Announcing Rethink Priorities

post by Marcus_A_Davis · 2018-03-02T21:03:36.196Z · EA · GW · Legacy · 19 comments

This essay was jointly written by Peter Hurford and Marcus A. Davis.

Rethink Charity is excited to announce our new project, Rethink Priorities, which is dedicated to doing foundational research on neglected causes in a highly empirical and transparent manner. This work will begin this year, beginning with a focus on lessons that can be taken from analyzing vaccinations as an intervention in the developing world and animal welfare corporate campaigns.

This work will be led by Marcus A. Davis and Peter Hurford, with Marcus working full-time and Peter working part-time. 

Marcus is a co-founder of Charity Entrepreneurship and Charity Science Health, where he systematically analyzed global poverty interventions, led cost-effectiveness analyses, and oversaw all technical aspects of the project. Before joining the Charity Science team, he ran Effective Altruism Chicago and worked with LEAN coordinating outreach to local EA groups around the globe.

Peter is a data scientist working from Chicago. He co-founded Rethink Charity, and is on the board of Charity Science and Animal Charity Evaluators. He has reviewed and produced research on cause prioritization and effective altruism since 2013.

In doing this research, we focus on the following principles:

Right now, our research agenda is focused on:

What we’ve done so far:

Our research agenda and approach are still in the very early stages and may change significantly as we grow and learn.

19 comments

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comment by Ervin · 2018-03-06T20:42:50.454Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you/Rethink Charity need funding? I presume the EA Community fund is throwing a healthy amount of money your work?

comment by Tee · 2018-03-07T17:38:24.847Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for asking Ervin. Were we to scale this project according to our estimates, we would need additional funding. There are also some small gaps in Rethink Charity operations that we'd like to fill. Talks are ongoing with CEA about additional funding either through their Grants or Funds programs

comment by Ervin · 2018-03-09T01:42:50.710Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Huh, given the odd funding splurges (things like a $60k EA Grant for developing a new version of Less Wrong for people to have fun intellectual discussions on, and I believe a similarly luxuriant amount to EA Geneva) I'm surprised an organization which does as much as Rethink Charity isn't already fully funded by the movement building fund. Does anyone know how much money got donated to that and where it's gone?

comment by Tee · 2018-03-12T19:54:59.302Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ben West asked this question in the EA Facebook group late last year, and I believe EA Funds has updated since then: https://www.facebook.com/groups/effective.altruists/permalink/1606722932717391/

It's not clear what the optimal amount of funding for resurrecting LW should be, but according to the EA survey (run by Rethink), LW had been a top source for introducing people to EA until recently: http://effective-altruism.com/ea/1h5/ea_survey_2017_series_how_do_people_get_into_ea/

Qualifying this by clarifying that I'm the ED of Development for Rethink Charity – I would say the lineup of projects offered by Rethink (SHIC, LEAN, RC Forward and Rethink Priorities, EA Survey) should be among the most competitive funding options for community building, especially considering our reach and impact on a comparatively low budget: https://rtcharity.org/monthly-donor-briefing-03-2018/

comment by konrad · 2018-05-11T15:05:56.452Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just to clarify: EA Geneva has not received any funding from CEA to date - we are waiting on the decision from the recent community grants round.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2018-03-06T19:49:05.578Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

We did consider applying to join these organizations. I (Peter) am personally constrained more in what I can do as long as I want to keep my full-time data science job, as I doubt existing orgs would want to hire me for just 10hrs/week. Marcus is working full-time and has more flexibility to join an organization, but has decided not to.

Broadly, we think working at an organization (we've considered OpenPhil and ACE) has a lot of benefits and resources, but it also has a lot of costs. If we do research on our own, we are free to explore whatever we wish without restriction. Avoiding constraints early makes a lot of sense while we still figure things out and while we're not yet sure which organizations' research agenda we agree with and want to constrain ourselves to.

We're also worried about the slow publication cycle of existing organizations and the lack of public discussion that occurs around EA cause prioritization content. Broadly, we're in an early period where we want to experiment and fail fast, and if we fail, joining an existing organization may be an attractive way to keep going. We're not sure yet if this project is the best path forward, and we're committed to following up and shutting down if it doesn't work out.

Lastly, we think doing this project could be a good way of building up our track record and CV for if and when we do apply to other organizations.

comment by Dunja · 2018-03-02T22:14:05.634Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This all sounds really great, glad to hear you actually have a whole project on this! :)

Do you plan to use the empirical info you've gathered as guidelines for funding, or what is your idea of how your results could be employed for charity issues?

I'm also curious which factors you plan to investigate when it comes to the EA movement building?

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2018-03-03T17:34:50.255Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

We do plan to potentially use the research to inform grantmaking and the formation of charities. We hope that charity grantmakers (e.g., OpenPhil) and rankers (e.g., GiveWell, ACE) may find our research useful for their own decision making.

comment by inconvenient · 2018-03-03T12:24:46.855Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Have you asked GPI and FHI's macrostrategy team whether they have suggestions for kinds of prioritization research (if any) that you could usefully do? This is a difficult kind of research to do, and LEAN/SHIC/Peter don't have a track record of generating important prioritization considerations in the same way as these other organizations.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2018-03-03T17:33:43.292Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Give us a moment to establish a track record first. We're just starting. ;)

We have not talked with GPI and FHI but are moderately familiar with their work. I think we're suggesting a modestly different approach and research agenda. We'll see over the next few months if it pans out to anything useful.

comment by Denkenberger · 2018-03-17T15:45:09.650Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm glad to see you are investigating present generation causes with significant uncertainty, which seem to be less looked at. Any interest in investigating preparation for agricultural catastrophes?

comment by Marcus_A_Davis · 2018-04-18T00:12:12.487Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sorry for the extremely slow reply, but yes. That topic is on our radar.

comment by zdgroff · 2018-03-06T00:20:26.109Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm excited to see what happens here! Will you be comparing different areas and the lessons learned to apply to the others? I think lessons from poverty may in some cases translate to animal advocacy and vice versa (and there may be some potential for cross-pollination with growing EA or other causes).

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2018-03-06T19:51:32.659Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! We agree and definitely hope we can bring more empiricism to animal advocacy work.

comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2018-03-26T21:51:38.824Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Super interesting! Keep up the good work! :-)

comment by sdspikes · 2018-03-13T23:33:42.220Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Publishing shorter and more digestible information more frequently, rather than publishing sprawling research less frequently. By taking the same amount of information and breaking it down into “minimal publishing units,” we make it easier for ourselves and others to understand and build upon, and get quicker feedback loops.

<3