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Conversation with William Easterly

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  • Holden Karnofsky
    I spoke with William Easterly on Tuesday, and recorded the conversation with his permission. The audio file is here:
    Message 1 of 4 , May 15 9:11 AM
    • 0 Attachment

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


      Highlights:
      • 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 UN."
      • 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"
    • Phil Steinmeyer
      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
      Message 2 of 4 , May 15 9:31 AM
      • 0 Attachment
        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

        i.e.

        http://givewell.net/files/Research_interviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_(trimmed).mp3


        ----- 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:


        http://givewell.net/files/Research%20interviews/William%20Easterly%202009%2005%2012%20(trimmed).mp3



        Highlights:
        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
        UN."
        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"
      • Holden Karnofsky
        Good suggestion, thanks. New link: http://givewell.net/files/ResearchInterviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_trimmed.mp3 On Fri, May 15, 2009 at 12:31 PM, Phil
        Message 3 of 4 , May 15 11:26 AM
        • 0 Attachment
          Good suggestion, thanks.  

          New link: http://givewell.net/files/ResearchInterviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_trimmed.mp3

          On Fri, May 15, 2009 at 12:31 PM, Phil Steinmeyer <psteinmeyer@...> wrote:


          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

          i.e.

          http://givewell.net/files/Research_interviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_(trimmed).mp3



          ----- 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:

          http://givewell.net/files/Research%20interviews/William%20Easterly%202009%2005%2012%20(trimmed).mp3

          Highlights:
          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
          UN."
          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"



        • Lee Crawfurd (MoFEP)
          Interesting discussion, I especially liked the idea about some kind of person-to-person referral network. I have no idea how this would work in practice but it
          Message 4 of 4 , May 20 4:18 AM
          • 0 Attachment
            Interesting discussion, I especially liked the idea about some kind of person-to-person referral network. I have no idea how this would work in practice but it might be interesting to think about engaging with some kind of new media facebook-type application or something similar by which you could potentially create direct interaction with local NGOs on the ground, and/or somehow aggregate individual recommendations.

            What do you think?

            --
            Lee Crawfurd

            Economist (ODI Fellow)
            Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning
            Government of Southern Sudan

            lee.crawfurd@...
            Zain: +249 (0)914897740
            Gemtel: +256 (0)477256753


            2009/5/15 Holden Karnofsky <holden0@...>


            Good suggestion, thanks.  


            New link: http://givewell.net/files/ResearchInterviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_trimmed.mp3


            On Fri, May 15, 2009 at 12:31 PM, Phil Steinmeyer <psteinmeyer@...> wrote:


            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

            i.e.

            http://givewell.net/files/Research_interviews/William_Easterly_2009_05_12_(trimmed).mp3



            ----- 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:

            http://givewell.net/files/Research%20interviews/William%20Easterly%202009%2005%2012%20(trimmed).mp3

            Highlights:
            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
            UN."
            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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