HIPR: A new EA-aligned policy newsletter

post by arushigupta · 2021-05-11T16:32:23.306Z · EA · GW · 11 comments

Contents

  HIPR Issue #5: India, HFCs, menthols, and psychedelics
  Updates
    
    
    Aid
    
    
    
    Policy
    Reform
    Animal Welfare
    
    
  Opportunities
None
11 comments

I'm Arushi Gupta, the co-director of Effective Altruism NYC, and I recently started a newsletter called High Impact Policy Review, or HIPR, covering US policy news that I think is high-impact. This includes news about topics like COVID, healthcare, and climate policy, as well as topics of particular concern among effective altruists like foreign aid, farmed animal welfare, and tech policy. It also includes a few job high-impact policy job opportunities.

The goal is to make this newsletter very accessible and useful both to anyone interested in policy (not just EAs) and get people thinking more about what the most impactful, influential policy really is.

High-impact doesn't necessarily mean good - I try to highlight all the policy news (local and federal) that's happened that seems like it will have a large impact, whether that impact is positive or negative. Sometime I don't know what the impact of a decision will be either, and I try to say that.

I've shared the most recent issue (sent out on Friday, May 7th) below - please take a read and subscribe if you'd be interested! New issues go out every two weeks.

It would be helpful to know if people think I should post each issue on the Forum. I know other newsletters, like EA London, do this but I don't want to clutter the Forum with posts every 2 weeks if people think it's too off-topic!

I'd also like to acknowledge that I've had a bunch of help from some members of the EA community who are well-versed in the policy space in getting this off the ground.

Please subscribe and share with anyone who might find this interesting, even if they're not already interested in EA! It's meant for a broad audience of people who find policy important.


HIPR Issue #5: India, HFCs, menthols, and psychedelics

Welcome to the fifth edition of High Impact Policy Review, or HIPR! Sorry this edition is a week late - I was totally knocked out by my second vaccine shot last week, and decided to push this issue by a week. Lots of stuff happened in the past three weeks, so let’s get to it!

Updates

COVID

Climate

Foreign Aid

Democracy/Voting

Immigration

Health

Foreign Policy

Justice Reform

Farmed Animal Welfare

Tech

Other

Opportunities

Interested in learning more on how to increase your engagement with high-impact U.S. policy? Check out a list of resources on the HIPR website!

Please email hello@highimpactpolicy.review with any feedback! And feel free to forward any news that you think should be included in the next edition. If this was forwarded to you, you can subscribe here!

Until next time,

Arushi 📋🖋

11 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Larks · 2021-05-12T03:27:35.773Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While this is very detailed, and looks like a good political newsletter, I'm not sure it's a good fit for the forum. The constant newsflow of partisan topics can consume a lot of attention without adding much value, and relatively few of the topics covered here seem like plausible EA topic areas.

I also worry that in your attempt to cover a lot of area some of these summaries are quite misleading. This is probably inevitable, because it takes a lot of time to become informed about an issue, but it means that in many cases I think that someone reading this might end up coming to conclusions quite at odds to reality.

For example, consider this summary, of the CDC/FDA's decision to ban and then re-allow the JnJ vaccine:

Speaking of, the J&J pause was lifted, after 10 days. Much ink has been spilled describing the situation, but I think there were basically no good options here. Polls do seem to show that it hasn’t increased vaccine hesitancy.

You suggest that there were no good options, and link to a Mother Jones article on the subject. I would have expected this article to supply evidence for your claim by enumerating the possible options and showing that all of them had major problems. Indeed, the article does discuss two options:

  • The CDC/FDA could have hidden the data about the blot clots, hoped no-one noticed, and continued the rollout. But this risks undermining public trust if/when the truth gets out.
  • The CDC/FDA could ban distribution of the the vaccine and investigate the issue.

However, the article does not consider what I and many other people consider to be obviously  the best strategy:

  • Disclose the blood clots to the public, but continue to allow its distribution.

It is possible that this is not in fact the best strategy. But "Tell people the truth, then let them make up their own minds" is normally the best strategy.  At the very least an article arguing that there were no good options needs to at least consider  this third option.

Secondly, you suggest that this pause has not damaged vaccine takeup. I do not think this view is supported by the evidence:

  • The temporary suspensions of the AstraZeneca vaccine dramatically reduced public trust in the EU, especially when compared to the UK which had not done a similar suspension.
  • The percentage of people who thought the JnJ vaccine was safe fell by about 15 percentage points.
  • Vaccination rates for every age group dropped dramatically when the FDA banned the JnJ vaccine, regardless of vaccine penetration.
  • Even after the ban was lifted, almost no-one wants to get the J&J vaccine now. Takeup rates for the other vaccines have not risen to compensate; they have actually fallen.
  • Many people in America would have preferred the J&J vaccine, because it only requires one shot, and is not 'new, unsafe' technology. 
  • Even if no lasting damage has been done to vaccine willingness, around 50 people will have died of covid who would otherwise have been saved by the J&J vaccine. In exchange, around 2 probably non-fatal blood clots were averted.

Given the above as well as my wider reading around the issue, I actually think a fairer summary would have been:

Speaking of, the J&J pause was lifted, after 10 days. While initially establishment public health experts were supportive of the decision, political scientists and well informed amateurs were sharply critical, arguing that this pause was unnecessary given the extremely low incidence of blood clots and importance of ending the pandemic. Subsequent data suggests that the fear generated by this decision has significantly undermined the US vaccination program.

Unfortunately gathering the data to illustrate this point is quite time consuming. Despite being already well versed in the subject, the above section took me over an hour to put together in response to a single bullet point, and I count 38 similar news bullet points in the post. I provide it as an illustration of the difficulties involved in this project; I think many of your other bullet points contain similar inaccuracies and misleading statements, but it is simply too time consuming to go into them.

If you do continue, I would strongly encourage you to consider getting a Republican to review your writeups. Many of the sections have a distinct pro-administration bias, and I think checking this would be the easiest way to significantly improve the overall accuracy.

Replies from: evelynciara, Sophia
comment by evelynciara · 2021-05-12T18:26:41.464Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The claim that the newsletter has a "pro-administration bias" strikes me as odd, because the newsletter has been largely critical of the Biden administration's foreign policy and global vaccine distribution strategy. Rather, the newsletter overall seems to have a far-left viewpoint (i.e. more like Bernie than Biden). There are pros and cons to this. On the one hand, I'm personally glad to see more political diversity within the EA movement. A plurality of EAs identify as "center-left" [EA(p) · GW(p)], including me, and I don't think that political affiliation should be a barrier to participation in EA (although I draw the line at authoritarianism and bigotry: fascists, tankies, and the like). On the other hand, I agree that a more politically diverse group of people writing or reviewing the newsletter would make fewer errors in expectation.

I also think that covering a narrow range of topics, but in more depth, would improve the newsletter's accuracy.

Replies from: Sophia
comment by Sophia · 2021-05-13T04:23:35.445Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted your comment despite agreeing with a lot of your critiques because I very, very strongly disagree that posts like this aren't a good fit for the forum (and my best guess is that discouraging this sort of post does significantly more harm than good). If someone who has a good understanding of what effective altruism is has an idea they think is plausibly a high impact use of time (or other resources), the forum is exactly where that sort of idea belongs! This post clearly reaches this standard. Once the idea is on the forum, open discussion can happen about whether it is a high impact idea, or even net positive. 

 If people only ever post ideas to the forum that they are already quite sure the effective altruism community will agree are high impact, it will be much harder for the effective altruism community to not be an echo chamber of only the "approved" ideas.  I think the author has improved the forum by making this post for two reasons. The first reason is that the post created an interesting discussion on whether this idea is good one and how it could be improved (the critiques in your comment were an important contribution to this!). Secondly, more importantly, their post nudged the culture of the forum in a direction I liked; making it more normal to post ideas for plausibly* high impact projects that aren't as obviously connected to one of the standard EA ideas that come up in every EA intro talk. Despite me not being sure that this idea is even net positive, it still seems almost absurd to me that this post isn't a good fit for the EA forum (especially if people like you make compelling critiques and suggestions in the comments, ensuring the discussion isn't too one-sided and maybe also allowing plausibly good ideas to iterate into better ideas)!

*To me, sufficiently plausible to be a good fit for a forum post, as I said above, is an author who understands what EA is who thinks the idea might be high impact. I actually think this author went well beyond and above what I think a good minimum bar is for such ideas;  it sounds like this author put in a great deal of thought into this project, has put quite a bit of work already into getting this idea off the ground and also got feedback from multiple people in the EA community!

comment by Sophia · 2021-05-13T04:24:54.493Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted your comment despite agreeing with a lot of your critiques because I very, very strongly disagree that posts like this aren't a good fit for the forum (and my best guess is that discouraging this sort of post does significantly more harm than good). If someone who has a good understanding of what effective altruism is has an idea they think is plausibly a high impact use of time (or other resources), the forum is exactly where that sort of idea belongs! This post clearly reaches this standard. Once the idea is on the forum, open discussion can happen about whether it is a high impact idea, or even net positive. 

 If people only ever post ideas to the forum that they are already quite sure the effective altruism community will agree are high impact, it will be much harder for the effective altruism community to not be an echo chamber of only the "approved" ideas.  I think the author has improved the forum by making this post for two reasons. The first reason is that the post created an interesting discussion on whether this idea is good one and how it could be improved (the critiques in your comment were an important contribution to this!). Secondly, more importantly, their post nudged the culture of the forum in a direction I liked; making it more normal to post ideas for plausibly* high impact projects that aren't as obviously connected to one of the standard EA ideas that come up in every EA intro talk. Despite me not being sure that this idea is even net positive, it still seems almost absurd to me that this post isn't a good fit for the EA forum (especially if people like you make compelling critiques and suggestions in the comments, ensuring the discussion isn't too one-sided and maybe also allowing plausibly good ideas to iterate into better ideas)!

*To me, sufficiently plausible to be a good fit for a forum post, as I said above, is an author who understands what EA is who thinks the idea might be high impact. I actually think this author went well beyond and above what I think a good minimum bar is for such ideas;  it sounds like this author put in a great deal of thought into this project, has put quite a bit of work already into getting this idea off the ground and also got feedback from multiple people in the EA community!

Replies from: Larks
comment by Larks · 2021-05-13T05:11:47.613Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To be clear, I think this specific post was a reasonable fit for the forum, insomuch as it is a proposal for a newsletter, for the reasons you outlined. I agree the forum should accept ideas that are merely plausibly promising, so they can be refined, create useful discussion, and give people the opportunity for growth.  And indeed I did not downvote this post.

The issue I was responding to was the question of whether every instalment of the newsletter should be shared on the forum:

It would be helpful to know if people think I should post each issue on the Forum. I know other newsletters, like EA London, do this but I don't want to clutter the Forum with posts every 2 weeks if people think it's too off-topic!

Given that the post explicitly raised the question I think it is perfectly legitimate to answer it in the negative.

Sorry if this was not clear. It actually did not even occur to me that this individual post might be inappropriate, so I made no attempt in my comment to distinguish this from my view.

Replies from: abergal, Sophia
comment by abergal · 2021-05-13T05:54:09.335Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

FWIW I had a similar initial reaction to Sophia, though reading more carefully I totally agree that it's more reasonable to interpret your comment as a reaction to the newsletter rather than to the proposal. I'd maybe add an edit to your high-level comment just to make sure people don't get confused?

comment by Sophia · 2021-05-13T06:07:20.259Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense! My mistake. 

comment by jackva · 2021-05-12T20:08:31.750Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The goal is to make this newsletter very accessible and useful both to anyone interested in policy (not just EAs) and get people thinking more about what the most impactful, influential policy really is.


Thanks for this work! Commenting on the climate section (the topic I know most about, not really expert in the other domains you cover), inferring importance and influentialness from the write-up seems hard -- it looks like a round-up of interesting developments, but with little prioritization and assessment between them.

E.g. the American Jobs Plan is arguably the most important climate legislation right now,  > 10x larger than the climate piece of the Recovery Act and quite a momentous shift in the willingness to invest in low-carbon infrastructure, but this is not clear from the write-up which gives similar weight to fairly marginal issues such as methane regulation for new oil and gas fields (short-lived pollutants in a subset of the economy, and only new installations) or state policies (Washington state having a target that is 10-15% more ambitious than what other Democratic-leaning states are doing seems fairly inconsequential).

I think this makes sense as a round-up, but I do think it does not meet the goal of focusing on the most impactful / influential developments. So I'd agree with Larks and Evelyn that a narrower, but deeper newsletter could be more accurate and more in line with the goal of highlighting particularly important developments.

comment by freedomandutility · 2021-05-11T17:11:33.396Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a great idea and personally I think it's relevant enough for the forum

Replies from: edoarad
comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2021-05-12T11:41:36.846Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree. Generally, we are not at a point where anyone should be concerned with cluttering the forum - the Karma and tag system helps to take care of that

comment by aaronmayer · 2021-05-11T17:37:06.135Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

WOOOHOOO!! Way to go!