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October 2018 Open Thread

This post aims to give blog readers and followers of the Open Philanthropy Project an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about the Open Philanthropy Project or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at [email protected] if there’s feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can see our most recent previous open thread here.


In a previous open thread Holden noted “I think we’d make more progress in our mission if there were more potential grantees - and other people in the fields we work in - who were highly value-aligned (as well as good at communicating with us). Another answer would be that I feel we’re expanding our staff and giving at a prudent rate, so that even though we aren’t yet where we eventually want to be, I don’t have a particular desire to be moving faster on either dimension than we currently are.” Is Open Phil exploring spending funds to alleviate the bottleneck on # of potential grantees who are value aligned – if so, how, if not, for what reason? Both shorter term and longer term. Shorter term it could perhaps look like a recruiting agency that 1-1 tries to find value aligned high capability people eg from industries where there are many people that will fill their place if they leave, and then persuade them to explore working on an important under-resourced field. Longer term it could look like things designed to increase the perceived status (since this is a subconscious very strong driver of career choices for many/most, even those for whom it appears not to be) of working in these areas, e.g. maybe with some kind of award or prize to founders and key employees working in these fields.

Thanks Arik for the question. The main thing we do in this vein is support some organizations in the effective altruism community that seek to introduce people to the idea of doing as much good as possible and provide them with guidance in doing so. I think your other ideas are interesting but not necessarily highly tractable from our perspective; a recruiting agency, for instance, would need intense management and guidance on what kinds of outcomes we’re trying to optimize, and that would be costly for us to provide.

nice blog , as Nikhil Nanda is also philanthropist in india who believes that the Hindu youth should be the symbol of devotion and nationalism .And main aim to bind the indian youth leaders in a common thread as the minds from all over the world and address the problems faced by the community and find solutions to grow together and stay together .

I was interested to see the scholarship support grant for early career biosecurity scholarships. Is this something will be available again? I’m also wondering if this is something that you’ve tried in other cause areas.

Thanks for the question Claire. The closest analog to the early-career funding for Global Catastrophic Biological Risks you mentioned are our AI fellowship program and additional scholarships for artificial intelligence researchers. We’ve funded travel scholarships and fellowships within our farm animal welfare and criminal justice reform focus areas as well.

While there are no immediate plans to make another round of GCBR scholarship awards, we will consider future opportunities to fund early-career scholarships and fellowships for research and work in all of our focus areas, and our program officers will evaluate the potential impact of this kind of funding as they weigh how to allocate funds.

In the event we decide to seek applications for scholarship support, we’ll likely post something on the website, and I’ll try to remember to respond here so you get a heads-up.

I have just been reading the Vox article on your work. As I understand it, you argue for giving greater ethical weight to future humans because they are likely to be much more numerous. How do you respond to this argument: Future humans are likely to have much more knowledge than us and therefore be much more prosperous. If one has an egalitarian ethical stance, inter-temporal re-distribution should be from future generations, towards the current generation .

Hi Paul – thanks for the question. We tend to agree that future generations could be more knowledgable and prosperous, and thus could be in a position to solve their own problems better than we can hope to anticipate and preemptively solve those problems for them. However, this assumes that these future generations come to exist at all, and that they have not been prevented from realizing a substantial fraction of civilization’s long-run potential. This – the prevention of a (relatively near-term) catastrophe that could either threaten direct extinction or cause global disruptions far outside the range of historical experience, and the protection of humanity’s long-term trajectory – has been the goal of our longterm-focused giving to date. This blog post might be helpful:…

I have a comment regarding your recent Bioinspired projects call on Innocentive. I submitted an application for this and while I accept that it was declined, I was disappointed not to receive any feedback about it (either on its scientific merit of its fit to OPP goals). An automated email from Innocentive did thank me for submitting the proposal and informed me that the OPP (the seeker) was not required to provide feedback for eRFP Challenge format. However, the Challenge was very much pitched as Academic style project funding, for which it is quite standard to receive some feedback (which may be as simple as scores against a list of criteria) for all proposals. I think it would be in the interest of your policy of openness to provide feedback for these Academic style calls (the standard may very for project calls in other sectors) and and it would also the potential to improve the quality of future submissions that your receive. For example, I thought the project I submitted (to investigate a novel biological method of solar harvesting) was well aligned to the aim of the call, but I am left not know if it lacked scientific merit or did not fit with your funding priorities. In short, I hope that you will provide more feedback to grant applicants in the future.

Thanks Gavin for this feedback, we appreciate it. I’ve shared it with our scientific research team, and we’ll keep it in mind if we pursue other open calls for proposals.

I would like to draw your attention to…. Questions: Do you have answers to the questions brought up in that post? (Please reply to that post if you do.) Have you done a detailed investigation into the topic brought up in that post, and if so, can you share the resulting write-up either publicly or privately? If not, would you consider doing a detailed investigation internally, or fund someone to do it, or at least signal that you’d be interested in seeing such an investigation from a member of the community?

Hi Wei,

The “splitting” approach you discuss in that post hasn’t been our approach for the last couple of years; see this post for details on how we’ve approached GiveWell’s funding gaps more recently. As discussed in this post, we have sometimes continued to use a rough heuristic of aiming not to be more than 50% of a group’s funding, but we don’t see ourselves as at all bound by that, and we are interested in more academic research on the optimal ways to handle this question of philanthropic coordination. We don’t have any additional detailed investigations on this to share.

We still think the reasoning we used at the time was basically valid given the specifics of the situation: high uncertainty about how the giving opportunities compared to our last dollar, a large and diffuse base of donors who we believed were generally interested in solid pre-vetted giving opportunities (rather than in doing their own exploration), and a general sense that our framework was still developing and we preferred not to take any action that represented too dramatic a change from previous years or would cause major disruption or disappearance of option value. We saw this approach as a specific practical response to a specific practical situation. As a final point, the “fair share” we discussed was intended to be the long-run fair share of Good Ventures, not of all large donors in aggregate, though we had little idea of how to estimate this (hence the round number).

Will Open Phil be able to make public any lessons learned from the Ohio Issue 1 campaign, given that it was a large grant & lost by a large margin?…,_Drug_and_Criminal_Justice_Policies_Initiative_(2018)

Thanks Milan. At this point we don’t share updates on grants by default, and so we’re not planning to post anything on this one in particular. In general we share information with the public primarily when we can help others learn more quickly and serve others more effectively, thereby amplifying our impact, and don’t think this case rises to that level at this point. We talk more about the kinds of research we share, and why, here.

Curious for any insight into this question: “…These grants are relatively small compared to the foundation’s overall grantmaking capacity, but seem to indicate that Good Ventures has a clear & consistent interest in supporting psychedelic research. There isn’t any record of these grants on the Open Phil site. Seems like these grants could be neatly housed under Open Phil’s “Scientific Research” cause area, perhaps in the “Other Scientific Research” portfolio. I’m curious about why there’s a separation between Good Ventures’ psychedelic grantmaking & the grants it makes through Open Phil.”…

Hi Milan – thanks for the question. You’re right that this was an intentional separation. While the vast majority of Good Ventures grants are also Open Phil grants and appear in both databases, there are a couple of causes – these grants are one, and Alzheimer’s research is another – where Good Ventures has made grants that aren’t in Open Phil focus areas. These grants didn’t go through the cause selection process that we think of as the special sauce that makes something an Open Phil grant.

Hope this is clarifying.

Thanks for the speedy reply! Could you say a little more about the conditions under which Good Ventures decides to make grants outside of the Open Phil branding? I’m particularly curious about the psychedelic & Alzheimer’s research grants, because it seems like those both could be neatly housed under Open Phil’s “Other Scientific Research” portfolio.

Hi Milan – there’s not much more to say here. The grants in question aren’t housed under our Other Scientific Research portfolio because we didn’t recommended them, because they didn’t go through our standard prioritization and investigation process. Most of Good Ventures’ giving is based on recommendations from Open Phil and GiveWell, but Good Ventures has made and will continue to make occasional other grants as they see fit. We think that’s perfectly normal and expect that the same thing would occur if and when we partner closely with other funders.

Thanks, Michael. I feel like we’re somewhat talking past each other – I’m curious for more detail about why the psychedelic grants & the Alzheimer’s grants didn’t go through Open Phil’s standard processes. Can you say more about that?

Hi Milan. Nope, not much more to say here. I feel like my last couple of answers have exhausted what there is to say on this. Sorry to not be more helpful.

I have been reading on “crowd science” today and realized that OpenPhil doesn’t really seem that open. The model is still very much like traditional science. There are researchers working on their own analyses and they mostly share only their final products (and a little bit in newsletters). Very little use is made of the knowledgeable community besides expert interviews. Are these conscious decisions, and if so, what is OpenPhil’s stance on this? (And is there a trend towards less openness? This is the most recent Open Thread and it’s quite old.)

Hi Siebe - thanks for the questions. In terms of “crowd science,” we don’t really see ourselves as doing science; our work is often closer to philosophy or investing than academic science. And we don’t typically publish in the academic literature. So while we see the appeal of the open science, we mostly don’t see it as very relevant for our own practices.

On openness, you might find this post useful. We have been doing fewer open threads because we haven’t found them very useful.

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