I feel like Effective Altruism and Progress Studies are similar in many ways. Both are trying to take a fresh look at some basic facts of our world and prioritize things according to an underlying philosophy. Personally, I am a little bit more convinced by the "progress studies" philosophy - the theory that making scientific and technological progress is the best way to improve the world in the long run.
However, there is one big advantage of Effective Altruism, which is that it is "actionable" in a casual way. I can just donate some money to GiveWell and be reasonably confident that it is going to a cause that is very well aligned with EA philosophy.
What's the alternative for someone who is more inclined to the "progress studies" philosophy? Maybe this doesn't really exist, and I just wish that this existed.
Great question, what form could this take? I can think of a few themes for funds, based on the three drivers of progress I laid out in this post:
I could imagine a fund on any of these themes, making grants to orgs like the ones mentioned, or smaller grants directly to individual projects on these themes. I could also imagine a fund covering two or all three of them.
The Roots of Progress does take donations from the public, as does Our World in Data; I'm not sure about the others.
PS: One challenge is that there isn't a single “QALYs/$” metric that you can quantify and stack-rank all opportunities on. So grant decisions need to rely on vision, strategy, and judgment. This probably means that it makes more sense for there to be multiple funding organizations, rather than just one. (Fitting with a general theme I have noticed that progress studies is more pluralistic, federated, and bottom-up; vs. EA which is more centralized, technocratic, and top-down.)
I'd say the donation legibility is a concern here. The best progress-related institutions aren't set up in a way where low dollar denominated donations make obvious helpful marginally valuable improvements. When I donate five hundred dollars to vaccines acquisition and distribution in Angola, that's believably a marginal difference that matters.
Under what models of progress does a marginal $500 provide a lot of value? I think in the context of microgrants to young people and young ideas, it is great! But I'm having trouble for something like New Science.
Maybe the marginal 500 dollars should be spent on youtube advertising for channels that are PS aligned? I can find that somewhat believable.... particularly because I have my eye on a certain Nigerian youtuber who is criminally undersubscribed.
On the Policy point, I often wonder what occurs after the research and writings done by e.g. Institute for Progress (and yes a QALYs/$ metric seems near impossible). How could one better discern the outcomes of the Policy work, and that the research and recommendations for Policy isn't shouting into a void?
Another way of thinking about it is if one were to put money or time into Policy, what would those actions look like?
Not only you don’t have QALY, but you cannot RCT easily things in progress studies.
The most progress-adjacent idea that EA has debated is the against Randomista post and to have more focus on economic growth. But right now I think the consensus is that QALYs and RCTs will still dominate.
On metascience policy and writings: it's really hard to judge impact! We do a lot of writing at the Good Science Project, and our newsletter is read throughout the White House, congressional staff, NIH leaders, etc. Sometimes people behind the scenes ask for ideas and input. But policy action is long, tortuous and unpredictable (e.g., ARPA-H took some 5 years to enact since the time that my board member Mike Stebbins and others started writing and talking about that idea).
In the context of federal government action, 5 years feels like a huge win! Out of curiosity, was there any kind of generic background on the kind of policy being worked on? For example, with ARPA-H, did the background include the founding of other ARPA-pattern agencies, the references about the relevant authority, or budgetary shenanigans?
It's unrelated to the OP, but what I am driving at here is how much pre-work on behalf of the government is a valid optimization target. I want to make a comparison with the legislative case, where a successful strategy in lobbying is providing draft language for a bill; is there an equivalent in the executive case?
As of 2017, the Suzanne Wright Foundation, which has only two employees and makes only around $400k in grants a year, started publishing a series of articles on the idea of a DARPA for health (with amateurish graphics). It created a separate website (also with amateurish design and graphics), and a series of short videos (e.g., this, this, and this, each of which had fewer than 2,300 views by 2022).
All of that might seem like an inauspicious beginning, but the foundation also got the support of Geoff Ling (who had founded the DARPA Biological Technologies Office) and Mike Stebbins (who had just spent six years as Assistant Director for Biotechnology at the White House OSTP).
Eventually, the idea made its way into the Biden campaign’s hands, and Biden started promoting the idea on the campaign trail (see this clip from an August 8, 2019 speech). Ling and Stebbins then wrote up their proposal in more detail for the Day One Project, sponsored by the Federation of American Scientists.
I agree here that PS is more convincing, and that EA is more actionable. But EA is effective at creating institutions around action (giving time and money) such as 80000 hours/Givewell. I think EA also makes a stronger claim on individuals' duties compared to PS because PS is focused on long term economic growth -- a fluid goal we do not yet know how to achieve.
On the strength of EA.
On the fluid, uncertain nature of achieving economic growth:
I'm a relative newcomer to progress studies. My first impression is that Progress Studies is a research agenda aimed at academic researchers without much room for actions by non-wealthy (money), non-academic (time in the form of research). Perhaps knowledge production is an elite activity (with support by PS popularizers (time)).
On knowledge production as an elite activity:
I think the non-rival, zero marginal cost nature of ideas indicates that PS could do a lot of good without needing the social participation of a great many people outside of academia. It would be unfortunate if this is the extent of the ecosystem though. I'm still looking for ways to donate my time to PS so if anybody has any good ideas, I would love to hear it.
A lot of (most?) progress studies work is being done outside academia, or on the border of academia, not in proper journals and peer-reviewed publications. My own work is for a general audience. Anton Howes left academia to write for a general audience. Eli Dourado is at a think tank that is affiliated with a university, but he writes for a general audience. Brian Potter came from industry and writes for a general audience. Etc.
See this answer in my AMA about how people can contribute: https://progressforum.org/posts/ew6LJbcoLm8PjJLbX/ama-jason-crawford-the-roots-of-progress?commentId=ibns2uXfbyHXrdkay