MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians 2016-05-08T21:38:15.700Z
The term "Vegan" needs to evolve 2015-09-12T17:59:12.696Z
TLYCS Pamphlet Pilot Results 2015-07-25T19:24:04.039Z
TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan 2015-01-30T18:02:42.341Z
TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program 2015-01-05T23:31:15.425Z


Comment by jonathonsmith on More Thoughts (and Analysis) on the Mercy For Animals Online Ads Study · 2016-05-28T18:02:23.937Z · EA · GW

Vegan Outreach ran its first annual Leafletting Effectiveness Survey (LES) last fall and we had a dismal response rate as well (around 2%). We were offering $5 incentives for people to take a 2-part survey, where Part 1 was filled out immediately and then an email was sent out two months later to complete Part 2 and claim their gift card. We've been running small response rate studies since then to figure out what kind of incentives we need to hit our targets, but we're seeing significant variation based on what city / state we're operating in. This is making it really difficult to find one incentive level to rule them all.

I wonder if you've looked at the geographical distribution of where your 2% came from? And do you have any theories why your actual response rate differed from your pilot response rate?

Comment by jonathonsmith on More Thoughts (and Analysis) on the Mercy For Animals Online Ads Study · 2016-05-28T17:38:07.489Z · EA · GW

As I've said elsewhere, I'm skeptical that the approach to take is to do more such RCTs. I worry about us having to spend extremely large sums of money for such things.

It's probably a good idea to consider the global amount of money being spent on an AR intervention when evaluating the cost to investigate it. Like how much money is being spent across the different AR orgs on FB ads? If a proper study costs $200K and there is only $500K a year being spent globally, then it's hard to see the value proposition. If the total being spent annually is $20M, then a full fledged RCT is probably in order.

Does anyone know of estimates of how much the AR movement as a whole is investing in different interventions? This might help prioritize which interventions to study first and how much to pay for those studies.

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-11T03:01:05.323Z · EA · GW

Lot of great points here and angles to follow up on.

I do want to re-assert that enormous 80% recidivism rate, and how strong these (very valid) counter-narratives would have to be to defeat our original assumptions. Consider:

  • A huge number of people would have to actively curate their Facebook profiles to give current-vegetarians the majority in these groups.

  • A curiously large number of current-vegetarians would have to click on an ad that claims to "help you eat vegetarian again" and order a "Vegetarian Starter Guide" to make the majority of the respondents non-recidivists.

Again, there have been a lot of great points raised and I'm tempted now to fund a follow up implementing some of these fixes. At the same time, I think it's important to step back and think about how strong these influences would have to be to overcome that monster 80%.

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-11T02:12:44.904Z · EA · GW

I think I follow you here. Facebook's ad engine is more likely to target people that have liked several of our selected groups / terms. Liking multiple groups indicates stronger identification with being veg, so these people are more likely to still be veg, as opposed to people who liked one but not the others. Is that right?

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-10T16:03:56.617Z · EA · GW

Excellent thoughts here. As I mentioned in another comment, a follow up study could probably handle that second issue by including a question asking if the requestors of the VSG are current, former or (aspiring) new vegetarians.

This would probably shed some light on your first point as well. If most of the people requesting the VSG identified as current veg, then that would indicate either the ads aren't working at enticing former vegs to try again, or there just aren't any former vegs in the audience. Either of these would be enough to kill this as a strategy for reengaging recidivist. Although, this would open up the question of why so many current vegetarians are interested in a Vegetarian Starter Guide?

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-10T15:55:02.901Z · EA · GW

It's definitely possible that some current vegetarians might have requested the the Vegetarian Starter Guide. A follow up study could probably parse out this variable by having a simple required question for obtaining the VSG (along with their email) asking if they are currently veg, former veg and interested in trying again, or never been vegetarian at all.

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-10T02:07:15.034Z · EA · GW

The only reason I wouldn't put that document out publicly is because it wasn't written for wide release, so maybe Nick would want to clean it up before having it shared around. I know I usually spend more time polishing the look and language of a document that I intend to be passed around publicly. But that is the only reason, we're definitely happy to share any details people are interested in.

Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-10T01:48:12.345Z · EA · GW

Nick wrote up a pre-study plan that I can send your way if you (or anyone else) would like to see it. Really though, it was a pretty simple study. We targeted people who liked one or more of the following terms / pages (below) with ads encouraging them to give eating veg another shot. But definitely let me know if you have any specific questions and Alan or I can get you the details. As an aside, can you confirm for me that the images are showing up now?

Terms used to target study audience:

  • Vegetarianism
  • Vegetarian Cuisine
  • Lacto Vegetarianism
  • Ovo-lacto Vegetarianism
  • Semi-vegetarianism
  • Flexitarianism
  • Vegetarian Times
  • VegNews
Comment by jonathonsmith on MFA Ad Study Targeting Former Vegetarians · 2016-05-10T01:35:11.612Z · EA · GW

Hey guys, sorry I didn't realize this had posted. I was still editing the draft and just now finished cleaning it up only to find it went live last night (damn!). Here are some of the numbers (extracted from an email Alan sent me summarizing the results):

"To get one person in the US to pledge to go vegetarian and order a VSG it usually takes $5-$8 but in this trial we were able to get VSG orders for an average of only $2.65. This means that 2-3x more people ordered a VSG than if we were to target the general US population with the same amount of advertising dollars...Below are the detailed results of the ads that we ran. The two most important stats for us are (1) 756 people ordered a VSG and were subscribed to our 12-part email series about eating veg, and (2) 157,512 people saw one of our pro-veg ads in their Facebook Newsfeed...

  • 157,512 people saw one of our pro-veg ads
  • 1,571 people clicked on the ad and read more about eating vegetarian on our landing page
  • 756 people ordered a Veg Starter Guide and were subscribed to our 12-part email series about eating veg
  • 941 people liked MFA on Facebook and will now see our posts about veg eating
  • 286 people shared one of the ads reaching even more people"
Comment by jonathonsmith on Effective Altruism Outreach winter fundraiser · 2015-12-17T18:35:29.559Z · EA · GW

A quick note on what encouraged me to donate to EAO.

I navigate robotic spacecraft to destinations in deep space at JPL. If you're trying to get somewhere like Jupiter or Saturn, the most important course corrections you can make are right after launch. We always have a crack team of analysts closely monitoring a spacecraft just after it leaves Earth, because the energy required to change the spacecraft's heading grows exponentially with time; point in the wrong direction too long and the mission is lost.

EA is moving really, really fast, and small adjustments to its development now are likely to have huge consequences down the road. With EAO, we have a team of talented people focused on nothing but making sure it's heading in the right direction. They are doing a lot of really impressive, concrete work (like book promotion, EAG, VIP outreach etc), but I think the greatest value in keeping them well funded is to have a vigilant eye watching for obstacles and helping navigate them at this very important, early stage of the movement.

Comment by jonathonsmith on Don't sweat diet? · 2015-10-24T22:45:27.263Z · EA · GW

I find these discussions of moral offsets somewhat disturbing, re: Tom_Davidson's third point. Can we host a dog fighting ring at EA Global next year as long as half the buy-in goes to the Humane League? Can we get trafficked children to cook our food as long as we give a nice plump sum to SCI?

I think the analysis is fine, and it's good to know the real impact of certain actions (like going vegan). But then to take it a step further and say, well, I can just skip acting morally in this case and offset that with a donation seems to miss the mark. How far are we willing to go, as a community, down this road, and where do we draw the line?

Comment by jonathonsmith on The term "Vegan" needs to evolve · 2015-09-12T20:40:01.921Z · EA · GW

That's definitely an option, but getting new terms to stick is really tough. Pragmatically, I think it makes more sense to push Vegan in a more useful direction then try to organize around a brand new term. Plus, there are a lot of activists out there with really great Vegan tattoos, it'd be a shame to drop it from the lexicon.

Comment by jonathonsmith on A Defense of Normality · 2015-09-12T17:26:21.290Z · EA · GW

Great article Eric. I had similar thoughts at EA Global this year. The common tagline for EA that I heard repeated was "1.) Find out how to do the most good, 2.) Do it", and while I agree with this sentiment, I would add a couple un-sexy modifiers; "1.) Find out how to do the most good with the time and money you have decided to donate, 2.) Do it."

I really appreciate and look up to the people who are all-in and looking to maximize the good they can do with their lives. One of the reasons I like to go to EA events is to have my own altruistic scale recalibrated. The ten percent of money and time I donate make me pretty much a saint in my friend group, but just on the lower end of decent in the EA community. And I see this as a good thing, and I think the EA community needs these torchbearers to help motivate and remind everyone that we could be doing more.

Ultimately, I see the future of EA along the lines that Beth Barnes described in her (I think amazing) TED Talk ( There is a central hub of leaders keeping the philosophical flame, running excellent organizations, etc, and then a much larger group that live their everyday lives as teacher and engineers and barista's, but that donate a minimally decent amount (10%?) to help attack whatever the most pressing problem in the world happens to be, indefinitely. I think this is a vision that is realistic and achievable, that scales well from the small community we have today to the population at large, and that would just totally transform the world into a much better place.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphlet Pilot Results · 2015-07-29T18:54:13.758Z · EA · GW

They must have some visibility into how many people are donating via their website, because they release yearly estimates for money moved. I'm not sure exactly how they go about doing this; it can't be via TLYCS website analytics though, so maybe they work with the charities themselves to track donations originating from TYLCS. I only partnered up with them for this study, so unfortunately I don't have any details.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphlet Pilot Results · 2015-07-27T18:34:12.668Z · EA · GW

Yeah, one of the main "unmeasurables" of the pilot was how much more of an impression a pamphlet, handed out by a real volunteer, can have on someone over an online add. This goes into the "touchpoint" theory, where it may take multiple exposures to an idea before someone bites; and maybe getting a pamphlet is a much stronger "touchpoint" than seeing an online add. I personally think that getting handed a pamphlet by a non-paid volunteer is a really powerful thing; and that's the reason that (again personally) I think that it would be great to see someone in the EA movement give a pamphleting program another shot, along the lines I sketched in the lessons learned (branded on EA, including multiple organizations, with a stronger, repeated ask).

We ran cost numbers including volunteer time and pamphlet development expenses, but I decided to ignore those for the final writeup, mainly because; the way we envisioned the program, the leaflets would be handed out on a volunteer basis by college students not paid TLYCS staff; and the cost of developing the pamphlets would amortize to a minimal effect over the lifetime of an ongoing pamphleting program. It's definitely a debatable decision though.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphlet Pilot Results · 2015-07-27T18:19:45.025Z · EA · GW

Unfortunately, we could only track website visitors as far as clicking a "donate" button on TLYCS "Where To Donate" page ( After clicking the button they are directed to the individual charity website, so we don't have visibility into if they actually followed through with making a donation, or how much that donation was.

That being said, we only had one visitor that plausibly came from the pamphlets that clicked a donate button; if we had paid closer to Vegan Outreach prices for the pamphlets ($0.07), the cost of the 3500 pamphlets would have been about $245, and so the donation would have had to be on that level to get parity. Would definitely have been an interesting data point to see if / how much our clicker actually donated.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-07T23:00:48.810Z · EA · GW

Awesome, thanks for diving to this level of detail. You mention a lot of good points, some of which we've thought of, some not. I've started emailing statistical consulting companies, we'll see what comes back.

I do want to pose this question in another way that I think reflects more accurately my doubts about the necessity for a statistician. I mean, I definitely agree having someone on board with that skill set would be nice ... so would having a world class add agency designing the pamphlet, and a small army of volunteers to hand them out, etc. But is it necessary? So, let me frame up the question this way. Let's say we run this study, and afterwards publish a report. We say, this is how we calculated our baseline values (and give the data), these are the resulting spikes in our tracked metrics (and give the data), these are the assumptions we used in calculating our success criteria, and these are the conclusions that we've made. How can this possibly be bad or counterproductive? Would you look at the data and be like, "well they didn't use the best possible calculation for baseline, so I'm throwing it all out"? You follow what I'm asking here? I just fail to see how collecting the data and doing the calculations we proposed - even if they're not perfect - could possibly be bad or counterproductive. Maybe we're leaving some value on the table by not consulting a statistician, but I don't understand the mode in which our entire effort fails by not consulting one.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-06T05:17:26.545Z · EA · GW

Actually it does appear you can hire a statistician like a lawyer or accountant, I'll be damned lol. I just typed "statistical consultant" into Google and got like a million hits. I would love a personal recommendation if you have one though.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-06T04:54:35.852Z · EA · GW

Thanks Bernadette! Other people have suggested consulting a statistician, but it's not been clear to me precisely what she is supposed to do. I went through some lengths to be as specific as possible in our plan about what our data is, what we expect to see, and how we plan to calculate our success criteria (e.g. creating dummy numbers and producing working code that runs through our calculations). Can you maybe poke some holes in our approach so that I get a better idea of what a statistician would be bringing to the table?

Also, do you know how one goes about finding a statistician? I assume there aren't just statisticians around for hire, like lawyers or accountants. This came up in a previous thread and someone mentioned Statistics Without Borders and Charity Science, but it didn't seem like these organizations offered this as a service, I would just be cold-calling and asking for their help. If you have someone particular in mind who would be qualified to do this, I'd love to get their contact info; at least then I could get a cost estimate to take back to TLYCS.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-03T18:22:39.691Z · EA · GW

Thanks Ben. Yes, I know that you can quantitatively define this, and it's something we may look into more in the future. We decided against pursuing it right now because 1.) none of us know how to work this problem and we would have to sink some time into learning, 2.) we're pretty sure we know the gist of the answer (my previous comment), and 3.) we're not really in a position to change our strategy based on the results anyway. I'm hoping to be able to publish our actual data after we run the pilot, so if there are any enterprising statistical EA's out there that want to sink their teeth into it, we'd be delighted.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-02T16:31:55.279Z · EA · GW

Very good point here. As I mentioned in another comment, I think we will have strong statistics for our baseline numbers, because we will be mining a year-plus of Google analytics data to generate them. So we should be able to tell if the individual distributions deviate significantly from the baseline. The way we have things planned now, we will be handing out a large number of pamphlets on a small number of days. In a best case scenario, we will get really large deviations from the baseline, so even if we're not able to hone-in on the true mean and standard deviation for the distribution days, we'll be confident that the pamphlets have a big effect. If we only get small deviations, then we will have to make the call to continue the program based on other possible metrics (or just gut feeling); if we continue then we can continue to collect more data and refine these numbers. I had considered handing out small numbers of pamphlets on more days to get a larger sample set, but due to volunteer time limitations it's just not feasible for the pilot.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-02T16:21:34.801Z · EA · GW

We have a custom URL to a quiz page, but as I mentioned in another comment, it's uncertain right now how many interested people will actually type in the full URL address rather than just Googling "life you can save". I think that the hits to the custom page will be a good indication of "strong engagement", as in, people were really into what they read enough to type in a URL.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Plan · 2015-02-02T16:17:45.926Z · EA · GW

I think we'll be able to get a standard deviation, as well as mean, for the baseline values we compare against, which should be helpful to determine if the individual distribution results are significantly different than the baseline rates. I don't think we'll have enough distribution days in the pilot to be able to get the same for the pilot numbers (e.g. we won't be able to tell if the results of individual distributions is typical of all distributions), but that seems like something we could accumulate over time if we proceed with the program.

There is a custom URL only advertised in the pamphlet leading to a "quiz" page, and we will be tracking that, although I would guess that most of the traffic generated by the pamphlets would just be to the main homepage. Like if someone handed me a pamphlet for an organization and I was interested in learning more, I'd probably just Google the orgs name and go from there, rather than type in a URL. But we'll see.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-09T17:48:28.806Z · EA · GW

This is a really good point. Yeah, the scaling model is to have local TLYCS chapters organizing volunteers to do this as a regular, rolling semester activity. I hadn't really considered myself a confounding variable in this sense, because I'm definitely not a master pamphleteer. I'm an engineer by trade, and if this program takes off, I'll eventually just be another volunteer in the LA area that helps hand out leaflets occasionally. We're also thinking about splitting crews on Friday distribution days - so I would have a crew that hits up two universities, and there would be another volunteer crew hitting up two different campuses. Any thoughts on this?

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-09T17:38:43.266Z · EA · GW

That is definitely the intention. We are really hoping that the data we gather will be useful to other orgs considering a similar program, which was part of the motivation for posting up here ahead of time to get feedback.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-07T21:41:51.282Z · EA · GW

Pretty sharp! If I had seen this before, I definitely would have passed it along to our designer as something to work from.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-07T21:34:44.756Z · EA · GW

That would be great! I'll connect with you on Facebook and we can open up a line of communication there.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-07T21:33:23.747Z · EA · GW

Yeah, if you give me the contact info of a statistician that you recommend that would be great. I don't know if we have the budget for it, but I would definitely reach out.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-06T16:45:56.967Z · EA · GW

Really good point here; I was a fan myself of the online Giving Game, but that would be hard to scale with the program without securing a donor willing to finance it at a pretty large level.

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-06T02:12:02.781Z · EA · GW

Some really good points here. I never considered that handing out the leaflets only on Fridays might skew the results (I just happen to have every other Friday off, thanks California), I'll have to think that through. And it would definitely be a good idea to have a "Where did you hear about the pledge?" question on the pledge site, I'll check into that as well.

I'm not sure what our initial run on the pamphlets will be, but I'm thinking in the 5K-15K range. I haven't done any analysis to figure out how many we'd need to hand out to get good statistics; not even really sure how to go about doing that, to be honest. And absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of a response rate. Any thoughts on how to estimate that?

Comment by jonathonsmith on TLYCS Pamphleting Pilot Program · 2015-01-06T02:05:07.863Z · EA · GW

Just took a look at their website, very cool stuff. You suggesting I email them and get their feedback on our plan?