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TheOtherDave comments on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... - Less Wrong

130 Post author: Yvain 24 December 2010 09:26PM

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Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 December 2010 06:04:04PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for data!

Only vaguely relatedly: if you have pointers to (or are willing to synthesize) a reliable calculation of expected lives-saved/deaths-caused by maintaining or discarding the existing Red Cross policies about who is "allowed" to donate blood, especially the relatively controversial ban on male donors with homosexual acts in their sexual history, I would be interested.

Full disclosure: I do have a personal/emotional stake in this question, but I really really don't want to set off a political/ethical conversation about it. I'm asking it here because, as with a lot of politically charged topics, the arguments I've found on both sides are mostly a case of framing the question so as to give the answer one wants to give, rather than so as to answer the question that was asked, and I'm looking for a more objective analysis.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 December 2010 06:49:02PM 8 points [-]

I also wanted to ask this question.

Giving blood is important to me. It is so important that I have chosen not to pursue relationships with other men in order than I can continue to give blood without lying to do so. I expect that sooner or later, I will choose otherwise, and a sexual relationship will be important enough to me to sacrifice my ability to ever give blood again, and this distresses me.

I can accept that the risks of HIV may be high enough to make this a reasonable choice on the part of United Blood Services / Red Cross. However, I would like to be quite sure that this is the case, or to be told that my blood isn't as important as I previously though it was. I was previously giving blood on the impression that each donation saves around a twentieth of a life; this thread doesn't change that estimate enough for me to feel like I can stop donating in good conscience.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 December 2010 07:08:44PM 16 points [-]

Giving blood is important to me. It is so important that I have chosen not to pursue relationships with other men in order than I can continue to give blood without lying to do so.

On the margins, I expect that each marginal pint of blood saves only a very small fraction of a life. As several readers pointed out, this doesn't mean that we should ordinarily be calculating on the margins, since it's not like you can use a pint of blood for something else instead; in terms of moral credit, you should think of yourself as part of a reference class of people who all choose to donate blood for around the same reasons, and who all get an equal share of the lives saved.

However, the Red Cross has already decided that they're willing to X out the entire homosexual community, and I would expect the reference class of those who refrain from sexual activity in order to continue donating blood to be small, and I would guess that if this entire reference class refrained from donating blood, not a single additional life might be lost.

Modern-day hospitals are not, so far as I know, blood-limited. They need a routine flow of blood in order to routinely save lives. They do not need more blood to save more lives. That's the impression I got, anyway; some quick Googling even said that they usually have enough blood to just use O-negative instead of matching types.

I hate to say this, but I think you're making the wrong sacrifices here. I estimate a very high information value for further investigation on your part; I would expect it to show that you were safe to stop donating blood and resume sexual activity without costing anyone one-twentieth of a life. If you're really feeling guilty or worried, resume sexual activity and send a donation to the Singularity Institute as a carbon offset. If you can speed up a positive Singularity by one minute that works out to around 100 lives, never mind increasing the probability.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 December 2010 11:45:12PM 6 points [-]

I think I was accidentally misleading by failing to add that I'm bisexual. Not giving blood reduces my pool of potential romantic partners by roughly 10%, and doesn't prevent me from having fulfilling relationships. I don't think I would abstain from sex in order to give blood even if I knew I could save a life with each donation. Even if that's an incredibly selfish decision, I'm just not that good a person.

Regardless, the support of everyone who replied is very much appreciated.

Comment author: katydee 26 December 2010 12:42:25AM *  0 points [-]

...technically, doesn't speeding up a negative singularity also save lives-- the lives of those who would otherwise have been born and then killed but were instead never born and therefore couldn't be killed? In fact, I think speeding up a negative singularity actually "saves" more lives than speeding up a positive one using this calculation-- a quick Google search indicates ~250 people are born every minute and ~100 people die every minute.

Comment author: Vaniver 26 December 2010 12:50:20AM 6 points [-]

Replace "save lives" with "extend lifespans." All the math will suddenly start working out better.

Comment author: soreff 26 December 2010 05:19:32AM 2 points [-]

Agreed, I retrospect I should have phrased the original question in terms of QALYs or some similar metric.

Comment author: Desrtopa 27 December 2010 11:58:07PM 3 points [-]

In a fairly meaningful sense, no life has ever been saved before. Nobody has actually been prevented from dying yet. A positive singularity could change that.

Comment author: Marius 25 December 2010 07:39:42PM 4 points [-]

I believe you can make an easier calculation: change the denominator from lives to units of blood. How much effort/money/social capital would it take you to convince one more person to donate one more unit? [ignore the cost to that person, as it's likely zero or slightly beneficial]. Calculate the effort it therefore would take you to replace yourself as a donor while keeping the blood supply constant; this should serve as an upper bound for the self-sacrifice you should make in terms of sexual restraint.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 25 December 2010 11:49:22PM 1 point [-]

You make an excellent point. I clarified that the sexual restraint required is not as great as it may seem, but convincing other people to donate regularly (I have done so at least twice in my life) is still much less of a sacrifice.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 December 2010 08:59:43PM 2 points [-]

(nods) For me, it's not a pragmatic question of whether I donate or not: after ~20 years in a mutually monogamous relationship, I am confident that my donating blood reduces the percentage of infected blood in the supply, regardless of my gender, and that's the metric that matters.

But I spent some time trying to make sense of the arguments pro and con, a few years back, and mostly came to the conclusion that I didn't trust anyone's arguments.

It is certainly true that if you divide the community of potential donors into two groups, and the frequency of blood-born pathogens is higher in group A than group B, and your filtering mechanisms aren't 100% reliable, then the blood supply is N% safer if you remove group A from potential donors.

It is equally certainly true that you can do that division in thousands of different ways, and each way of doing that division gets you a different N.

I was hoping to find a comparison of estimated Ns for different plausible policies, and perhaps a recommendation for the best policy.

What I found instead was that defenders of the existing policy were making the first argument and saying "See? The policy makes the blood supply N% safer! We have to keep doing it, to do otherwise would be unsafe!" while at the same time disregarding questions about how large N actually was (i.e.., how many lives were actually at stake? 1000? .001? Somewhere in between?) and whether a different policy might get you a much larger N, while opponents of the policy were disregarding the first argument altogether.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 December 2010 09:20:30PM 0 points [-]

But I spent some time trying to make sense of the arguments pro and con, a few years back, and mostly came to the conclusion that I didn't trust anyone's arguments.

My conclusion is somewhat related. I have no particularly good reason to believe that I am better able to establish blood donation and usage policy than the Red Cross or the medical practitioners. I just give them my blood and they can use it or not as they see fit. I'd do it just for the health benefits anyway.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 25 December 2010 09:53:40PM 1 point [-]

For my own part, I appreciate that the Red Cross (and etc.) is trying to satisfy multiple constraints, only one of which is the actual safety of their blood supply, and I don't object to that. But the constraints that apply to them in articulating a policy don't necessarily apply to me in donating blood.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 December 2010 09:57:17PM *  1 point [-]

On the other hand you have constraints that they do not have, not least of which is the lack of scaling benefits for your research and decision making efforts.

We are left with an optimal approach of considering what we know of our own blood that the collection agency does not (or is forbidden from discriminating on). We can approximate whether this knowledge would make the blood more suitable or less. Only if 'less' do we need worry about how significant that extra knowledge is.

Comment author: TobyBartels 30 December 2010 07:44:39AM 0 points [-]

We also need to worry if the answer is ‘more’ and because of that we decide to lie on the answer form so that we can donate.

I kind of get the impression that TheOtherDave is doing that, or at least would condone it under circumstances very much like his.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 December 2010 05:25:37PM *  0 points [-]

I don't do it, mostly because I'm so irritated by the policy that I've worked my way into a completely counterproductive "F--k it, then, donate your own f--king blood, see if I care" kind of sulk about it. I'm not proud of this, but there it is.

Yes, I condone it... indeed, I endorse it... in situations very much like mine.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 December 2010 06:57:51PM 0 points [-]

They aren't assessing that risk in a logical fashion. If they were, they would have similar restrictions on donation by ethnic group. (It is possible that the Red Cross would like to do that also but knows that it is political unfeasible.)

Comment author: CarlShulman 26 December 2010 12:35:30AM 4 points [-]

Will Saletan has an article on this.