Update on Sepsis: Donations Probably Unnecessary

Epistemic Status: Pretty Confident

So, remember how I was urging people to donate for a randomized controlled trial of a new treatment for sepsis?

I’ve been informed by some people who work with the Open Philanthropy Project, which does research into giving opportunities that I really respect, that there are already foundations which are likely to fund an RCT for the treatment.  This means that donations from private individuals are no longer necessary.

(A quick rundown of the logic behind this: if you’re trying to give “optimally”, you want to pay attention to the marginal returns of your dollars.  If you give the first dollar to a great opportunity that nobody else will fund, your marginal impact is huge. If you give a dollar to the same great opportunity, but somebody else has already pledged $10M, then your dollar has become a lot less useful, because pretty much any goal has diminishing marginal returns on investment.  If your motivation for giving to charity is achieving a goal as cheaply as possible, you should move away from charities that are already adequately funded, and towards opportunities that are underfunded. This is a simple idea but it took me a surprisingly long time to understand!)

If you already gave to Eastern Virginia Medical School for the sepsis trial, your money’s not refundable, but it’s still being dedicated to sepsis research.

General implications I’d draw from this:

  • This is another example, as GiveWell and OpenPhil have found many times, of the principle that finding good giving opportunities is hard. It’s hard for the same reason finding good investment opportunities is hard. If something is obviously great, there’s a good chance that professionals have already invested in it. If something is undervalued, it’s probably not obviously great (it’s at least likely to be controversial.)
  • This is a positive update on the success of the philanthropic community, esp. in medicine.  Drug companies may not have an incentive to fund trials of cheap, unpatentable treatments, but perhaps foundations do.
  • Unfortunately for those of us on the awkward and scruffy side, this suggests that talking to rich people is a useful skill in finding out what’s actually going on in the world.


6 thoughts on “Update on Sepsis: Donations Probably Unnecessary

    • Yeah, the previous post already acknowledged the existence of a charity that might fund the study — NIH.

  1. Thinking about this a little more, I wonder if the mistake is not making sure that the people doing the work are committed to crowdfunding? They may have already had other sources of funding they were pursuing; hard to say without talking with them first.

    Something like experiment.com (a Kickstarter-like site for science funding) has a bit more commitment associated with it, on both sides.

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