My Interpretation of Movember

(Cross-posted from Facebook.)

This is the first time I’ve posted on Facebook in … long. However, at the encouragement of a few friends, I’ve decided to leverage my no-shave November stunt as an opportunity to urge people to donate to one of the many worthwhile causes out there. Technically, my friends said I should do “the Movember thing” but this long-winded post is my characteristically difficult, verbose interpretation of that.

Note that what follows comes with a huge caveat that I’m generally opposed to people donating money to causes for signaling reasons and/or guilt, so I encourage you not to donate to one of the causes I describe below unless you’re convinced doing so would actually be effective by the standards of whatever moral system you endorse.

While the typical target for no-shave November donations is the Movember Foundation, the Movember Foundation’s 3/4 star rating on Charity Navigator leaves me unenthusiastic about recommending it or donating to it. Instead, I recommend one of the following more effective donation targets depending on how much you value the near vs. far future and how much you prioritize guaranteed impact over higher expected value.

If you value the near future more and want to guarantee your impact, I recommend donating to GiveWell or to one the organizations on their top charities list. If you give to GiveWell, they will distribute your donation based on need to the individual charities listed on that page. I like GiveWell because they publish clear criteria and prioritize incremental effectiveness, i.e. they don’t donate to vaccination organizations even though they are important because the Gates Foundation has saturated (in a good way) that space with funds.

On the other hand, if you (like me) prioritize the far future and are comfortable with donating based on expected value rather than guaranteed impact, I recommend looking at the Open Philanthropy Project’s list of high-impact areas or the Center for Effective Altruism’s funds. Open Phil has people working full-time to figure out how to have the highest impact over a long timeline and therefore can provide much more comprehensive recommendations than I can hope to. The Center for Effective Altruism’s funds are a good choice if you prefer donating to a proxy who will evaluate individual organizations in a specific area and allocate your money to them for you.

That said, if you don’t want to do a bunch of reading but want to give to a specific organization directly, I am happy to provide my personal take on the matter. Personally, I view organizations that seek to reduce existential risk, increase human longevity, and produce fundamental scientific breakthroughs as the most compelling targets for my own giving. Since basic science seems the hardest to donate to as an individual, I have and intend to continue donating to organizations in the first two categories. In terms of comparing X-risk and longevity research, I think (effective) X-risk reducing organizations have a higher expected value by utilitarian standards but include longevity-focused organizations because I’m personally very invested in progress in this area. If you want to donate to x-risk, I recommend one of the following organizations: Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), the Future of Life Institute (FLI), and the Center for Human Compatible AI (CHAI). My sense is that FLI is the most credentialed but also the least focused on directly producing research. CHAI is credentialed (associated with Berkeley and led by Stuart Russell, famous AI professor and author) and directly contributing to AI safety research. MIRI is the least credentialed but also, as I understand it, the least funded. If you’re more interested in longevity, SENS and the Longevity Research Institute are the two organizations with which I’m most familiar. I’ve donated to SENS previously and intend to make a donation to LRI soon.

Finally, in case it’s not clear, I feel strongly that all of the organizations I listed in the far future, high expected value category are poised to have a large positive impact on the future of humanity. As a result and because I haven’t been donating as much as I’d like to to them, I’m willing to match up to an unspecified number of donations to any of the organizations I listed in this category. All you have to do to take advantage of this is email me privately (my first and last name at gmail) letting me know how much you plan to donate and to whom and I’ll match your donation.

After all that, here are the mustache before/after pictures.