EA Infrastructure Fund: Off-Cycle Grants 2020

Payout Date: September 1, 2020

Total grants: $77,500

Number of grantees: 3



This year to date, the EA Infrastructure Fund has made three off-cycle grants outside of our regular triannual fund disbursements. These off-cycle grants were made to the following projects:

  1. David Janku, Effective Thesis ($20,000)
  2. Theron Pummer, teaching and admin buyout (£23,625)
  3. Joshua Greene & Lucius Caviola, effective giving research ($27,000)

Why do we make off-cycle grants?

The EA Infrastructure Fund makes grants triannually, typically in March, July, and November of each year. On some occasions, organizations or individuals will approach us about off-cycle funding. While we generally encourage potential grantees to apply for funding in line with our triannual grant rounds, we are open to considering off-cycle grants when it seems particularly valuable for a project to be funded quickly rather than waiting until the next grant round.

Grant rationales

Below are some of the key considerations behind the three off-cycle grants we have made in 2020 to date. As with all of our payout reports, these summaries are by no means meant to be read as complete or exhaustive cases for each grant. They are based on a series of internal conversations between the fund managers, as well as with the grantees, incorporating our past experience, knowledge, and judgment. While we have taken risks and reservations into account for each recipient, we do not discuss those below in most cases.

David Janků, Effective Thesis ($20,000)

Effective Thesis advises students on choosing an impactful research topic for their thesis by connecting them with experienced researchers. The goal of the project is to encourage junior researchers to research high-impact topics and continue producing valuable, rigorous research throughout their academic careers.

Categories: Talent leverage, information leverage, early stage

  1. We previously made a grant to Effective Thesis in July 2019. Our core reasoning behind that grant still stands. In particular:

    • Providing students with thesis topic advice requires a small level of input from an experienced researcher, usually 1-3 hours per student. Given the small input for potentially large outputs, we think this is an interesting meta initiative worth exploring further.
    • Effective Thesis has a network of 44 coaches with the capacity to take on at least twice as many students as they help now [as of July 2019]. As finding high-caliber coaches with enough available time seems to be the most significant hurdle for many coaching projects, we are impressed that Effective Thesis seems to have made good progress in this area.
  2. We decided to make this off-cycle grant to Effective Thesis as an exit grant to support organizational changes. While we have had a positive impression of many aspects of Effective Thesis and were excited for the idea to be tested out, our current view is that it might be more valuable for the project to be led by a network of volunteers rather than a single full-time project manager. The key aim of this grant was to provide David Janků (the current project manager) with a 6-month exit grant, so that he could downscale Effective Thesis to a volunteer-led initiative or look for alternative sources of funding.

Theron Pummer, teaching and admin buyout (£23,625)

Theron Pummer is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs. This grant will buy out Theron's teaching and administration time for six months, allowing him to triple his time spent on research for two books focused on philosophical issues relevant to effective altruism.

Categories: Information leverage, early-stage

  1. Theron has two books under contract with Oxford University Press. The first (titled The Rules of Rescue: Cost, Distance, and Effective Altruism) is concerned with developing a plausible non-consequentialist account of the ethics of helping those in need and its implications for effective altruism. 

  2. The second (titled Hypersensitive Ethics: Much Ado About Nearly Nothing) is concerned with the structure of value, in particular with the scope and status of evaluative vagueness and with the question of whether slight descriptive differences can on their own make arbitrarily large evaluative differences. The resolution of this book's core questions could potentially have implications for priority-setting in resource allocation and the role of AI in navigating ethical trade-offs. 

  3. We reviewed this grant off-cycle because it was necessary for Theron to know the outcome quickly in order to communicate his plans to the University of St Andrews. This grant will allow Theron to increase the fraction of his working time spent on research for these books from ~30% to ~90%, by buying out his teaching and administration time (with the remaining ~10% spent on PhD student supervision). Theron previously received teaching buy-outs from EA Grants, which is no longer in operation, and expects that these grants allowed him to significantly increase his research output. Between 2013 and 2018, Theron published seven papers. After receiving funding from EA Grants, Theron published eight papers in 2019 and 2020 alone, with two more under review. Some of these recent publications have been in top-rated journals in philosophy, such as The Journal of Philosophy and Analysis. 

  4. We think that developing and promoting the ideas of effective altruism within academia has the potential to be very valuable. We discuss this reasoning in our grant reports for the Global Priorities Institute (see payout report) and the Forethought Foundation (see payout report). In particular, we think that academia can be an excellent means of distributing important and impactful reasoning from very far upstream. 

  5. We spoke to a number of advisors with experience in academia and philosophy about this grant, all of whom had a positive view of both Theron's work and his area of research more broadly.

Joshua Greene & Lucius Caviola, effective giving research ($27,000)

Through this project, Lucius Caviola and Professor Joshua Greene of Harvard University will develop and test an online donation platform that aims to motivate the public to give to highly effective charities. The logic behind the platform is based on insights from psychological research.

Categories: Capital leverage, early-stage

  1. We previously made a grant that contributed towards funding postdoctoral research at the Greene Lab at Harvard University undertaken by Lucius Caviola. The key goals of his current project are to develop a donation platform that would put some of Lucius' research into practice, run a large field study to test the research in a real-world setting, and publish an academic paper on the findings. 

  2. Recent research led by Lucius suggests that people donate to ineffective charities because they tend to be uninformed about the most effective charities, and because they tend to be more motivated to give to charities they have an emotional connection to. This project will investigate strategies for addressing these issues, including donation bundling and donor coordination. These strategies will then be applied and tested in the field, using an online donation platform (givingmultiplier.org). We expect the value of information in testing these strategies to be high. Additionally, we view the goal of publishing research on effective giving in top academic journals as very valuable in expectation. 

  3. We reviewed this grant off-cycle to increase the chance of the website going live ahead of this year's Giving Season. This grant will provide funding to design the website, advertise online, and provide partial matching for donations made through the platform ($15,000 out of the total grant will be used for matched funding).