5769 karmaJoined Sep 2014


Have you considered blinded case work / decision making? Like one person collects the key information annonomises it and then someone else decides the appropriate responce without knowing the names / orgs of the people involved.

Could be good for avoiding some CoIs. Has worked for me in the past for similar situations.

Thank you Saulius. Very helpful to hear. This sounds like a really positive story of good management of a difficult situation. Well done to Marcus.

If I read between the lines a bit I get the impression that maybe more junior (be that less competent or just newer to the org) managers at Rethink with less confidence in their actions not rocking the Rethink<->funder relationship were perhaps more likely to put unwelcome pressure on researchers about what to publish. Just a hypothesis, so might be wrong. But also the kind of thing good internal policies, good onboarding, good senior example setting, or just discussions of this topic, can all help with. 

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I found this reply made me less confident in Rethink's ability to address publication bias. Some things that triggered my 'hmmm not so sure about this' sense were:

  • The reply did not directly address the claims in Saulius's comment. E.g. "I'm sorry you feel that way" not "I'm sorry”. No acknowledgement that if, as Saulius claimed, a senior staff told him that it was wrong to have expressed his views to OpenPhil (when asked by OpenPhil for his views), that this might have been a mistake by that staff. I guess I was expecting more of a 'huh that sounds bad, let us look into it' style response than a 'nothing to see here, all is great in Rethink land' style response.
  • The story about Saulius' WAW post. Judging from Marcus' comment It sounds like Rethink stopped Saulius from posting a WAW post (within a work context) and it also looks like there was a potential conflict of interest here for senior staff as posting could affect funding. Marcus says that RP senior staff were only deciding based on the quality of the post. Now I notice the post itself (published a few months after Saulius left Rethink) seems to have significantly more upvotes than almost any of Rethink's posts (and lots of positive feedback). I recognise upvotes are not a great measure of research quality but it does make me worry that about the possibility that this post was actually of sufficient quality and the conflict of interest may have biased senior Rethink staff to stop the post being published as a Rethink post.
  • The stated donor engagement principles seem problematic. Eg: "there are also times when we think it is important for RP to speak with a unified voice to our most important donors" is exactly the kind of reason I would use if I was censoring staff's interaction with donors. It is not that "unified organisational voice" policies are wrong, just that without additional safeguards they have a risk of being abused, of facilitating the kinds of conflict of interest driven actions under discussion here. Also as Saulius mentions such policies can also be one-sided where staff are welcome to say anything that aligns with a certain worldview but need to get sign-off to disagree with that worldview, another source of bias.

I really really do like Rethink. And I do not think that this is a huge problem, or enough of a problem to stop donors giving to Rethink in most cases. But I would still be interested in seeing additional evidence of Rethink addressing this risk of bias. 

Hi Peter, Rethink Priorities is towards the top of the places I'm considering giving this year. This post was super helpful. And these projects look incredible, and highly valuable.

That said I have a bunch of questions and uncertainties I would love to get answers to you before donating to Rethink.

1. What is your cost/benefit. Specially I would love to know any or all of:

  • Rethink's cost per researcher year on average, (i.e. the total org cost divided by total researcher years, not salary).
  • Rethink's cost per published research report (again total org cost not amount spent on a specific projects, divided by the number of published reports where a research heavy EA Forum post of typical Rethink quality would count as a published report).
  • Rethink's cost per published research report that is not majority funded by "institutional support"


2. Can you assure me that Rethink's researchers are independent?

Rethink seems to be very heavily reliant for its existence on OpenPhil (and maybe some other very large institutional supporters?). I get the impression from a few people that Rethink's researchers sometimes may be restricted in their freedom to publish or freedom to say what they want to funders, where doing so would go against the wishes of Rethinks institutional funders (OpenPhil) or would in some way pose a risk to Rethink's funding stream.

This creates a risk of bias. E.g. a publication bias that skews Rethink to only publish information that OpenPhil are happy with. This is a key reason towards me feeling happier donating to support research from more independent sources (such as EA Infrastructure Fund or HLI or Animal Ask) rather than giving to Rethink.

I would be reassured if I saw evidence of Rethink addressing this risk of bias. This could look like any or all of:

  • A public policy that researchers have the freedom to publish even where donors disagree, and sets out steps to minimize the risk of bias (e.g. ignoring the views of donors when deciding if something is an info-hazard) and the accountability mechanisms to ensure that the policy is followed (e.g. whistleblowing process).
  • Some case studies of how Rethink has made this publication bias / upset funders trade-off in the past, especially evidence of Rethink going against OpenPhil's direct wishes.
  • An organisational risk register entry from Rethink setting out plans to mitigate these risks or why senior staff are not worried about these risk.
  • A policy from OpenPhil setting out an aim not to bias Rethink in this way.


3. How will you prioritise amongst the projects listed here with unrestricted funds from small donors?

Most of these projects I find very exciting, but some more than others. Do you have a rough priority ordering or a sense of what you would do in different scenarios, like if you ended up with unrestricted funding of $0.25m/$0.5m/$1m/$2m/$4m etc how you would split it between the projects you list?


4. [Already answered] Can you clarify how much your examples you cite are funded by OpenPhil?

[This was one of my key questions but Marcus answered it on another thread, I included it as I thought it would be relevant to others.]

I noted that you say that some research "invertebrate sentience, moral weights and welfare ranges, the cross-cause model, the CURVE sequence" has "historically not had institutional support". But OpenPhil suggest here they funded some of this work.

Marcus clarifies here that the Moral Weights work was about ~50% OpenPhil and the CURVE work about ~10% OpenPhil funded.  


Thank you for answering these questions. Keep up the wonderful work and keep improving our ability to do good in the world!!! <3 


[Minor edits made to q2]

Hi Marcus thanks very helpful to get some numbers and clarification on this. And well done to you and Rethink for driving forward such important research.

(I meant to post a similar question asking for clarification on the rethink post too but my perfectionism ran away with me and I never quite found the wording and then ran out of drafting time, but great to see your reply here)

Hi Emily, Sorry this is a bit off topic but super useful for my end of year donations.

I noticed that you said that OpenPhil has supported "Rethink Priorities ... research related to moral weights". But in his post here Peter says that the moral weights work "have historically not had institutional support".

Do you have a rough very quick sense of how much Rethink Priorities moral weights work was funded by OpenPhil?

Thank you so much 

Hi, Debugging worked. It was a Chrome extension I had installed to hide cookie messages what was killing it. Thank you so much!!

Hi. I started drafting a reply but had to stop and now a week later I cannot find where I was drafting it. I would love to be able to see all the places where I have draft comments/replies autosaved. Thank you! 

Can this be updated. This is the default "Contact us" page (if I click the sidebar on the right and click "contact us" it brings me here). But this page seems very out of date. Could be worth updating it.

There is no intercom bubble on the right nor is there a "hide intercom" button on the edit profile page. There is a hide intercom button on the account settings page but it does not do anything. There are also a bunch of comments saying similar stuff below but they have not been replied too.

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