil site.

Seems like these grants could be neatly housed under Open Phil's "Scientific Research" cause area, perhaps in the "Other Scientific Research" portfolio.

I'm curious about why there's a separation between Good Ventures' psychedelic grantmaking & the grants it makes through Open Phil.

(It's possible that this is simply an oversight, though given what I know about Open Phil's processes I'm guessing it's an intentional separation.)


answer by Kit · 2019-05-06T08:07:05.506Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

From Good Ventures' grantmaking approach page:

In 2018, Good Ventures funded $164 million in grants recommended by the Open Philanthropy Project, including $74 million to GiveWell’s top charities, standout charities, and incubation grants. (These grants generally appear in both the Good Ventures and Open Philanthropy Project grants databases.)
Good Ventures makes a small number of grants in additional areas of interest to the foundation. Such grants totaled around $19 million in 2018. Check out Our Portfolio and Grants Database to learn more about the grants we've made so far.
comment by Kit · 2019-05-06T08:07:29.483Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As an aside, I wouldn't say that any Good Ventures things are 'housed under Open Phil'. I'd rather say that Open Phil makes recommendations to Good Ventures. i.e. Open Phil is a partner to Good Ventures, not a subsidiary.

Technically, I've therefore answered a different question to the one you asked: I've answered the question 'why aren't these grants on the Open Phil website'.

comment by BenMillwood · 2019-05-06T15:19:57.653Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's an unanswered question here of why Good Ventures makes grants that OpenPhil doesn't recommend, given that GV believes in the OpenPhil approach broadly. But I guess I don't find it that surprising that they do so. People like to do more than one thing?

Replies from: Milan_Griffes
comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-06T23:21:36.521Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Makes sense. I'm particularly curious about the psychedelic research grants, because it seems like those both could be neatly housed under Open Phil's "Other Scientific Research" portfolio.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-06T17:13:13.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)


I just flipped through the Good Ventures grants database & spot-checked ~30 of their 2018 grants.

Every grant I checked was made under the aegis of Open Phil, except for the aforementioned psychedelic grants & these grants to Alzheimer's research: 1, 2, 3, 4

The same question comes up for the Alzheimer's grants – seems like they could be neatly placed in Open Phil's other scientific research portfolio, but weren't.

answer by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-06T23:18:48.983Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I asked about this on the most recent Open Phil open thread. Michael Levine replied:

Hi Milan – thanks for the question. You’re right that this was an intentional separation. While the vast majority of Good Ventures grants are also Open Phil grants and appear in both databases, there are a couple of causes – these grants are one, and Alzheimer’s research is another – where Good Ventures has made grants that aren’t in Open Phil focus areas. These grants didn’t go through the cause selection process that we think of as the special sauce that makes something an Open Phil grant.
Hope this is clarifying.

I followed up with:

Thanks for the speedy reply!

Could you say a little more about the conditions under which Good Ventures decides to make grants outside of the Open Phil branding?

I'm particularly curious about the psychedelic & Alzheimer's research grants, because it seems like those both could be neatly housed under Open Phil's "Other Scientific Research" portfolio.
comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-09T03:45:34.883Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Michael Levine replied:

Hi Milan – there’s not much more to say here. The grants in question aren’t housed under our Other Scientific Research portfolio because we didn’t recommended them, because they didn’t go through our standard prioritization and investigation process. Most of Good Ventures’ giving is based on recommendations from Open Phil and GiveWell, but Good Ventures has made and will continue to make occasional other grants as they see fit. We think that’s perfectly normal and expect that the same thing would occur if and when we partner closely with other funders.

To which I replied:

Thanks, Michael. I feel like we’re somewhat talking past each other – I’m curious for more detail about why the psychedelic grants & the Alzheimer’s grants didn’t go through Open Phil’s standard processes. Can you say more about that?
Replies from: aarongertler, Milan_Griffes
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-07-19T12:14:21.053Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I can imagine a couple of scenarios:

a) GV asked Open Phil if they had the capacity to look into psychedelics/Alzheimer's, and Open Phil said "no"

b) GV asked Open Phil for shallow investigations of those areas, and the results weren't promising enough for Open Phil to want to continue, but weren't so un-promising that GV gave up

c) GV has some research capacity independent of Open Phil, and decided to use it on these causes (maybe because Dustin/Cari see them as personally motivating/"warm fuzzies", even if they are potentially high-impact)

...there are plenty of other possibilities I haven't had time to think of, but some combination of (a) and (c) feels pretty likely to me. (This is entirely speculative; I have no special insight into the relationship between GV and Open Phil.)

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-10T00:38:04.887Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

And Michael replied:

Hi Milan. Nope, not much more to say here. I feel like my last couple of answers have exhausted what there is to say on this. Sorry to not be more helpful.
Replies from: AviN
comment by AviNorowitz (AviN) · 2019-05-28T00:05:09.538Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's Dustin and Cari's money, so it's their decision what to do with it.


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comment by BenMillwood · 2019-05-06T05:05:05.110Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Have you attempted to contact GV or OpenPhil directly about this?

Replies from: Robert_Wiblin, Milan_Griffes
comment by Robert_Wiblin · 2019-05-06T11:39:39.143Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Any forum post absorbs hours of time and attention from the community, so I support there being a norm of getting questions answered by emailing the group that probably knows the answer, where doing so is possible.

Replies from: Milan_Griffes
comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-06T15:50:29.346Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My current model is that formal EA orgs are deluged with incoming email, which makes email a pretty noisy channel.

Replies from: Robert_Wiblin, aarongertler
comment by Robert_Wiblin · 2019-05-06T16:39:25.223Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would reply to an email asking something like this about 75% of the time within 1-2 weeks, and suspect the same is true of most other orgs.

Admittedly the answer might be only a few sentences, and might be 'sorry I don't know try asking X.'

But it seems worth trying in the first instance. :)

Replies from: Denise_Melchin
comment by Denise_Melchin · 2019-05-07T16:49:07.945Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

But asking privately only gives one person the answer, instead of many. I'm a bit surprised by your response - I had expected that the group who knows the answer usually has better things to do than answer random emails, while there are a lot of individuals who probably have knowledge like this whose time isn't as valuable.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2019-05-07T00:44:57.427Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In my experience, formal EA orgs tend to respond to questions of this kind reasonably quickly (I'm deliberately only thinking of cases from before I actually worked for CEA). GiveWell and Open Phil in particular usually respond to comments on their blog posts within days.

comment by Milan_Griffes · 2019-05-06T15:49:23.553Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I asked about it on Open Phil's most recent open thread.