Let's Fund is a crowdfunding site for rigorously vetted, high-risk, high-reward research and advocacy projects. Our analysis, based on the principles of Effective Altruism, allows anyone to donate as effectively as big foundations.
Yes, excellent point- I go into more detail about this in the full report:
"Anxiety is a highly prevalent condition, with lifetime rates for its derived mental disorders between 14.5% and 33.7% in Western countries (Alonso and Lepine, 2007; Kessler et al., 2012), and global estimates across countries between 3.8% to 25.0% (Remes et al., 2016).
I can't follow this either but a study cited in Radical Markets suggests that a randomly chosen portfolio of as few as fifty stocks achieves 90% of the diversification benefits available from full diversification across the entire market.
Given that FAANG's market cap alone is already $3 trillion and for almost 10% of the U.S. stock market's total market capitalization of $31 trillion, AND you could further diversify then this, wouldn't you get quite a lot of the diversification benefits?
@Jonas: I think your model is interesting, but if we define transformative AI like OpenPhil does (" AI that precipitates a transition comparable to (or more significant than) the agricultural or industrial revolution."), and you invest for mission hedging in a diversified portfolio of AI companies (and perhaps other inputs such as hardware) , then it seems conceivable to me to have much higher returns - perhaps 100x of crypto? This is the basic idea for mission hedging for AI, and in line with my prior, and I think this difference in returns might be why I find the results of your model, that Mission hedging wouldn't have a bigger effect, surprising.
I think there's a continuum going from highly educated to those that are most at risk of populism.
I haven't researched this carefully but my hunch is there are actually lots of translation of civic education memes to people who are at risk of populism (not only from experts). It seems to me that on the margin, high-quality, easily -accessible information for educated people is more neglected.
Yes, agree that there are some low-hanging fruit for economic reform and progress can be made. I actually cite OPP's macroeconomic stabilization policy efforts in the post that Alex Berger refers to. But as he says impact is hard to attribute, and given that their funding of this area seems somewhat small, I'd be surprised if you could lower interest rates of central banks significantly with only a few million dollars in advocacy funding.
I agree that there's some progress on '"free-market progressive" policies on zoning reform, occupational licensing, and non-competes', and that there maybe is room for more progress.
But do you think it has already translated into meaningful consumption increases in the lower income deciles?
There are some interesting numbers e.g. on land use reform in an FP report on zoning reform:
that suggest that the effects might be non-trivial if you can get them through. But I think one would have to do quite a bit of advocacy. For things like occupational licensing and zoning and non-compete, trade, macroeconomic policy you get quite strong push-back from vested interests and rent-seekers.
As I say in the next sentence: "Economic policy is also not very neglected by various stakeholders (e.g. political parties have very strong opinions on trade policy).
This contrasts with other things like preventing misinformation, which it seems to me you can often make more progress on, with less backlash.
Haven't watched it yet, but there's also a new documentary called "Hilleman" who was a leading American microbiologist who and developed over 40 vaccines, estimated to save 8 million lives each year. There's a biography as well. He grew up in poverty on a farm in Montana, one of 8 children and apparently had an "interesting" personality: "Hilleman was a forceful man who was at the same time modest in his claims. None of his vaccines or discoveries are named after him. He ran his laboratory like a military unit, and he was the one in command. For a time, he kept a row of "shrunken heads" (actually fakes made by one of his children) in his office as trophies that represented each of his fired employees. He used profanity and tirades freely to drive his arguments home, and once, famously, refused to attend a mandatory "charm school" course intended to make Merck middle managers more civil. His subordinates were fiercely loyal to him." [source: wikipedia].
That was precisely my point actually—just like Hirsi Ali might be well-placed to advocate for women's rights within Islam, people from Hong Kong might be well placed to highlight e.g. human rights issues in China.
I agree that LAAUNCH seems quite high upside because they do research which I feel is often more neglected and can be quite high impact (e.g. they conduct "A comprehensive, national assessment of attitudes and stereotypes towards Asian Americans in the US – one of the few such studies in the last 20 years").
Edit: I also found Asian Americans Advancing Justice - this seems to be one of the biggest civil rights charities focusing on low income Asian Americans. They seem to have a good track record. One can donate without paying any fees via PayPal Giving Fund here.
Might also be worth to ask @chloecockburn who had some BLM recommendations.
Obama's memoir [... ] won't end up seeming as useful for me as [...] The Hungry Brain
I agree what's most useful to a person is to an extent a function of their background. I agree that there are edge cases (Moral Mazes vs. Obama). But I'm standing by my strong claim that Obama's memoir and some of my other recommendations as clearly more useful than the Hungry Brain and some others on your list. It is implied that this holds true for the average reader. One of the reasons for this is that some of these recommendations are based on arbitrary personal recommendations of audiobooks specifically (from a few years ago when there weren't even that many good things on Audible). It would be suspicious convergence if the Jobs biography recommendation, which is likely based on an 8-year-old recommendation by Muehlhauser, should still be ranked highly for EAs to read.
it isn't the case that Consider the Lobster "is now recommended here"
I agree that you've emphasized that your list should not be taken as authoritative in several places. Yet I stand by my claim that one can reasonably interpret Foster Wallace and other titles further down the list as recommended reading.
Thanks -I think this is a good point and something to watch out for people not feeling tokenized. Also, again, I'm not necessarily advocacting for "strong community norms" - I was not saying we always need to have complete diversity everywhere.
In this specific case I was not very worried about this because:
There are 50+ books here including those linked to (as opposed to say 10), so there's a bunch of reading by non-white men that clearly dominates this reading list. I'm not recommending people read the Obama's memoirs or Thinking in Bets over David Foster Wallace, the Hungry Brain, or Moral Mazes etc. for the sake of more representation - they're just clearly more valuable to read from a EA point of view.
Relatedly, some of the books are arbitrary because they're personal choices by Beckstead etc. - based also lists that are old recommendations from their personal websites. For instance, I suspect 'Consider the Lobster' etc is only on there because Nick Beckstead recommended it years ago to read "for fun", which Wiblin then recommended, which is now recommended here... it's just a bit echo chamber-y.
Another way would be writing relatively low-effort commentaries, criticism, analysis, original thoughts, etc. as EA Forum posts, without doing proper literature reviews.
I agree that active learning and writing doesn't have to be a literature review-and all these formats actually also work. Perhaps we're coming full circle and it does actually connect to the point in the other thread: we need to encourage people to write more commentaries.
Thanks for the courteous reply. Agree with much of this!
To be clear, I didn't mean to criticize you or anyone personally. Though judging by the downvotes I got, people might think that I'm EA's wokest and hardest virtue-signalling SJW, but I actually only realized and was able to flag this issue because I'm guilty of recommending a very similar set of male authors too much myself. So this is something that should be improved more generally (in the community). Also, I agree that we shouldn't spend much time on finding a precise 'quota' and I'm not saying that we should have 50% of women on AI safety syllabi (which would probably leave people scrambling and is more a society-wide issue) or cancel Toby Ord, but on current margin, we should probably err on the side of having a little more diversity in what we recommend. Not upvoting a list with 50 white males trending on the front page and implicitly endorse this as the EA cannon seems a really low bar. Hence the initial downvote, which I've now changed to an upvote, given that there's a productive discussion in the comments, in particular thanks to Michael.
Also, that comment seems to presume that most or all readers of this list will want to be researchers? I think a lot of EAs should be doing things other than research.
I see your point and agree to an extent. My point was that I recommend people to focus more on active learning is often better than passively consuming content, even if they do not want to be a researcher. Just like at university you do not merely read things but also write essays.
I think the best way to learn things is roughly:
write a review of something yourself
read (popular) non-fiction books
listen to podcasts
But I agree that podcasts and non-fiction books can be more entertaining and not as cognitively demand especially when you have some time to while doing chores etc.
Yes, I was referring to Aaron's comment, but not saying that anyone wanted to intentionally canonize this list, but rather take on a life of its own. I agree with much of your comment (though still think the central point of my criticism is a valid and as a community we need to be more mindful about this).
Justifying potentially bad stuff with "the stakes of the work EA does" feels like a slippery slope and a bit fanatic. There should be principled reasons that holds true for all charities, the cost-benefit approach you use the second part of your comment is better. Related: this thread on whether it's okay to work in the Tobacco industry.
Thanks for your reply, I really appreciate this and your other contributions!
Sorry that I've been unclear. There are actually two separate issues here:
You only list male authors and lists that only feature male authors: all of them are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). Sometimes it's fine for a reading list to only feature male authors. I vote on the margin: If you had gotten downvoted, I might even have upvoted. But on the margin, if this particular long general list became another canonical one as had been suggested, I think that'd be robustly bad. The previous Wiblin, etc. lists are already pretty canonical in the community.
The issue of the EA canon: This is related but ultimately separate issue to 1). I actually agree with much of what you and Max say here. Everyone should read the Precipice and perhaps a few others. But I think when prioritizing their reading lists people should add a "neglectedness in the EA community score" to avoid echo chambers. Consider how much original insight and valuable disentanglement research you can really add if you spend years reading the same 50 pop non-fiction books that everyone else has read. Generally, people should read more papers and write more literature reviews themselves than reading more popular non-fiction.
Thanks, I appreciate the effort, but downvoted because this reading list and those you link to are not diverse enough (edit to clarify: e.g. they skew heavily towards male authors) and also, relatedly, these titles should not become even more canonical in the EA community than they already are (I fear this might lead to an echo chamber). This is something my reading list tends to be guilty of as well, so I'd love for people to post reading lists with more diversity.
Does this mean you're considering fading out the fundraising aspect of your work?
I'm currently deprioritizing the fundraising, and eventually, it's very likely that it'll be faded out. And the research wouldn't be funding oriented anymore either and less applied - not unlike the piece on growth.
There are many reasons- I want to write more about the role of philanthropy in EA in the future.
In brief, the crucial consideration is that multiobjective optimization is generally less effective than single objective optimization and the current model tries to optimize for both money moved and doing research. But if you want to optimize for money moved, then you need to focus on high networth philanthropy, which is way more effective, because of wealth inequality. That's why I think it's best to focus on research.
How many total donors did you have for each grantee?
For Lets-Fund.org/Better-Science we had about 50 donors with the majority of the funding being bigger donors and the Longterm future fund. Many of them were from the EA community.
For Lets-Fund.org/Clean-Energy we had about 1000 small donors, mostly from outside of the EA community, the biggest donations were $75k and $50k.
What marketing strategies did you engage in?
What were the top ways donors found out about the giving opportunities? I know you mentioned the Vox article & Bill Gates' tweet, but I'd be interested to know how much traffic was driven through there, vs other sources
I contacted journalists about my research and then also people to retweet the coverage of the research. I write a little bit more about the strategy in a comment on the old thread if you're interested. Most donors found out about Let's Fund through Vox.com, New York Times and Slate Star Codex (when it still had ads).
The Case Against Randomista Development was exceptionally well received. Do you know of any direct impact it had? (say in terms of money moved or follow-up research done). Generally, how do you think about the impact it has?
Inside EA: The post was the most commented on research post on the EA forum, and roughly 10k in views. It also had 26 "citations" (see'pingback' on the post).
In October 2019, Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer jointly won the 51st Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel "for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty." But what is the exact scope of their experimental method, known as randomized control trials (RCTs)? Which sorts of questions are RCTs able to address and which do they fail to answer? The first of its kind, Randomized Control Trials in the Field of Development: A Critical Perspective provides answers to these questions, explaining how RCTs work, what they can achieve, why they sometimes fail, how they can be improved and why other methods are both useful and necessary. Bringing together leading specialists in the field from a range of backgrounds and disciplines (economics, econometrics, mathematics, statistics, political economy, socioeconomics, anthropology, philosophy, global health, epidemiology, and medicine), it presents a full and coherent picture of the main strengths and weaknesses of RCTs in the field of development. Looking beyond the epistemological, political, and ethical differences underlying many of the disagreements surrounding RCTs, it explores the implementation of RCTs on the ground, outside of their ideal theoretical conditions and reveals some unsuspected uses and effects, their disruptive potential, but also their political uses. The contributions uncover the implicit worldview that many RCTs draw on and disseminate, and probe the gap between the method's narrow scope and its success, while also proposing improvements and alternatives.
Without disputing the contribution of RCTs to scientific knowledge, Randomized Control Trials in the Field of Development warns against the potential dangers of their excessive use, arguing that the best use for RCTs is not necessarily that which immediately springs to mind. Written in plain language, this book offers experts and laypeople alike a unique opportunity to come to an informed and reasoned judgement on RCTs and what they can bring to development.
Table of Contents
General Introduction, Florent Bédécarrats, Isabelle Guérin, and François Roubaud 0:Randomization in the Tropics Revisited: A Theme and Eleven Variations, Sir Angus Deaton 1:Should the Randomistas (Continue to) Rule?, Martin Ravallion 2:Randomizing Development: Method or Madness?, Lant Pritchett 3:The Disruptive Power of RCTs, Jonathan Morduch 4:RCTs in Development Economics, Their Critics, and Their Evolution, Timothy Ogden 5:Reducing the Knowledge Gap in Global Health Delivery: Contributions and Limitations of Randomized Controlled trials, Andres Garchitorena, Megan Murray, Bethany Hedt-Gauthier, Paul Farmer, and Matthew Bonds 6:Trials and Tribulations: The Rise and Fall of the RCT in the WASH Sector, Dean Spears, Radu Ban, and Oliver Cumming 7:Microfinance RCTs in Development: Miracle or Mirage?, Florent Bédécarrats, Isabelle Guérin, and François Roubaud 8:The Rhetorical Superiority of Poor Economics, Agnès Labrousse 9:Are the 'Randomistas' Evaluators?, Robert Picciotto 10:Ethics of RCTs: Should Economists Care about Equipoise?, Michel Abramowicz and Ariane Szafarz 11:Using Priors in Experimental Design: How Much Are We Leaving on the Table?, Eva Vivalt 12:Epilogue: Randomization and Social Policy Evaluation Revisited, James J. Heckman Interviews
Your analysis of the climate impacts of clean protein is really interesting and the dual benefits of clean protein R&D on the environment and animal welfare are definitely worth highlighting, but I agree that in the long-term it's unlikely to be competitive with clean energy R&D.
However, I think what's more interesting is:
That there are just so many similarities in modelling the problem of climate change and factory farming i.e. benefits of clean energy R&D and clean protein R&D.
Put simplistically, if you were to take the Let's Fund clean energy analysis (lets-fund.org/clean-energy) and replace the negative externalities (i.e. "emissions" with "farm animal suffering") and solution the "clean energy R&D" with "clean protein R&D" - I think you might still get a lot of mileage out it.
For instance, in the climate change report I had the following crucial considerations:
The focus of advanced economies like EU countries to prioritize reducing their own domestic emissions is a natural impulse ('clean up your own backyard first'). But 75% of all emissions will come from emerging economies such as China and India by 2040. Only if advanced economies' climate policies reduce emissions in all countries, will we prevent dangerous climate change.
For this reason, the best climate policies are those that stimulate clean energy innovation. Advanced economies need to provide the global public good of cheaper clean energy technology. Only technology spillovers help all countries reduce their emissions, because they lower the cost of low-carbon energy and make carbon taxes more likely.
Many policies stimulate clean energy innovation and create global technology spillovers (e.g. carbon taxes, subsidies for renewable energy, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies). But the most effective policy is increasing government budgets for public clean energy research and development (R&D).
Public clean energy R&D is neglected: only $22 billion is spent per year globally. Many advanced economies such as the US could unilaterally increase this substantially i.e. even without international coordination.
Clean protein R&D's effect on farm animal welfare is similar, where a lot of demand for meat will come from emerging economies, and, because of the global technology spillover, if we were to make clean protein cheaper for all countries, it would reduce factory farming globally, and thus dominate interventions like corporate campaigns, vegan advocacy, meat taxes, etc.
As you write, it's often good to use leverage through policy advocacy for more clean protein R&D.
Here I feel like the Good Food Institute is most similar to the effective clean energy R&D advocacy interventions:
One of the The Good Food Institute missions is “educate grant-making institutions, corporations, and governmental bodies about plant-based and clean meat R&D as a critical component of endeavors related to sustainability, climate change, and global health.“
“Following GFI lobbying, Congress registered its support for alternative protein research in the fiscal 2020 Senate Agriculture Appropriations Report, and it included new language providing extra funding for the Agricultural Research Service to conduct research on pulses. GFI also launched GFI-Israel, now a team of four, and expanded the size of their affiliates in Brazil, India, Asia Pacific, and Europe (now ~25 total across the five offices).”
Similarly, one of New Harvest’s missions is to “educate and inform stakeholders and the public at large of what cellular agriculture research is, and why it is necessary, in an honest, transparent, science-based manner.” Increasing neglected basic government R&D e.g. on tissue engineering might have very large leverage. For instance, in the US, the National Institutes of Health funds most tissue-engineering research, but focuses on biomedical applications; the Department of Agriculture funds most food-science studies, but spends little on clean meat. Advocacy to increase interdisciplinary research on this might be very effective to increase overall R&D budgets.
I'm sure if I thought about it for a bit I could figure out when these two mutually contradictory strategies look better or worse than each other. But mostly I don't take either of them very seriously most of the time anyway :)
I think these strategies can actually be combined:
A patient philanthropist sets up their endowment according to mission hedging principles.
Agreed, but I don't think there's a big market inefficiency here with risk-adjusted above market rate returns. Of course, if you do research to create private information then there should be a return to that research.
Trading based on private information is sometimes illegal, but sometimes not, depending on what the information is and why you have it, and which jurisdiction you're in. [...[
Related: "Some programs have received strong hints that they will be killed off entirely. The Oxford Policy Fellowship, a technical advisory program that embeds lawyers with governments that require support for two years, will have to withdraw fellows from their postings, according to Kari Selander, who founded the program."
most of the impact is achieved by a few, very impactful people could also make the people who perceive themselves as having potential for high impact particularly vulnerable, since the gap between their intrinsic value or self-worth and their instrumental value would seem even wider.
Suppose that all people in the world are allocated only two characteristics over which they have (almost) no control: country of residence and income distribution within that country. Assume further that there is no migration. We show that more than one-half of variability in income of world population classified according to their household per capita in 1% income groups (by country) is accounted for by these two characteristics. The role of effort or luck cannot play a large role in explaining the global distribution of income.
This has obvious implications how much people can realistically earn to give, but also suggests that other forms of impact, like social impact, might be mostly outside people's control. This is good reason to not be too hard on oneself for not achieving more, and not compare yourself to people like Bill Gates.