[Link] Huffington Post article promoting Effective Altruist ideas

post by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-04T02:02:31.638Z · score: 9 (17 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 18 comments

Disclaimer: This post is mainly of interest to EA-oriented Less Wrongers

 

Happy to share that I got this article promoting effective giving, and especially advocating Against Malaria Foundation, GiveWell, and The Life You Can Save, published in The Huffington Post.

 

This piece is part of my broader work at Intentional Insights, a nonprofit devoted to promoting effective altruism and rational thinking to a broad audience effectively, by using modern promotion and marketing methods. Our goals with this and similar articles is to channel both money to effective charities and encourage people to think about donations in a rational, science-based, data-driven manner. These articles are also aimed to be a good fit for those supportive of EA ideas to share with others on social media, to help encourage non-EAs to adopt effective giving strategies, since the articles are aimed to be easy to read and engaging.

 

I'd love your feedback on how well you think this article works in accomplishing the goals outlined above, both strengths and weaknesses, to help me improve my writing and to help Intentional Insights improve its efforts. For those of you who are EA-oriented, would you share this on your social media? Why or why not?

 

Also, I would value any ideas on how to evaluate the QALYs gained from channeling people's money and thinking toward effective giving, as that's something we at Intentional Insights are trying to figure out. For example, how many QALYs are gained from publishing an article like this in a broad venue such as The Huffington Post? What are good approaches to estimating this number? The best we came up with so far is a first-order intuitive gut reactions of how much would you pay to not have this article and its influence on people disappear, so I'd be curious about your response to this question.

 

P.S. Note that based on previously-expressed concerns about purity of content and the rationality/Less Wrong brand, we at Intentional Insights have updated and are no longer presenting ourselves publicly as promoting rationality or Less Wrong explicitly, though we are bringing up rationality and Less Wrong to those who have engaged with our content extensively and are guiding them first to ClearerThinking and then to Less Wrong.

 

 

P.P.S. I'd be glad to speak to anyone who wants to know more about and collaborate on promoting effective altruism and rationality to a broad audience by using modern promotion and marketing methods, my email is gleb@intentionalinsights.org

 

Cross-posted on the Intentional Insights blog and the EA Forum.

18 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-12-04T18:46:17.055Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was thinking that we aren't the target audience here, so it would be good to check the comments at Huffington, and I'm pleased to see that you apparently had a good effect on one person.

This being said, the article is very much (title, picture, and beginning) framed in terms of avoiding regret. On the other hand, activating loss aversion is one way of grabbing people, and it might not be a bad strategy.

Are there vivid methods of showing the good effects of people not getting malaria?

comment by mare-of-night · 2015-12-06T17:04:46.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

+1 for looking at the evidence (comments)

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-06T01:35:55.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article was specifically meant to activate loss aversion, as this is more powerful than gain for most people.

Regarding vividness, I tried to do this with my visualization exercise. Do you think that was successful?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2015-12-08T00:56:38.399Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I realized after I posted the parent comment that I was trying to accommodate the critical comments even though I wasn't at all sure they were right.

It strikes me as at least a pretty good visualization exercise. Apparently, I was reading much too fast and didn't see it.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-08T03:20:44.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I'm not sure the critical comments were fully right, but I do see the benefit in making the writing more positive in tone to avoid negative associations with donating.

comment by Elo · 2015-12-04T03:36:51.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

>However, my close friend Max Harms pointed out that Make-A-Wish Foundation makes 300 million per year telling these stories.

>Would not my goal of helping kids have good lives be achieved better by protecting them from death?

That question stopped me in my tracks. I had to think hard about why I gave to Make-A-Wish. I realized it was because they had heartwarming stories and great marketing that brought the stories to my attention.

There is a risk known to EA that if not done carefully; Suggesting that people's charitable donations are going to cause them:

-- a deep churning in my stomach -- when I found out what bad decisions I made by giving

without very carefully and explicitly guiding them to the better choice; will cause them to instead of:

switch from 1 charity to another;
not give to any charity.

Effectively causing the QALY change to decrease.

My criticisms of this article:
While it tries; it is not careful enough. It is likely to have a negative impact; not a positive one.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-04T04:50:18.120Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing your perspective! What do you think could have been done better? Specific suggestions would be especially great! My goal is to improve.

comment by Elo · 2015-12-04T05:23:39.941Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like your attitude.

On a side note: worth trying to slip some numbers into these articles. you had a list of names, for the emotional argument, but maybe someone at givewell can comment on some good looking numbers worth sharing on the issue of helping/QALY.

"I fell for it, and" could be removed (replace with "I"). Portraying any charity as a "bad charity" is likely to offend that charity. And I firmly believe that EA's are not trying to do that.

Use of the words "warm fuzzies" wouldn't go astray.

By comparison, Max told me to consider the Against Malaria Foundation. It buys malaria nets that protect children in developing countries from mosquitoes carrying this deadly disease. Would not my goal of helping kids have good lives be achieved better by protecting them from death?

I had to think hard about why I gave to Make-A-Wish. I realized it was because they had heartwarming stories and great marketing that brought the stories to my attention. Our brains focus on things that come to our attention and not necessarily on things that are actually important for our goals, a thinking error called attentional bias.

I don't like "by comparison", as that really is dangerous thinking. And runs the risk of putting "giving to charity" into the too-hard-basket. Signalling that people need to compare charities is going to first cause people to withdraw before it causes them to re-invest.

"Max told me to about the Against Malaria Foundation. AMF buys malaria nets that protect children in developing countries from mosquitoes carrying this deadly disease. I considered my goal of helping kids have good lives and realised the same cost of one Disneyland trip could go towards (Include real numbers) malaria nets.

I had to think hard about why I gave to Make-A-Wish. I realized it was because they had heartwarming stories of fun and happiness. If it was my kid with terminal cancer, I would want other people to be helping me give my child happy memories. Our brains focus on things that come to our attention and not necessarily on things that are actually important for our goals, a thinking error called attentional bias."

What I failed to consider was the stories of children saved from malaria. I imagined a specific child, Mary, who did not get malaria because of my donation. I envisioned how Mary's mother rocked Mary to sleep. I imagined Mary's fifth birthday party, with her family all around. I imagined Mary's first day of school. I imagined her first kiss. I imagined Mary growing up, becoming an adult, getting married, and having her own kids. My last mental image was of Mary knitting in a rocking chair, enjoying her grandchildren's laughter.

"What I failed to consider was the stories of children saved from malaria. It's particularly hard to understand a life where there is a real risk of malaria every day; I just can't picture it compared to a holiday to Disneyland. I imagined a specific child, Mary, who did not get malaria because of my donation. I envisioned how Mary's mother rocked Mary to sleep. I imagined Mary's fifth birthday party, with her family all around (kind of like my own child's Xth party). I imagined Mary's first day of school. I imagined her first kiss. I imagined Mary growing up, becoming an adult, getting married, and having her own kids, maybe she grows up in a world where we already cured malaria... My last mental image was of Mary knitting in a rocking chair, enjoying her grandchildren's laughter."


Now I have nothing against Make-A-Wish Foundation. They do what they promised to do. It was a failure of my imagination that caused me to make bad decisions. From this experience, I learned that charities that are most effective in achieving my actual goals for donations are often not the ones with the best stories, and thus do not get funded.

"Now I have nothing against Make-A-Wish Foundation. They do what they promised to do. It was a failure of me to consider what goal I actually cared most about, and an attempt to short cut my "warm fuzzy" feelings of needing and wanting to give to a charitable cause by giving to the closest available one. One I could see and imagine, The smiling children, the bigger than life-sized Disney characters. From this thought experience, I learned that charities that are most effective in achieving my actual goals for donations are not necessarily the ones with the best sounding stories, and thus do not get funded. "

I hope this shows the minor-level of the type of edits needed, and yet how massively it sways the tone of the story, as well as what matters. The use of modelling thinking, the failure to imagine, the repeat on analysing a goal;

I could comment more on more paragraphs; but it takes a fair bit of time to do. I am worried I don't have the time to make all the improvements that I would like to see in this kind of thing, and can't give you the kind of help that I really want to. I am not sure how to help better, other than to say; I don't like where your writing is at; and it needs improving towards the vein of more steel manned content, because you can't expect the reader to do that for you.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-04T06:56:07.756Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excellent, this is very helpful, and exactly the kind of thing that will help me improve the writing in the future. Thank you very much for taking the time to do this!

comment by bogus · 2015-12-04T17:11:16.882Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Signalling that people need to compare charities is going to first cause people to withdraw before it causes them to re-invest.

You have many good points overall, but I'm not at all sure that we have a real alternative to "signaling that you need to compare charities". This is perhaps the most critical part of effective giving, and trying to avoid it just makes it look like you're pushing your pet cause with no good reasoning behind it. (I mean, just look at the debate within the EA movement. Should you care more about saving lives, promoting animal welfare or averting existential risk from newly-created AIs? It's a big mess - and the very reason for this is that comparison is no longer helpful here).

Even if the perception that donating effectively is "too hard" makes some people withdraw, that probably doesn't matter much due to how comparatively ineffective most charity donations are.

comment by Elo · 2015-12-05T13:57:13.500Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not at all sure that we have a real alternative to "signaling that you need to compare charities".

It's still about comparing but by the rewrite it's a bit more implicit comparison not an explicit one. the "compare" step happens in someone's head ("thinking about where the money might be best spent"), not by being told "you should compare the things you donate to". It may seem like a subtle change; but I think it makes a difference.

makes some people withdraw

As far as I know - EA's don't want this to happen at all... Ineffective is still something.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-05T18:39:41.025Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that subtle change makes a difference, and have updated myself on that.

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-04T12:17:43.393Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

-- a deep churning in my stomach -- when I found out what bad decisions I made by giving without very carefully and explicitly guiding them to the better choice; will cause them to instead of:

I would also add: "Neurons that fire together wire together"*. You don't want people to have a deep churning in their stomach they associate with bad decision making when they read their first article telling them about the Against Malaria Foundation.

Most of the marketing these days shows a brandname and then elicits positive emotions. Axe doesn't tell you a rational story of how using axe will make you sexy but their ads just create the emotional link by eliciting the emotions while telling you about the brand.

The hero's journey can start out with the hero facing hardship but it doesn't end with the hero "avoid giving regret". It end with him actually having success and feeling positive emotions. Given the way your article started a good ending would have been to say that you feel now proud to be effective and rescue lives such as the life of Mary. Proudness is one step up from regret and people who resonate with regret want to feel it. Not everybody will resonate with a story going from regret in the stomach to proudness in the stomach but that seems to be the audience you want to reach.

It's also worth noting that attacking an organisation with a budget of $300 million per year comes with risks. When OrphanWilde writes Rule #3: "I will not go around provoking strong, vicious enemies" he does have a point.

*: Excuse me for my neurobubble, but it's the best label for the principle I can think of if I don't use hypnosis terminonlogy.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-06T01:39:35.979Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point about the neurons firing together and the hero's journey, will orient toward that approach in the future.

Not sure if Make-A-Wish cares about this sort of thing strongly enough, though, to care about this article. Well, we'll see, I guess :-)

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-12-06T14:27:57.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure if Make-A-Wish cares about this sort of thing strongly enough, though, to care about this article. Well, we'll see, I guess :-)

The likely not care strongly enough to specifically strike back. On the other hand a bunch of people will hold grudes because of the article. For a lot of grant decisions of foundations good will in the broader philantrophic scene is important.

I don't think that the damage done through a single article like this is high but there risk with attacking other people. If you frequently attack other people doors close in unexpected ways that otherwise would be open. Your article likely wouldn't use a lot if you wouldn't name the "Make-A-Wish Foundation" specifically but focus on the story of Disneyland. At the same time that would reduce the amount of grudes that people will hold as a result.

When writing articles like this, keep in mind that there are real people working at the "Make-A-Wish Foundation" that are stakeholders.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-06T22:42:25.747Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good points, will keep these in mind. Thanks!

comment by bogus · 2015-12-04T17:20:26.138Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

-- a deep churning in my stomach -- when I found out what bad decisions I made by giving

That seemed wrong to me too. Donating to Make-A-Wish is not a bad decision; if anything, it probably buys more QALY's than just spending the money on the latest tech gadget for yourself (Experiences being more happiness-promoting than material possessions, and all that). However, there are choices that are vastly better, and these alternatives should definitely be the focus of the article.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-12-06T01:40:23.093Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yup, the point I was trying to make was that when I found out about better alternatives, I had decision regret about my past decisions.