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97Re: [givewell] Conversation with William Easterly

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  • Phil Steinmeyer
    May 15, 2009
      The link doesn't work for me. Actually - I'm not sure if its the link or an
      issue downloading mp3s in my browser.

      In any case, the weird symbols in your link title (%20), are, I think, some
      sort of odd substitution for spaces. I would try renaming the file using
      underscores, which is more conventional and less problematic for filenames



      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Holden Karnofsky
      To: givewell@yahoogroups.com
      Sent: Friday, May 15, 2009 11:11 AM
      Subject: [givewell] Conversation with William Easterly

      I spoke with William Easterly on Tuesday, and recorded the conversation with
      his permission. The audio file is here:


      Agrees with us that health has a much stronger track record than other areas
      Agrees with us that more measurement/evaluation is needed
      Generally negative on the way we identified "priority interventions." On
      our sources:
      Millions Saved (set of 20 success stories, discussed at
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/givewell/message/25) - says it purposefully
      "cherry-picked" success stories (this was its explicit aim) but thinks it
      did a generally good job finding the ones with good evidence for impact
      Poverty Action Lab and related (randomized controlled trials) - believes
      randomized controlled trials are good to test general theories of human
      behavior, but not for identifying promising programs since they only
      demonstrate (at most) that a program worked in a particular place at a
      particular time. Contrasts with view of Poverty Action Lab that these
      studies can identify promising programs.
      Very negative on Copenhagen Consensus - thinks cost-effectiveness analysis
      is only useful for identifying enormous differences (gives the example of
      antiretroviral therapy, far less cost-effective than other options). (For
      the record we agree with this approach to using cost-effectiveness analysis,
      but still use Copenhagen Consensus because a) it identifies interventions
      that are believed to be "in the range" of the most cost-effective; b) it
      represents a consensus of a large number of experts doing an explicitly
      comparative study.)
      Suggests that we focus on interventions that "just work" - contrasts
      vaccinations (you can see it happening and be confident that the child is
      vaccinated) with "community development" (vaguer goal). (We've gone back
      and forth on using a similar concept to designate additional "priority
      interventions" - see http://blog.givewell.net/?p=278)
      My note: because of the specific way we're using "priority programs" in our
      process (to flag charities/programs for further investigation), we're trying
      to err on the side of including more rather than fewer in our list of
      priority interventions
      Says that "mechanical evaluation" (i.e., formal evaluation) is important and
      has its merits, but he would like to see a process that makes more use of
      person-to-person trust, which he sees as important. Says the only charities
      he would personally get behind, currently, are small projects he's been able
      to see in person.
      Generally negative on megacharities such as Save the Children and CARE (his
      examples) - doesn't like where they stood on the food aid debate (see
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/16/world/africa/16food.html - note that CARE
      specifically was on the "right" side of this debate), says many are
      essentially contractors for USAID, which he has a low opinion of. Also
      specifically negative on UNICEF or "anything that starts with the letters
      Wary of global health partnerships and other large "vertical" health
      programs - made a general statement that they are putting money and
      expertise into the "Top of an enormous funnel and they all have to go
      through the same choke point at the bottom of the funnel which is the local
      labor force." Says "I would look in health for someone who's creative not
      only about targeting a disease and finding the right low-cost technical
      solutions and assembling all the medicines and the needles but is also
      thinking about how can they creatively get this implemented on the ground"
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