Sloppy Writing

I was sloppy when I wrote my post this morning about GiveWell. First a comment from reader Suzy in reference to my claim that Hewlett’s grant to GiveWell “shuts down completely any argument around the validity of GiveWell’s research.”:

Really? This from the man who advocates for foundations talking about their failures? Are you really so sure this isn’t one of those grants Hewlett will look back on and wonder…

Then an emailed comment from Holden Karnofsky, GiveWell’s founder commenting on the same line:

I disagree strongly with your statement. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of what we do, something I’m sure Hewlett would acknowledge – and no matter what they think, their opinion is still just another opinion. I believe that their support has signaling value, but nobody’s recommendation should be considered to shut down a debate.

OK, I admit my statement was wildly sloppy. What I was trying to say was that the people who have called into question whether GiveWell is credible are proven wrong by this grant. But that doesn’t mean that GiveWell’s research is correct. But I think it would be naive at this point for anyone to argue that it is not credible. By “valid” I simply meant it must be taken seriously, not that it must be accepted as correct. The fault is mine for being sloppy.

That wasn’t my only mistake, Holden also writes:

Would it be possible to change the wording of what you wrote re: Vanguard? We do not consider ourselves to be “partnering” with them, and in fact they have specifically asked us to avoid using that term. We are simply a client of theirs.

Oops. Right. That makes sense. I wasn’t trying to imply that Vanguard and GiveWell were working together in some sort of joint relationship. I was trying to point out that GiveWell was utilizing an administrator and keeping their own focus on charity research. Much like I suggested might work in this comment.

Not my best day.

One Comment

  1. Sean, maybe you felt sloppy, but I understand your points entirely. In fact I referenced them in my post about the award.

    This is an important indicator of the seriousness with which people are approaching social investment, which not to put words in your mouth, is to some extent at the core of your (and certainly my) excitement.

    I want GiveWell to succeed because I think something like GiveWell needs to and I believe they will be a learning organization and open to flaws in their methodology if they can be clearly identified.