• Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact

  • Saving lives for seven cents each

    August 9th, 2013
    giving  [html]
    As a kid I remember being very impressed with Trick-or-Treat For Unicef because they could do so much with so little money:

    When my Quaker youth group was deciding who to raise money for, we chose Unicef because (of the small number of charities we were familiar with) they made the strongest claims. Saving lives for "7¢ per dose": impressive!

    While not entirely false, however, these numbers are certainly misleading. Seven cents for oral rehydration therapy is about right in the sense that the ingredients are very cheap: sugar and salt. But if we really could save children's lives for 7¢ then why would we consider anything else on Unicef's list? Spending $17 to for a vaccination to "keep a kid safe from 6 killer diseases" would mean letting over two hundred other children die! What's going on?

    The issue with oral rehydration therapy is that the limiting factor is almost never the raw cost of the ingredients. Instead it's mostly knowlege, and that the easy places to get it to now have it. It's been a great success, but pushing it farther gets increasingly expensive. The cost of producing a packet is a really bad stand-in for the marginal cost of saving someone from death by dehydration.

    Now, technically Unicef wrote that it "can save a child" not "saves a child", so they're not really lying. [1] But they're trying to get people to donate based on a false impression of efficacy, and that's harmful. It means when GiveWell writes that the best charity they've identified saves lives for around 35,000 times more money people are surprised at the cost and wonder why they can't manage to do better. It makes people think quantifying the good of donations is a solved problem when that process still gives results that are too fragile to be used as your raw decision-making metric. The "a little money goes a ridiculously long way" meme needs to stop.


    [1] Though they use the same wording for things like "can provide a soccer ball" where there's far less uncertainty.

    Comment via: google plus, facebook, hacker news

    Recent posts on blogs I like:

    What should we do about network-effect monopolies?

    Many large companies today are software monopolies that give their product away for free to get monopoly status, then do horrible things. Can we do anything about this?

    via benkuhn.net July 5, 2020

    More on the Deutschlandtakt

    The Deutschlandtakt plans are out now. They cover investment through 2040, but even beforehand, there’s a plan for something like a national integrated timetable by 2030, with trains connecting the major cities every 30 minutes rather than hourly. But the…

    via Pedestrian Observations July 1, 2020

    How do cars fare in crash tests they're not specifically optimized for?

    Any time you have a benchmark that gets taken seriously, some people will start gaming the benchmark. Some famous examples in computing are the CPU benchmark specfp and video game benchmarks. With specfp, Sun managed to increase its score on 179.art (a su…

    via Posts on Dan Luu June 30, 2020

    more     (via openring)


  • Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact