So-Low Growth's Shortform

post by So-Low Growth · 2020-08-03T11:39:11.119Z · EA · GW · 5 comments


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comment by So-Low Growth · 2020-08-03T11:39:20.523Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd like feedback on an idea if possible. I have a longer document with more detail that I'm working on but here's a short summary that sketches out the core idea/motivation:

Potential idea: hosting a competition/experiment to find the most convincing argument for donating to long-termist organisations

Brief summary

Recently, Professor Eric Shwitzgebel and Dr Fiery Cushman conducted a study to find the most convincing philosophical/logical argument for short-term causes. By ‘philosophical/logical argument’ I mean an argument that attempts to persuade readers to donate to short-term causes through reasoning by logic, which often involves basing the arguments on certain philosophical underpinnings, rather than relying on evoking emotion (i.e. pictures of starving children etc.). The authors were motivated by the hypothesis that arguments that appealed to people through logical/philosophical reasoning would not be an effective tool at persuading people to donate, compared to a control condition (reading a passage from a Physics textbook). Shwitzgebel and Cushman ran a competition for submissions from the public. The winners were awarded $1000 ($500 to the author and $500 to the author’s choice of charity).

The authors measured the ‘persuasiveness’ of an argument by the highest average donation given by participants in an experiment to six selected short-termist charities (all of which had a global development/public health focus). Participants in the experiment read different passages of text depending on the experimental condition they were in. They were then informed that they had a 10% chance of receiving a $10 bonus, and that they would be given an opportunity to donate a portion of that bonus to one of the six charities. The winning argument was submitted by Peter Singer and Matthew Lindauer, which had the highest average mean donation amount, beating all the other arguments and the control group.

I found this experiment very intriguing. I suggest here that something similar should be done but for long-termist causes. To my knowledge, something along the lines of this has not been conducted previously. Extending the framework of the Shwitzgebel and Cushman study, I would find the most convincing argument by hosting a competition to elicit submissions for persuasive arguments on long-termism. After narrowing these down, I’d then proceed to run an experiment on participants to see which of the remaining arguments results in the highest average contribution.

comment by Larks · 2020-09-18T16:36:30.836Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is an interesting idea. You might need to change the design a bit; my impression is that the experiment focused on getting people to donate vs not donating, whereas the concern with longtermism is more about prioritisation between different donation targets. Someone's decision to keep the money wouldn't necessarily mean they were being short-termist: they might be going to invest that money, or they might simply think that the (necessarily somewhat speculative) longtermist charities being offered were unlikely to improve long-term outcomes.

comment by So-Low Growth · 2020-10-13T20:32:42.663Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Question: Imagine we could quantify the amount of suffering the average person does by eating meat and the amount of environmental damage that comes from eating this meat. How much would they need to donate to the most effective charities (climate change and animal suffering) in order to off-set their meat-eating habit?

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-10-21T13:34:45.135Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

People have tried to estimate similar figures before. See Jeff Kaufman on dairy offsets or Gregory Lewis on meat-eating [EA · GW] (searching the term "moral offset" will help you find other examples I haven't linked).

Some people also think this idea is conceptually bad or antithetical to EA [EA · GW].

comment by So-Low Growth · 2020-10-24T12:32:03.850Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you Aaron. That's exactly what I was looking for, and additionally I can dig deeper!