I Am The 1%

post by gogreatergood · 2019-03-13T01:01:49.306Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW · 5 comments

Made this short video / article / fundraiser to explain Effective Altruism to people who don't run in the same circles as most of us. Put myself directly into a situation to clearly show the ideas.

Constructive criticism welcome as I have several similar ideas planned. Have not been able to get feedback on this from any actual EA people yet!

Peace from a newly involved member.

https://www.gogreatergood.com/news/i-am-the-1-percent/

5 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Aidan O'Gara · 2019-03-14T08:43:33.034Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this! I think there should be a lot more introduction material to effective altruism, and this is a great step.

One stat I'd nitpick: I think GiveWell and other charity effectiveness estimators would pretty strongly disagree with the statement that someone can save a life with $586.

First, $586 is on the very low end of GiveWell's estimates for the cost of saving a life. From their website: "As of November 2016, the median estimate of our top charities' cost-effectiveness ranged from ~$900 to ~$7,000 per equivalent life saved."

Second, that's not literally saying $ per life saved, it's saying $ per "equivalent life saved". GiveWell does moral weight conversions, meaning e.g. if an intervention increases consumption by 25% for 100 people for one year, using their moral weight system, that would be equivalent to saving 0.685 lives. It's tough to make conversions like that, but it's essential in a world with unavoidable tradeoffs - but we should be transparent about when we're doing these conversions. (I'm actually not sure if this is an important factor in the fistula case, more just a general warning.)

Third, GiveWell seems to strongly believe that "we can't take expected value estimates literally, even when they're unbiased", because experience shows that exceptionally effective charities are simply rare. An example: if a high school physics student collects some experimental data that disproves F=ma, do you believe him? No, because this new evidence is much weaker than our prior belief. Similarly, if a new charity comes out with an estimate that says it can save a life for $1, do we believe it? Probably not - not because the study was flawed or biased or malicious or anything like that, but because there's way better odds the study was somehow wrong than there are that they can actually saves lives for $1.

One of the toughest parts about intros to EA is dealing with numbers like these. It's been debated with Giving What We Can and Will MacAskill's Doing Good Better. It's tempting and effective to give a jarring headline like "This campaign saved #x lives today", but all in all, I think it's the right move not to oversell and to be honest about our uncertainty.

(But seriously, really cool project)

comment by gogreatergood · 2019-03-15T00:16:56.311Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Aidan thank you so so much. It means a lot to hear back in detail like this from any EA people. I'm mostly out of any kind of direct contact with EA's (aside from reading articles/videos) so it's awesome to have any kind of conversation. Thank you for helping to expand my knowledge. I understand better how this is all estimated now, and the more I learn about GiveWell the more respect I have for them. Wow. It's intense to come up with conversions like what they are doing.

I did struggle a bit with the $586 number and how I phrased it:

1. I am aware that this is not enough to literally "save a life," as in from death. But, it is a life saved, as in the woman's life is suddenly saved from her physically, mentally, and socially injured life.

2. I am aware that although the $586 IS the average cost of a fistula surgery (at least according to the organization, but they are also vetted by The Life You Can Save and a bunch of others), there are overhead costs that may or may not be included in that number.

That being said, I did still stick to run with the $586 since it is the actual cost of the procedure and after-care, etc... and since if that woman did have that money and was near enough to the doctor, that WOULD be enough to "save her life." (Of course I also have to admit, that I do also like the jarring headline aspect.)

If you have any additional thoughts, def let me know. If not, thank you again!!!

comment by Denkenberger · 2019-03-16T05:13:25.381Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

If you would like to talk with more EAs, there is (was?) a program where you would get the contact info of a new EA every month and then you could set up phone/VOIP call with them. I didn't find the program easily online when I just searched, but I'm pretty sure someone else on the forum would have the info.

comment by aarongertler · 2019-03-13T01:40:58.685Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I like that you cited multiple sources with different perspectives on the world income distribution, rather than simply asserting a single number that someone could easily challenge. It's important to recognize the uncertainty associated with data like this (though it's also important, of course, to accept that any realistic numbers would still lead to the same basic point about how globally wealthy the average developed-world citizen is).

Regarding the video:

  • You've done a very good thing by making a generous donation to Fistula Foundation! My comments on the form/text of the video don't take away from the fact that you've contributed to making a difference in the lives of suffering people.
  • In the past, many EA community groups ran Live Below the Line fundraisers, where members would live for a week using only a tiny amount of money (below the global extreme poverty line), subsisting on small amounts of basic food (but living in their usual homes/dorms/etc.). This seems similar to your campaign here.
    • In my experience, this led to some positive feedback, but also a lot of reasonable negative feedback. The latter came from people who pointed out that a short stint of temporary poverty was quite different from the lived experience of poverty, and that suggesting any sort of comparison between the experience of a hungry college student and someone living on $750/year wasn't a good idea. I'm neutral on that question myself, but empirically, there are risks to any fundraiser that involves or even hints at this kind of comparison.
  • The quote "if you think this lifestyle is a little odd, you are out of touch with how most people in the world live" seems harsh, and fairly inaccurate; only a small fraction of the global population is "homeless", and even the average poor person's home still offers some shelter from the elements (very few people live completely exposed to nature).
comment by gogreatergood · 2019-03-14T23:58:12.693Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yo Aaron thank you so so much for taking the time to reply to me with all this info!!! Super helpful!!!

I didn't know about Live Below the Line, that is great to know about. I'm going to look into what people have done with that before I attempt any other projects. Totally get the negative feedback around that idea, which is obviously related to my own take.

As for my quote "if you think this lifestyle is a little odd, you are out of touch with how most people in the world live" - I have to counter that I did have a tent and sleeping bag, thus was able to survive in below freezing temperatures. So I didn't mean that I was homeless or without shelter. I meant just that I had the basics. (Even though of course, I had more than the basics since this was just for a week, I live in a wealthy area, etc, etc.) That line was also somewhat me addressing just about everybody who thought I was being really weird for even attempting this idea... really it is how most people live (in a very general sense), so it's not THAT weird.

THANK YOU AGAIN. Any further thoughts def let me know. I suddenly love EA forum!!