Discussion article for the meetup : Toronto THINK

WHEN: 12 December 2012 07:00:00PM (-0500)

WHERE: 7 Hart House Circle, Toronto

In the Hart House Reading Room (the room across from the reception desk with the purple walls)

We're trying to save a life, and we want to get you involved! Three of us are already promising to give money to the Against Malaria Foundation, but if you don't have spare cash - or if you're not convinced this is a good idea - you can also help by contributing to the discussion.

Charity evaluator GiveWell estimates that the cost of saving the life of a child by giving to AMF is $2300. But there is a lot of uncertainty in this estimate, and the focus of this meetup will be on how to deal with that uncertainty. In particular, if we discover that AMF is less cost effective than we thought, how should we proceed?

We should also look at some specific sources of uncertainty, try and establish whether GiveWell has already taken account of them and estimate how much uncertainty is introduced by each factor. I plan on researching this a little and hope to bring along some relevant information for each one.

  • Will AMF make good use of additional funds?
  • Might AMF change in the future, e.g. starting to fund other kinds of programme which may be less effective?
  • Possible widespread distribution of anti-malarial vaccines in the future (currently still under development); will this affect value of bed nets today? (HT Steven Bukal)
  • If someone like the Gates Foundation were to dump a huge amount of money into AMF and/or other bednetting programmes, what would the effect be on the marginal value of our own donations?
  • Insecticide resistance or "behavioural" resistance of mosquitoes
  • Decrease in child mortality between mid-1990's (when the studies were done) and now. Expecting continued decrease in the future?
  • Out of the people getting nets, how many actually already have one?
  • Are nets going where they should and are they being used correctly for as many years as they're good for?
  • Do AMF's activities discourage local governments from distributing nets? (Or for that matter, other nonprofits?)
  • Are people discouraged from buying nets if they expect them to be given out for free at some point? (Even if they can afford them)
  • Uncertainties and biases associated with the original studies (published statistical uncertainty, representativeness, publication bias)
  • Over-optimism causes higher estimates of expected value. If we focus on the best (according to GiveWell), does that mean they're more likely to have been over-optimistic and should we correct for this? (This point is somewhat technical but I'll try and explain in the meeting)
  • How do we account for "leveraging"? (AMF requires its distribution partners to acquire the funds to cover distribution costs themselves; should we consider non-AMF funding to be "free" or should we include all costs in our estimate, or somewhere in between?)

But there's also some uncertainty in the upward direction (i.e. we know it's not included in the $2300 figure):

  • Additional non-life-saving benefits
  • Helping GiveWell by tagging donations as GiveWell-inspired

So if you want to have a think about some of these before the meetup, you're more than welcome. I realise everyone's busy though! In any case, we'll have plenty of in-depth stuff to talk about. Note: THINK is not directly LW-affiliated but I've been told to post our meetups here anyhow :-)

Discussion article for the meetup : Toronto THINK

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