Harvard University — Biosecurity and Biosafety

Grant investigators: Andrew Snyder-Beattie

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Harvard University staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

Open Philanthropy recommended a grant of $315,000 over three years to Harvard University to support biosecurity and biosafety work led by Professor Marc Lipsitch. Professor Lipsitch is director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics and also co-founded the Cambridge Working Group, which has highlighted ethical concerns and safety risks in pathogen research.

This falls within our focus area of biosecurity and pandemic preparedness.

Harvard University — COVID-19 Serological Tests (Michael Mina)

Grant Investigators: Heather Youngs and Chris Somerville

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigators. Harvard University staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

Open Philanthropy recommended a grant of $1,784,981 to Harvard University to support work led by Professor Michael Mina to carry out nationwide serological testing to determine current and past COVID-19 infection rates. The results could improve the accuracy of infection rate data, monitor for new evidence of outbreaks, and help inform measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and future viral pandemics. This funding is intended to support the rapid serological analysis of thousands of banked blood samples and the collection of tens of thousands of new samples from sites distributed across the United States over the next two months. This effort will build a foundation for future ongoing surveillance throughout the United States.

This falls within our work on scientific research, specifically within our interest in science supporting biosecurity and pandemic preparedness.

Harvard University — Animal Law and Policy Program

Grant investigator: Lewis Bollard

This page was reviewed but not written by the grant investigator. Harvard staff also reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $21,200 to Harvard University to support the Animal Law & Policy program at Harvard Law School. The program plans to use these funds to research the policy consequences of the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, also known as the King Amendment, in key states and jurisdictions.

This is a discretionary grant and falls within our focus area of farm animal welfare.

Harvard University — Solar Geoengineering Research Program

Harvard researchers Zhen Dai (right) and Marie-Anna Boggio-Pasqua conduct a flow tube experiment to test stratospheric heterogeneous chemistry of albedo modification. (Photo courtesy of the Solar Geoengineering Research Program)

Published: April 2017

Solar Geoengineering Research Program staff reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $2,500,000 over five years to Harvard University to support the founding of the Solar Geoengineering Research Program (SGRP) as part of the Harvard University Center for the Environment. This program will be a coordinated research effort focusing on solar geoengineering research, governance, and advocacy led by Professor David Keith and Dr. Gernot Wagner (formerly the Environmental Defense Fund’s lead senior economist). Other founding funders include Bill Gates, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Plans for the grant include: researching ways to improve our understanding, reduce the risks, and increase the benefits of geoengineering; developing solar geoengineering technology; increasing transparency in solar geoengineering research; engaging with policy makers and the broader public; and creating a broad blueprint for solar geoengineering research going forward.

1. Background

This grant falls within our work on global catastrophic risks.

In our shallow investigation into governance of solar radiation management, a type of geoengineering also referred to as solar geoengineering, we describe this cause as follows:

Solar radiation management is a type of geoengineering that aims to cool the earth by reflecting sunlight away from it. As a category, solar radiation management appears to be both riskier and closer to being ready for use than other types of geoengineering. However, there are currently no specific systems in place to govern research into solar radiation management, or its deployment at any scale. Whether or not solar radiation management turns out to be safe and beneficial, improved governance would make it more likely that decisions about research and deployment of the technology are made wisely and in the interests of humanity as a whole.

2. About the grant

2.1 Budget and proposed activities

SGRP’s budget accounts for the following expense categories:

  • An executive director’s salary.
  • Creation of a comprehensive blueprint for the steps needed for the safe research, regulation, deployment, and monitoring of solar geoengineering. This will include hiring technical writers, advisors, and critical reviewers to create the document, as well as someone to direct their work.
  • Outreach and convening, including building a website, covering travel and other associated costs for convenings and events, and running a semi-regular solar geoengineering residency for young researchers to deepen their knowledge of solar geoengineering and collaborate with Harvard researchers.
  • Advancing science and technology. This may include:
    • Creating high-quality 3D models to estimate the effect of solar geoengineering on the ozone layer.
    • Laboratory work assessing the properties of particles such as calcium carbonate and their suitability for use in solar geoengineering.
    • Developing instruments for flight experiments. SGRP has a prototype for an instrument to measure hydrogen chloride (which depletes ozone), but will need approximately an additional $500,000 to develop an instrument that is reliable and usable in the stratosphere.
  • Assessing efficacy and risks. This may include:
    • Studying how past volcanic eruptions that released particles into the stratosphere affected ice sheets, in order to help estimate the effect that solar geoengineering would be likely to have on slowing the melting of ice sheets.
    • Studying the expected effects of solar geoengineering on sea level rise, air quality, and tropospheric ozone.
  • Governance and social implications. This may include:
    • Studies on risk compensation related to solar geoengineering among populations in the US, Germany, and India. Specifically, these studies would focus on determining whether learning about solar geoengineering makes people more or less willing to pay to reduce carbon emissions, and/or to reduce emissions personally.
    • Hiring people to write and publish these and other studies, including a postdoctoral researcher in economics.
  • Harvard-wide faculty grants, to be made by the faculty committee through the Harvard University Center for the Environment for projects related to solar geoengineering. These grants may fund the work of people who are skeptical of geoengineering and/or miscellaneous projects in related areas. This is expected to be a useful way to elicit criticism of geoengineering and unconventional ideas for how to implement it.

2.2 Case for the grant

We see this grant as a good opportunity to build and advance the field of solar geoengineering, especially given SGRP’s emphasis on cooperation and collaboration between researchers and on developing solar geoengineering technology in the manner that is most likely to affect the world positively. Within the field of geoengineering, we consider Professor Keith to be a top scientist who is relatively aligned with us in terms of being pragmatic, cognizant of tradeoffs, and focused on global rather than national interests. It seems to us that earlier and more research on solar geoengineering will make it more likely that the global community will have an in-depth understanding of technological options and risks in the event that climate engineering is seriously considered as an approach to reducing harms from climate change at some point in the future.

2.3 Risks and reservations

We have several reservations about making this grant:

  • Specific to this grant:
    • It seems plausible that funding will not ultimately be a limiting factor for SGRP, in which case our grant could end up having no impact.
    • This project may be initiated too early to remove a counterfactual bottleneck on sound decision-making about solar geoengineering, i.e. without it, or with it happening later, future results related to solar geoengineering would be approximately as good.
  • Applicable to geoengineering grants in general:
    • Some experts worry that the capacity for geoengineering will introduce geopolitical instability due to disagreement over questions such as whether and to what extent to deploy geoengineering. We do not have a strong sense of the likelihood of conflicts arising over this issue. We think one way to reduce such risks is to support work on governance implications of geoengineering, which this grant includes and which we have also supported with previous grants here and here).
    • It is possible that this grant will increase the chance that geoengineering technology is deployed, and thus possibly deployed in a harmful way (either due to unintended consequences of use, or deliberate misuse).
    • It is possible that perceived progress in geoengineering will reduce the amount of effort put into reducing greenhouse gas emissions or taking safer measures to mitigate the effects of climate change. However, it has also been suggested that raising the possibility of using geoengineering may cause people to take other mitigation efforts more seriously. (To be clear, we generally think mitigation efforts should be taken more seriously than they are.)

3. Internal forecasts

We are experimenting with recording explicit numerical forecasts of the probability of events related to our decision-making (especially grant-making). The idea behind this is to pull out the implicit predictions that are playing a role in our decisions, and to make it possible for us to look back on how well-calibrated and accurate those predictions were. For this grant, we are recording the following public forecast:

  • 80% chance that we will consider this grant a success in 10 years.

4. Our process

Claire Zabel, a Research Analyst for the Open Philanthropy Project, spoke and exchanged emails with Professor Keith and Dr. Wagner.

5. Sources

Document Source
Solar Geoengineering Research Program Overview Source

Harvard University — Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management

Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management staff reviewed this page prior to publication.

The Open Philanthropy Project recommended a grant of $783,000 over two years to the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ) at Harvard Kennedy School to support its work on reforms impacting young adults convicted of crimes. This grant will support staff, travel, and incidental costs for PCJ Senior Research Fellow Vincent Schiraldi’s work to provide thought leadership, technical support, and strategic advice for state-level reforms to treatment of young adults (roughly, 18- to 25-year-olds) in the criminal justice system.

Several states have proposed substantial reforms to how their criminal justice systems deal with young adults (for instance, raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 21). We believe that there may currently be an opportunity for significant progress in this area.

1. Background

This grant falls within our work on criminal justice reform, one of our focus areas within U.S. policy.

1.1 The organization

The Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management (PCJ)’s primary activities are research, organizing convenings, and disseminating information publicly to advance the field of criminal justice reform. Since Bruce Western began serving as Faculty Director, PCJ has been particularly focused on research on reducing mass incarceration.

Mr. Schiraldi, who will lead this project, appears to us to be one of the foremost thinkers in this area, with extensive experience from his time serving as commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. We believe Mr. Schiraldi is well positioned to support the advance of young adult reforms through work with government officials, advocates, academics, and other leaders around the country.

2. About the grant

2.1 Proposed activities

Mr. Schiraldi plans to focus his activities on thought leadership and policy design. His thought leadership role may include:

  • Providing testimony
  • Organizing convenings
  • Supporting the staff of elected officials in designing proposals
  • Providing quotes for op-eds
  • Sitting on official panels
  • Data-sharing with advocates

In the policy arena, Mr. Schiraldi plans for his team to serve as a think tank for advocates and elected officials, which may involve:

  • Drafting memos outlining policy options for state actors and supplying research that supports these options.
  • Building connections between advocates and policymakers in different states to help shape the agenda.
  • Reviewing and revising policy options in collaboration with local partners to create effective and workable proposals.

Our understanding is that resource constraints have previously limited PCJ’s ability to work on policy in this way.

Mr. Schiraldi will also supervise research assistants to gather data, research, and information on policy practices for court-involved young adults, nationally and internationally, in order to be able to respond to questions from the field. To our knowledge, PCJ is the only outlet gathering and disseminating this information at this level of depth.

2.2 Budget and room for more funding

Mr. Schiraldi’s work so far has principally been supported by a $400,000, three-year grant from the Arnold Foundation, which PCJ received last year. Our funding aims to allow Mr. Schiraldi to significantly expand his capacity and hire several new staff.

2.3 Case for the grant

We believe that state-level reforms of young adult punishment are likely to reduce incarceration, for a few reasons:

  • As far as we know, it is uncontroversial among criminal justice experts that a large percentage of people incarcerated for serious offenses are first committed to prison as young adults. Mr. Schiraldi believes there is evidence that reforming admission practices for young adults has the potential to both reduce incarceration rates in the short-term and reduce the long-term chance that a given individual is ever incarcerated.
  • The reforms that Mr. Schiraldi supports appear to us to have the potential for significant impact. For example, shifting young adults to the juvenile system would make them eligible for much shorter sentences and give them access to more rehabilitative services.
  • Increasing public acceptance of the idea that young adults are still developing and can benefit from different interventions than older adults may help increase public support for less punitive criminal justice policies in general.

It is our impression that academic research has a track record of exerting significant influence on criminal justice policy over the past several decades. Examples include:

  • In the 1970s, research by sociologist Robert Martinson (City University of New York) suggesting that prisoner rehabilitation efforts were ineffective led to significant national reductions in prison and parole rehabilitation programs.1
  • In the early 1990s, research by John DiIulio (then at Princeton University) was frequently used by states as a basis for passing legislation to try more juveniles as adults, reduce confidentiality protections, or both.2
  • PCJ’s Executive Session on Policing in the 1980s is credited with originating the idea for community policing, leading to the adoption of community policing programs around the country.3
  • Scholarship by Michael Romano (Stanford University) served as the basis for California Proposition 36, which helped reduce the severity of some portions of California’s Three Strikes law.4

We believe that this grant could be highly cost-effective if it results in research or policy proposals with a chance of significantly influencing the field in this way.5

2.4 Risks and reservations

We see some risk that PCJ’s work may end up only providing further support for reforms that would have occurred regardless. However, Mr. Schiraldi believes (and we agree) that, without the convening hub that PCJ provides for individuals working on young adult reforms in various states and jurisdictions, the field as a whole would likely advance significantly more slowly.

3. Plans for learning and follow-up

3.1 Goals for the grant

One year from the start of this grant, PCJ aims to have partnered with advocates and/or policymakers in approximately four jurisdictions (states, counties, or cities) to introduce policy reforms that reduce incarceration rates and improve outcomes for young adults.

3.2 Key questions for follow-up

  • What have PCJ’s main activities been at the state level? (This might include giving testimony, publishing papers, meeting with governors’ staff, etc.)
  • What outcomes have occurred in states where PCJ has engaged?
  • Is PCJ’s increased capacity sufficient? What has the increased capacity allowed PCJ to accomplish that it couldn’t have otherwise?

3.3 Follow-up expectations

We expect to have a conversation with PCJ staff every six months for the duration of the grant, with public notes if the conversation warrants it. In particular, at the six-month mark, we plan to ask for an update on overall progress in the field of young adult reforms and may ask Mr. Schiraldi for suggestions of other potential places to invest to advance this work.

If it appears that the expanded capacity provided by this grant has allowed PCJ to work in more states or otherwise increase its impact, we believe it is likely that we would renew our grant. Because this is a two-year grant, we expect there to be adequate evidence to evaluate PCJ’s track record by that time.

4. Our process

Chloe Cockburn, our Program Officer for Criminal Justice Reform, was aware of Mr. Schiraldi’s work on this issue before joining the Open Philanthropy Project. In considering making this grant, she had several conversations with Mr. Schiraldi, reviewed some of his publications, and reached out to other leaders in the field to get their perspectives on PCJ’s role and effectiveness.

5. Sources

Equal Justice Initiative 2014 Source (archive)
National Institute of Justice, Past Executive Session on Policing Source (archive)
PCJ Org Chart Source
PCJ Proposal Source
Sarre 1999 Source (archive)
Stanford Law School Directory, Michael Romano Source (archive)