Four prize-winning posts from 2022

23 December 2022

Four of our publications have been awarded prizes this year.

This post provides a summary of each piece and why the judges rated them so highly.


Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

Authors: Joel McGuire, Samuel Dupret, and Michael Plant

What’s the post about?

We replicated GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis of deworming and noticed a difference between their model and the underlying data. GiveWell’s model assumes that the economic benefits last for 40 years with no decline over time. However, in the main deworming study that GiveWell uses, the economic benefits decay by around 12% each year. 

Taking this decay into account shrinks the total economic benefit by 60% compared to GiveWell’s model. This would reduce the cost-effectiveness of nearly all their recommended deworming charities below their 10x bar for funding.

We provided four recommendations to improve the clarity and transparency of GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analyses. These are to (1) publicly explain and defend their assumptions about the effect of deworming over time; (2) explain their cost-effectiveness analyses in writing; (3) illustrate the sensitivity of their results to key parameters; (4) make it clear when an estimate is subjective or evidence-based.

What did the judges say?

GiveWell awarded us $20,000 for inspiring the Change Our Mind Contest. In their response to our critique they said: 

We believe HLI’s feedback is likely to change some of our funding recommendations, at least marginally, and perhaps, more importantly, improve our decision-making across multiple interventions.

 

Our current best guess is that incorporating decay into our cost-effectiveness estimates would reduce the cost-effectiveness of deworming charities by 10%-30%. This adjustment would have led to $2-$8 million less out of $55 million total to deworming since late 2019 (when the most recent deworming study results were released). We plan to do some additional research to refine our estimates and share an updated cost-effectiveness analysis soon.

The post also received an honourable mention in the EA Criticism & Red Teaming Contest. The judges said:

We liked that this submission points out real issues; Alex Cohen responded on behalf of GiveWell, agreeing that incorporating decay more into their model would reduce the cost-effectiveness of deworming…The comment notes that the submission will likely change some future funding recommendations and improve GiveWell’s decision-making, which seems like a strong positive signal. We also liked the post’s discussion on reasoning transparency. 


To WELLBY or not to WELLBY? Measuring non-health, non-pecuniary benefits using subjective wellbeing

Authors: Joel McGuire, Samuel Dupret, and Michael Plant

What’s the post about?

In the Worldview Investigations category of Open Philanthropy’s Cause Exploration Prizes, they posed the following problem:

There are many ways for a person’s life to go better or worse that aren’t fully captured by changes in health and income. Lives full of injustice and discrimination are the worse for it; lives full of empowerment and freedom are the better for it…

 

To carry out our mission, we need to be able to compare different giving opportunities. Our current framework evaluates interventions using their effects on beneficiary incomes and beneficiary health states, including both length of life and quality of life…

 

To incorporate non-health, non-pecuniary benefits into our evaluation framework, we must first adopt a suite of metrics for measuring those benefits.

In our essay, we argued that subjective wellbeing is a strong contender for measuring non-health and non-pecuniary benefits because it’s easy to measure, it captures all perceived benefits, it avoids others telling you how good your life is, there is already an existing (and growing) literature, and it is a reliable and valid way to measure wellbeing.

We showed how WELLBYs (wellbeing-adjusted life years) provide a coherent framework for cost-effectiveness analysis to assess the value of freedom, injustice, empowerment, discrimination, poverty, wealth, and health (both mental and physical).

What did the judges say?

Our essay was one of twenty to receive an honourable mention and a $500 prize.


A philosophical review of Open Philanthropy’s Cause Prioritisation Framework

Author: Michael Plant

What’s the post about?

This post is a philosophical review of Open Philanthropy’s Global Health and Wellbeing Cause Prioritisation Framework, the method they use to compare the value of different outcomes. In practice, the framework focuses on the relative value of just two outcomes, increasing income and adding years of life. 

The report makes three main recommendations:

1. The framework should clarify and develop OP’s stance on crucial philosophical choices related to population ethics, theories of wellbeing, and the badness of death. 

2. Given OP’s commitment to worldview diversification, OP should adopt more worldviews within the framework, rather than the single one it adopts currently.

3. One crucial worldview is the use of subjective wellbeing measures (self-reports of happiness and life satisfaction) as a unified measure of value. Using an SWB approach is consistent with, and possibly required by, OP’s worldview diversification approach.

What did the judges say?

The post received an honourable mention in the EA Criticism & Red Teaming Contest. The judges said:

We liked that it explicitly called out possible implicit assumptions and spelled out their implications; [and] that it made concrete recommendations for possible alternate approaches.


Wheeling and dealing: An internal bargaining approach to moral uncertainty

Author: Michael Plant

What’s the post about?

The post explores and evaluates an internal bargaining (IB) approach to moral uncertainty. On this account, the appropriate decision under moral uncertainty is the one that would be reached as the result of negotiations between agents representing the interests of each moral theory, who are awarded your resources in proportion to your credence in that theory. 

This has only been discussed so far by Greaves and Cotton-Barratt (2019), who give a technical account of the approach and tentatively conclude that the view is inferior to the leading alternative approach to moral uncertainty, maximise expected choiceworthiness (MEC).

The post provides a more intuitive sketch of how internal bargaining works in a wide range of cases. Michael tentatively concludes that IB is superior to MEC, noting that MEC seems to push us towards a (fanatical) adherence to longtermism, whereas IB provides a justification for something like worldview diversification.

What did the judges say?

The post received an honourable mention in the EA Criticism & Red Teaming Contest. The judges said:

We liked how it explored the intuitions for how moral bargaining might work while avoiding some of the traps people worry about.

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