The GiveWell Blog

September 2018 open thread

Our goal with hosting quarterly open threads is to give blog readers an opportunity to publicly raise comments or questions about GiveWell or related topics (in the comments section below). As always, you’re also welcome to email us at or to request a call with GiveWell staff if you have feedback or questions you’d prefer to discuss privately. We’ll try to respond promptly to questions or comments.

You can view our June 2018 open thread here.


  • Milan Griffes on September 12, 2018 at 4:47 pm said:

    Any update on how the Blattman et al. follow-up paper will affect GiveDirectly’s recommendation?

    Paper here:

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on September 13, 2018 at 5:23 pm said:

    Hi Milan,

    We haven’t yet reviewed Blattman et al., but plan to consider it as part of our year-end review of cash transfers mentioned in our May 2018 blog post on new cash transfer research.

  • I skimmed your Zusha report, and didn’t see any analysis of the negative utility of travelling on slower buses.

    I *assume* that travelling on slower but safer buses is an overall net positive… but I’m not totally sure, and I’d at least like to consider the possibility that the buses are travelling at the correct speed. After all, we should be humble and give the driver some amount of credit, before we decide that we know better than them and say that they are stupidly doing something that’s not in their own best interest.

    Logically, there must be some speed at which it’s no longer better (in terms of overall utility) to be slower — if not, the speed limit would be 1 MPH. Are we sure that those buses are currently travelling above that ideal speed?

  • Have you written anything about the trade-off between giving now vs investing the money and giving in the future?
    In particular it seems like effective altruism research is still improving quickly, so we might be able to give more effectively in the future.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on September 19, 2018 at 12:48 pm said:

    Hi Alex,

    Our best guess is that any effects on vehicle speed are fairly small. We have limited data on this question; the only information we have is from the 2015 randomized controlled trial (RCT). We write in our report on Zusha!:

    In Habyarimana & Jack 2015, the authors try to test mechanisms, but the evidence is mixed. There is no significant difference in reports of reckless driving or passenger complaints between the treatment and control vehicles. There is also no significant difference in maximum moving speeds. However, the average moving speed was slower for treatment vehicles than control vehicles, by about 1 km/h on average.

    Reductions in average speed at levels similar to that referenced above are small enough that we don’t model the disutility. That said, this study raises the question of the mechanism by which accidents are reduced, if speeds don’t change. Our question about the mechanism by which the reduction in accidents occurred is one of our key uncertainties about the program, and is one of the factors that led us to discount our best-guess effect of the intervention more than for most programs with RCTs we’ve looked at.

  • Catherine (GiveWell) on September 20, 2018 at 10:07 am said:

    Hi Gary,

    We detailed several considerations related to giving now versus later in this 2011 blog post.

    We see the following general arguments in favor of giving now and giving later.

    In favor of giving now:
    * It may become less cost-effective to help people in the future, due to general economic development and improvements in living conditions, and so some of the best opportunities to save or improve a life today may not exist in the future.
    * Accomplishing good today may “earn interest,” by empowering people and positioning them to help others in the future.

    In favor of giving later:
    * We might find more cost-effective programs in the future, through our Incubation Grants program or by researching and reviewing new areas, such as policy advocacy.
    * An opportunity that looks good now could look worse in the future (for example, because we learn new information or because it runs out of room for more funding).

    On balance, our best guess is that the benefits of giving now are likely to outweigh the benefits of giving later, although we have a high degree of uncertainty around this. Some of the additional factors raised in the 2011 blog post also point in favor of giving now, such as providing an incentive to think carefully about where to give each year and helping charities plan around your gifts.

    In addition, here are some resources outside of GiveWell from the effective altruism community that may be of interest in thinking about this question:
    * Effective Altruism Forum roundup of writings on this topic
    * 2015 Global Priorities Project write-up, with flowchart

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