Daniel May: "Open Science: little room for more funding."

I consider open science as a cause area, by reviewing Open Phil’s published work, as well as some popular articles and research, and assessing the field for scale, neglectedness, and tractability. I conclude that the best giving opportunities will likely be filled by foundations such as LJAF and Open Phil, and recommend that the Oxford Prioritisation Project focusses elsewhere.

Another brick in the wall?

As we move along with the Oxford Prioritisation Project, we continue to encounter questions of a more strategic nature, intersecting our object-level investigation at various points. We sum this up as “meta-prioritisation”, or perhaps more simply, prioritisation strategy. Questions of meta-prioritisation may include considerations such as: how to resolve value disagreements resulting from pluralist moral attitudes among the team; deciding between building expertise in a focus area and keeping a bird’s eye view; or aiming at generating maximum direct impact vs. generating information useful to future donors.
We explore our first such question in this blog post: can, and should, the Oxford Prioritisation Project team target ‘lego bricks’ - giving opportunities where we could effect a step change rather than a mere continuous increase in the utility of the target organisation with our donation of £10,000?

Laurie Pycroft: "CRISPR biorisk as an Oxford Prioritisation Project topic"

Biorisk arising from novel genetic engineering technologies, particularly the CRISPR system, was one of the topics I initially considered as part of the Oxford Prioritisation Project. However, after briefly investigating the topic, I have decided to drop it as one of the avenues of interest for potential the Oxford Prioritisation Project funding opportunities.

Tom Sittler: "Assumptions of arguments for existential risk reduction"

I review an informal argument for existential risk reduction as the top priority. I argue the informal argument, or at least some renditions of it, are vulnerable to two objections: (i) The far future may not be good, and we are making predictions based on very weak evidence when we estimate whether it will be good (ii) reductions in existential risk over the next century are much less valuable than equivalent increases in the probability that humanity will have a very long future.

Sindy Li: "Does research into neglected tropical diseases dominate GiveWell top interventions?"

I started by consulting a report by Max Dalton at the Centre for Effective Altruism. It aims to provide cost-effectiveness estimates of medical research into diseases prevalent in low-income countries, mostly by reviewing existing literature on this topic, complemented by some new calculations of estimates. First, Max gives some reasons why one would expect, ex ante, that tropical disease research is neglected, important and tractable. Then he goes over cost-effectiveness figures in the existing literature that attempts to estimate it, and gives new estimates based on adapting GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness calculation for research into cancer. The resulting cost-effectiveness estimates from all these sources range from 5 to 235 $/DALY,

Lovisa Tengberg: "Mental Health: an update"

As discussed in previous meetings and on Slack, I have looked into 1) General numbers on cost-effectiveness within MH; 2) Whether there are research institutions that could be potential recipients for the OxPrio Project; 3) More detailed info on BasicNeeds; 4) Detailed info on StrongMinds. On the first note, I found in the DCP3 report that there was little evidence on the cost-effectiveness of various interventions. The numbers that do exist vary significantly between and within disorders driven by cost of labor and contacts with the health care system, making a cost-effectiveness analysis difficult to create. On the second note, I found no research institutions that

Dominik Peters: “How risky is CRISPR gene-editing technology?”

Mr Peters’ research memorandum:

CRISPR is a new biotechnology under development that will allow editing genomes. In particular, it would probably allow a technique called “gene drives” that ensure that the gene edit will be passed on to all offspring of the parent animal, allowing it to spread potentially to all members of a species if it is fast-reproducing. Within effective altruism, there has been some excitement of using this technology to prevent mosquitoes from carrying the malaria parasite or to reduce suffering in wild animals. While expressing optimism, David Pearce mentions that CRISPR gene drives could be used by bioterrorists 

Qays Langan-Dathi: “Should we cover global catastrophic risks at all? If we do, what are the main risks to consider?”

Mr Langan-Dathi called our attention to a summary spreadsheet of the Open Philanthropy Project’s current priorities within Global Catastrophic Risks. The top priorities were biosecurity, geoengineering, geomagnetic storms, and potential risks from artificial intelligence. The spreadsheet describes the highest-damage scenario for each risk, as well as possible philanthropic interventions to mitigate it.

Laurie Pycroft: “Gaining an overview of Biorisk”

From Mr Pycroft’s research report:

The top three sources of existential and global catastrophic risk over the early to mid 21st century are likely to be thermonuclear war, artificial superintelligences, and engineered biological agents. Of these, I intend to briefly address biological technology risk, focusing particularly on the risks associated with CRISPR and related genetic engineering technologies, excluding the risk from gene drives (which will be addressed separately by Mr Peters. CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a novel biotechnology capable of exerting extremely fine control over genetic systems through use of bacterial proteins, and doing so at a fraction of the expense and effort that more traditional systems incur.

Sindy Li: “Should we simply defer to GiveWell within the area of global health and development?”

Ms Li’s research memorandum:

As a starting point I have been mostly consulting the website of GiveWell, a nonprofit “dedicated to finding outstanding giving opportunities and publishing the full details of our analysis to help donors decide where to give”. I briefly examined how they arrive at their conclusions to see if I agree with it.

In their current list of top charities they recommend charities that work on malaria prevention, deworming and cash transfer. How do they arrive at these recommendations? In their page on their process, they explain that first they decide to 

Grace Gliva: “Gifts of livestock: Probably bad, possibly OK, but certainly not great”

Ms Gliva researched livestock gift interventions, such as those pursued by Heifer International. Ms Gliva had considered donating to Heifer International in the past, and wanted to find out more about it, from a prioritisation perspective. Key excerpts from her research report are:

If livestock ownership is the best way to improve quality of life and economic standing then, theoretically, a cash gift should have the same effect. This may not be the case if the recipients are poorly informed or uneducated to the point of making sub-optimal purchases. However, in my opinion, the burden should rest on the charity to demonstrate 

Lovisa Tengberg, “Are Mental Health interventions a possible target for the Oxford Prioritisation Project?”

Ms Tengberg wrote a research memorandum on mental health interventions. The below is a summary of its main conclusions:

According to a report by the Center for Global Development (CGD) in 2015, up to 10% of people (~700 million) worldwide are affected by mental health problems such as depression, substance abuse, dementia or schizophrenia, and over a billion are likely to experience one in their lifetime, including 80% from low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). It is among the top five leading causes of non-communicable diseases, and represents 7.4% of the world’s total global burden of disease, accounting for 22% of all days lived with disability (as measured in DALYs). According to the GCD report, the 

Our progress in the first five days

I’m excited to report that the Oxford Prioritisation Project is underway, with a fantastic team that’s already blowing me away with its competence and drive. It includes a senior research fellow in development economics, students in the natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and political theory, doctoral researchers in computer science and neurosurgery, and a software engineer.

We have had our first two full-team meetings. In the inaugural meeting, which Max Dalton and