Skepticism

Throwing Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge

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Transcript:

The Ice Bucket Challenge is currently sweeping the Internet, in which people are challenged to either donate $100 to an organization focussed on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) OR record themselves dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads and donating only $10.

What could possibly be better than people having fun giving to a good cause? Shitting on those people and that cause, of course! As with any viral charity-focused meme these days, it’s attracted a lot of scrutiny, like in this Vice article by Arielle Pardes who says that “there are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most the annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism.” Pardes claims that people who participate in the challenge aren’t actually doing anything, but are instead just pretending to do something.

Unfortunately for Pardes but fortunately for those suffering from ALS, people have been doing something in the form of donating to a very good charity. The ALS Association reported $13.3 million in donations between July 29 and August 9th, with 260,000 new donors. This compares to $1.7 million in funding raised for the same period the year prior.

But maybe, as William MacAskill suggests in a critical article on Quartz, half of that money was going to be donated, anyway, and so ALS has effectively stolen $6.5 million from other charities.

MacAskill is referencing something he calls “funding cannibalism,” which is based on his own research from his non-profit, Giving What We Can. Unfortunately, he doesn’t link to this research, so I have no idea what he’s basing his conclusion on. Also, because he doesn’t cite his research, I have no idea if that $6.5 million the ALS Association took from other charities came from starving orphans or the National Man Boy Love Association.

MacAskill also claims that the ice bucket challenge is bad because it makes people feel very very good about doing something relatively minor, which will then lead to them doing fewer good things in the future. He points to a concept known as “moral licensing,” which is the idea that a person who is very confident in their own self-image as a good person will be more likely to engage in immoral acts.

For instance, MacAskill points to a study showing that subjects who bought an environmentally friendly item were more likely to later lie and steal compared to subjects buying a conventional item. Other studies have shown that people who are asked to think deeply about their own humanitarian qualities subsequently give less money to charity.

So could making someone feel good about giving to charity actually cause them to give less to charity in the long run? Maybe. Those studies are interesting, but they’re done in labs, usually on psychology students. In the real world, there are many other things that determine if we’re going to be good or not. Maybe a new donor to the ALS Association will go out tomorrow and kick a puppy, or maybe they’ll get more interested in ALS research and give again the next time the ALS Association emails them.

What I can say with certainty is that making people feel bad for participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge isn’t going to help any charities at all. It’s great to use popular memes like this as an opportunity to discuss evidence-based giving, but that discussion is going to do everyone a disservice if it uses shame as a hook.

Featured image comes from Flickr user Kyle May.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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18 Comments

  1. August 21, 2014 at 11:55 am —

    I think it definitely raises awareness and I can’t see how that is a bad thing.

    I don’t see these same people whining about Susan G. Koman making every possible thing pink in the name of breast cancer awareness, but then this actually raised some money so, you know.. taking it from other, um charities, or something. No, still doesn’t make sense.

    Plus, every time I see George W Bush challenge “Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, and Putin” I get to bring up the irony of his stance on waterboarding. Whoopsie.

  2. August 21, 2014 at 2:25 pm —

    The sociall licensing argument is invalid. First, not 100% of the people who give to charity do this. The highest figure I saw was 30 percent. So most people who feel good about giving to charity don’t kick kittens.

    Almost all test are performed on people who didn’t make the decisions themselves but were asked to make a choice by the researchers. So we don’t know how relevant this is for the people who voluntarily give money. (limitations of laboratory testings).

    In addition to this it is quite possible that in the end of the day the people who engage in moral licensing are still contributing more to society than those who don’t give to charity.

    But most importantly – the effect is found for every type of prosocial behaviour. It is true even when people just think of engaging in pro-social behaviour and even when nobody knows that they have given to charity. No one is arguing that we should stop volunteering or donating, so it is not sound to use this argument against the “ice bucket challenge”.

    One last thing, historically charitable giving increases throught the years, so globally speaking people with ALS aren’t robbing anybody.

  3. August 21, 2014 at 3:11 pm —

    I didn’t even know ALS was doing fund raising until the celebrities started doing the video challenges. Normally I only hear about ALS when a victim petitions the courts for the right to die on their own terms. Pity I don’t have any funds to spare right now but the challenge did put ALS back onto my mental radar in a way that didn’t involve courts cases over euthanasia laws. I would call horseshit on the whole stealing from other charities whine as if human generosity was a zero sum game.

  4. August 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm —

    As far as I’m concerned, only one person is allowed to “criticize” the Ice Bucket Challenge, and that’s James Ashby of SMBC Theater. He took the challenge to a whole new (and disgusting) level. Even though the challenge is gross, what he has to say in this video is just 100% awesome.

  5. August 21, 2014 at 9:07 pm —

    I work for a non-profit cancer organization and I really dislike gimmicks like this. I did not participate when the whole no makeup selfie thing went around, because I didn’t get it and didn’t understand how that was helping cancer awareness (I am a cancer survivor myself).

    I find it really hard to not participate in the ice bucket challenge when my 4 year old niece challenges me to do it! I do give the people who started this some credit because it is really hard to keep your organization in the forefront and remind people how important your work is. The fad will pass and will soon be forgotten about and some other illness/organization will soon take it’s place.

  6. August 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm —

    I’m someone who normally doesn’t donate to ALS but did this year, largely due to the awareness brought from this challenge.

    Don’t worry though, I’ll ensure I still donate my FULL annual amount to the Man Boy Love Association. :)

  7. August 22, 2014 at 5:54 am —

    but what about the concussions?

    srsly, not to distract from ASL, but I’ve seen too many vids where people look like they might be at risk for concussions, or even cervical vertebrae fractures.

    By all means, donate and raise awareness, but please don’t injure yourself in the process. :/

  8. August 22, 2014 at 9:06 am —

    Good post, Rebecca. My wife and I took the challenge, and while I had an initial resistance to the facebook-trend nature of it because I am too much of a curmudgeon at heart, the reality is that it made us give $50 to ALS (for the first time ever) and $50 to CureSearch (annual donors) that we simply would not have given at this time and to talk about one of our favorite charities to our friends on social media. That may be anecdotal, but I can almost guarantee that we are far from alone in being individuals who used this as an add-on charitable donation.

    I think the critics have some nuggets of truth and wisdom in some of their arguments, but I also think that in order to try and poop all over this trend (as opposed to maybe some particular aspect of it), you have to be pretty cynical, not skeptical. As you showed, the benefits are pretty remarkable in black and white. Unfortunately, I am resigning myself to the notion that the internet, for all of its great features, is making it easier and easier for groups of people to dump on popular (and generally positive) trends simply because they are not perfect. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” or something like that.

  9. August 22, 2014 at 10:33 am —

    Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my article. I’m a fan of the skeptic movement, and admire all you’ve done to promote clear thinking. I’m also very sorry to hear about your friend who passed away from ALS. It’s a terrible condition that causes a lot of suffering and I hope we find a cure.

    Responding to your criticisms: I don’t think that they’re particularly fair. As I understood you, you had three criticisms:
    1. I don’t link to data in support of my claim that, of the money that Giving What We Can has raised, approximately 50% would have been donated anyway. Therefore we don’t have any objective way of assessing whether the funding cannibalisation effect really occurs.
    2. The moral licensing effect has been shown in the lab but not in the field. So we don’t know whether that effect would occur with respect to something like the ice bucket challenge.
    3. My tone was snarky, which is detrimental.

    I’ll take each point in turn.

    (1). First, you suggest I’m talking about a ‘study’ – that’s not correct. Rather: My non-profit Giving What We Can raises money for other charities. We try to find out, of the money we raise (whether in money moved or in pledges), how much of that money would have been donated otherwise, by asking the people who’ve donated or pledged. We’ve found that, of every $1 raised (in money moved or in pledges), about 50% of the money would have been donated otherwise. I’m sorry I can’t link to the data: I couldn’t do so without breaching confidentiality of information of our members; if I were to anonymize it, it wouldn’t be giving you any more information than what I’ve already said.

    I think the response “Hey, well does this generalize?” is a reasonable one. Perhaps, for other fundraising campaigns, the % that wouldn’t have otherwise been donated might be higher or lower than this. But as for the question: Does the fundraising cannibalisation effect occur? There can be no doubt that it does.

    Adrian Sergeant, Professor of Fundraising at the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy, gave me permission to quote him: “On the issue of charities and whether expenditure grows the pie, I think the answer there is no – it doesn’t. People have been giving 1% of their income since records began and its stuck at roughly that percentage. The percentage of our society that give is also pretty static (although we still need a reliable way of measuring giving in the UK).” The same is true in the US – donations have stayed at 2% for decades (http://philanthropy.com/article/The-Stubborn-2-Giving-Rate/139811), despite an explosion in the number of charities and fundraising events. A little bit of microeconomic theory also suggests that it’s got to be the case – when fundraising, charities are generally acting so as to maximize their own income, and aren’t monitoring the effects on other charities, so they’ll keep fundraising until the benefits no longer exceed the costs (including opportunity costs), which will mean that, even if they’re taking money away from other charities, they’ll keep fundraising. The same thing happens for Coke and Pepsi; it’ll happen in the non-profit world as well.

    I’m sure that some campaigns do better, in terms of increasing the size of the pie, than others. However, no-one’s yet given me reasons for thinking that the ice bucket challenge does particularly well in this dimension; whereas I’ve given some reasons in my article for thinking that it does particularly badly.

    Given that we care about funding cannibalism, we should have a couple of aims:
    i. In awareness of this issue, try to ensure that our campaigns increase the size of the pie rather than simply re-allocate it
    ii. Try to re-allocate charitable so that it’s more effectively spent – so that the charities that receive the most funds are those that do the most good.

    I don’t think that the ice bucket challenge attempted either of these aims.

    (2) There is some evidence of the moral licensing effect in the real world. For example, see the description of some real-world effects in the wikipedia article on moral licensing (‘energy use’; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-licensing).

    But even if there weren’t any evidence at all of the effect outside the lab, what’s the reasonable presumption to act on? “The moral licensing phenomenon hasn’t been shown adequately in the field, so assume when designing campaigns that it doesn’t exist.”? That doesn’t seem right. The safe bet, if we want to ensure that we’re not inadvertently shrinking the pie, is to bear in mind the moral licensing phenomenon as a potential pitfall, even if we only have lab-based evidence for thinking that it might exist.

    (3) I’m sorry if I came across as snarky; it’s difficult to criticize a well-intented program without coming across like that (though I don’t think I’m quite “shitting on people who do it”). But if we want to do good in the world, we should care about good outcomes, rather than good intentions. And it’s much more difficult to produce good outcomes than it is to have good intentions. And ultimately, yes, I’m the party pooper: I think that we’re currently making ‘being a good person’ too easy to come by, and that this is to the detriment of the social sector as a whole. If the ice bucket challenge had tied its action with a more meaningful behavior change – pledging a % of income, or each person investigating which charity they believe does the most good, then setting up a regular donation with an explanation why, or becoming vegetarian or committing to fly only once per year – then I wouldn’t have had these criticisms. I’d much rather not be the party pooper; but I want to ensure that people’s good motives are harnessed to their greatest effect, so that we can make the most progress we can on the pressing social problems in the world – and if that means having to be critical sometimes, then so be it.

    • August 22, 2014 at 1:39 pm —

      Thanks for the response William. As skeptics we do get to play the part of “party-pooper” fairly regularly.

      I see myself using moral licensing day-to-day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else did as well. Thinking that most of us, when we do something we think is good, pat ourselves on the back a bit as we plop onto the couch saying “whelp, that was rough – I deserve a break.” doesn’t seem to me to be an outlandish claim.

      It seems to me that the only way to prevent moral licensing from happening, or from happening with “too low a bar”, is to set a higher “base morality” i.e., you’re expected to do this anyway so you don’t feel like doing it earns you a break or an exemption from some other moral choice. Obviously this is a struggle since we only have so much energy for doing… anything, so I think the trick there is to make it as easy as possible to make moral decisions. Then you can raise the bar on what’s expected.

      Cheers!

  10. August 22, 2014 at 3:23 pm —

    Let’s grant for the sake of argument that, whatever the general state of funding cannibalism, the ice bucket challenge actually did increase total donations (plausible, perhaps, because in virtue of being a novel, viral thing, it may well have encouraged a lot of people to donate who never otherwise would have done and maybe particularly so because, as Will states, it appeals to non-altruistic motives like fun, fitting in, desire for attention etc).

    Let’s also grant that it doesn’t *net* increase selfishness or reduce donations via moral licensing (perhaps because it also has an effect of increasing people’s altruism, via increasing people’s commitment to ‘being a charitable person who donates’).

    Let’s also grant that “snark” is not a good tactic if we want to encourage people to give more or give more effectively (although, bear in mind that tone is super-subjective, and for everyone who thinks that an article is “shitting on” the charitable, there may be someone else who thinks it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in calling for people help others as much as they can).

    Granting all that is there still something vitally important in what Will says (particularly in his latter article) that needs to be recognised regarding the ice bucket challenge? I think there is. Suppose that instead of charity ALSA benefiting from the ice bucket challenge it was (made up) charity ALSB, a charity which, let’s suppose, also works on ALS but which is around 500x less effective than ALSA. (This is around the difference which Will’s second article conservatively suggests obtains between working on ALS and on malaria). If the ice bucket challenge were moving unprecedented amounts fo ALSB wouldn’t we think that (good as it is that any charity working on ALS gets more funding) it was vitally important to get people to take notice of the difference between these (and other) charities? It seems to me like we would: even if it might embarass the sincere good guys and gals working over at and supporting ALSB.

    But this seems to be pretty similar to the situation we face now, where we could be preventing many, many times more suffering if, instead of taking the ice bucket challenge we donated to some of the more effective charities out there (more effective, not because they’re better people or causes necessarily, but just because there’s much larger amounts of suffering in the poorest parts of the world and it’s much more easily solvable). We face a situation where the world is a constant (metaphorical) battlefield and we need to (and in effect do, whether we think about it or not) triage and decide where we’re going to donate our efforts to save people’s lives. If we just aid the first people we come to, we inevitably consign other people to death. We somehow need to cheer on the people who pour ice cubes over their heads and donate to charity, while making sure that people recognise that if we just donate according to the latest campaign that caught our attention we are ensuring that thousands of people die who might have lived.

    • August 26, 2014 at 6:59 pm —

      I had written a much larger post criticizing this utilitarian approach to charitable giving and its’ implications which I find repugnant, but I think that it would have shifted the conversation way off topic, and there are enough articles on the topic for those who care. So let’s grant that everything behind this philosophy is sound and just talk about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

      I still don’t see what the problem with the ALS challenge is.

      First of all, in the first article, it is said that the right type of campaigns will draw much fewer people – but that it’s okay, cause they will give more (let’s grant that this rationale is sound). Then what’s wrong with the ice bucket challenge? It obviously has a different target group – the masses. And since we accept that their money will be wasted even in a world of perfect charitable campaigns, there shouldn’t be any worry. After all Bill Gates took part in the ice bucket challenge, but his foundation has donated 1.5 billion to malaria causes. Or you think he shouldn’t give anything to ALS? The point is that the big committed donors are not lost to a wasteful charity.

      In the second article the argument that the challenge is effective, because it has raised $8 million is countered with the assertion that that’s just an insignificant amount. OK, doesn’t ALS deserve at least this insignificant amount? Last year $335.17 billion were donated to charity. How much if any ALS should be allowed to receive and if they are allowed to raise money – How should they do it?

      Maybe ALS isn’t the problem and people with ALS have the right to raise money – then it’s the organization.

      Which is the most effective ALS charity? Or are they being evaluated now just because of the challenge? If so this alone is enough to make the campaign a success and it also means that the people who took the challenge had absolutely no way of knowing which is the most effective way to help people with ALS, because up until now they were so insignificant that no one cared to study them.

      Is the ALS campaign a reasonable target for this criticism? It actually isn’t the most widely publicized fundraising campaign in recent years (as claimed in the second article). A lot of people don’t even know that those kids are donating money and not just “planking”. Fukushima, Haiti and even Katrina happened in recent years and they were all front page, leading news. A couple of months of internet hype cannot even begin to compete with the decades of heavy worldwide publicity enjoyed by cancer, AIDS, the red cross, the salvation army etc. All this accumulates and those are among the best funded charities in the world and this will be true next year and the year after that, and the decade after that, when there will be a whole new generation unaware that this challenge ever existed.

      Wouldn’t it be more effective to target the government? Obamacare is always in the news. Why not challenge the government to cut some of the provisions for old people – I mean they are soon dying anyway? Or just plead the POTUS the get rid of the whole law.

      The funds then may go to the President’s Malaria Initiative. It has given $1.265 billion against malaria since 2005 ($608 000 000 just last year).
      This will bring attention to the problem with the lack of effectiveness in donations in general – we know that every controversy related to Obamacare gets the front pages. In addition to this, such an initiative may even succeed – after all there is no such thing as the President’s ALS Initiative – the government is an efficient giver, I guess.

      There are other initiatives that can have greater impact than bashing the ALS challenge – maybe every ineffective charity should be required to accompany each fundraising campaign with a warning message – just like those on the cigarettes. Something along the lines of “Every time you donate to the local opera a child in Africa dies.” or “Every time you volunteer at the Food Bank of New York City, you’re wasting time which you could have spend earning money to donate to effective charities.”
      Of course I’m being sarcastic but it’s reasonable to think about legislative work, targeting big charities and to think big on publicity on the issue.

      Let’s sum up:

      The criticism against the ALS challenge is superfluous because:

      a/ Every argument leveled against it can be leveled against most other fundraising campaigns. So there’s nothing wrong with the ice bucket challenge – mass charitable campaigns are the problem.

      b/ It is still far, far, far away of being among the best funded or publicized charities in the world or even the US. It is actually insignificant globally speaking. The only reason that anybody gives a shit about it is, because it gets some attention even from the mass media – right between the five legged cow and the woman with the possessed toaster.

      c/ a+b means that the time spent criticizing the bucket challenge is wasted. This fad will pass away just like the cinnamon challenge and all the articles written against it will sink into oblivion. That that energy should have been put against a bigger target – challenging the WWF or whatever will be relevant every year. Even better it should have been put into challenging the whole system of donations (including governments and mass media), because the problem is obviously very deep – the standard model of campaigning has to be changed. That would have been more effective.

      d/ Even if all the arguments leveled against it are sound and all charitable campaigns were organized efficiently – this would be still the only chance for this organization to get such funds without getting in the way of effective campaigns.

  11. August 28, 2014 at 8:26 am —

    I think it’s possible you have replied under the wrong comment, since you mostly target arguments in Will MacAskill’s articles (which I explicitly disavow at the beginning) and your main conclusion is that the ice bucket challenge is not particularly problematic or in need of criticism. But I don’t say that the ice bucket challenge is in particular need of criticism- indeed, I think we should praise all involved in it- just that there is an extremely important point about the relative effectiveness of charities that needs to be taken on board.

    “Every argument leveled against it can be leveled against most other fundraising campaigns. So there’s nothing wrong with the ice bucket challenge – mass charitable campaigns are the problem.”

    Right- but isn’t this essentially what Will MacAskill himself argues?
    e.g. “This isn’t to object to the ALS Association in particular. Almost every charity does the same thing… We should be very worried about this, because competitive fundraising ultimately destroys value for the social sector as a whole.”

    “That that energy should have been put against a bigger target – challenging the WWF or whatever will be relevant every year. Even better it should have been put into challenging the whole system of donations (including governments and mass media), because the problem is obviously very deep – the standard model of campaigning has to be changed. That would have been more effective.”

    Likewise, I thought it was really clear that MacAskill’s articles were targeting a broader culture of giving, “donor-focused philanthropy” not just ALS. Hence the first lines of his 2nd article “The ice bucket challenge is a symbol for much that’s wrong with contemporary charity: a celebration of good intentions without regard for good outcomes.”

    So even though ALS/ice bucket challenge doesn’t specifically warrant criticism in itself- even if we think it is a great thing it seems like there is still a very important point to be made about how much more good might be done if we at least tried to think about where most good could be done.

    • August 28, 2014 at 4:04 pm —

      First of all, I mentioned that I am not keen on going into a debate about the philosophical perspective from which this criticism is launched – there are enough debates on the issue and I doubt I can make a significant contribution. Things go beyond picking ALSa over ALSb for being more efficient – there is an explicit advice against giving to ALS causes for being inefficient.

      Second, the challenge as such is specifically targeted for being especially prone to certain ills. Both in the article above, in the comments here and in the comments to the first article you can see some of the reasons why people think that the accusations of cannibalism, moral licensing, giver-centrism and short-term focus, are misguided or unfounded. The proposed alternative is not immune to the same type of problems according to it’s critics.

      Last but not least, my main conclusion was that even if all the arguments in favor of different kind of campaigns are sound – the ALS challenge would still be a legitimate way to raise money, because it doesn’t interfere with the existence or promotion of efficient campaigns.

  12. August 29, 2014 at 4:05 am —

    Thanks for the reply ahtt.

    “First of all, I mentioned that I am not keen on going into a debate about the philosophical perspective from which this criticism is launched.”

    Right, and I nowhere mentioned any of those philosophical questions. You don’t need to be a utilitarian to think it’s more important to help many, many people a lot, rather than many many fewer people a lot less.

    “Second, the challenge as such is specifically targeted for being especially prone to certain ills.”

    As I said above, I don’t think that’s really true. The ice bucket challenge may be identified as an *exemplar* of a donor-focused approach (all about the fun campaign, little about the good we can do for people), but it doesn’t follow that ALS is particularly bad qua charity. As I say, even if ALS is an above average charity, that means it will still be several hundred times less effective than the charities with whom we could do the most good.

    “you can see some of the reasons why people think that the accusations of cannibalism, moral licensing, giver-centrism and short-term focus, are misguided or unfounded. The proposed alternative is not immune to the same type of problems according to it’s critics.”

    I explicitly disvowed or never raised these arguments in the first place. Probably the ice bucket challenge is giver-centric, but that was Will MacAskill’s argument, not mine.

    The proposed alternative is thinking more about where your donations could do the most good… in order to be likely to do more good. I’ve yet to see an argument against that!

    “my main conclusion was that even if all the arguments in favor of different kind of campaigns are sound – the ALS challenge would still be a legitimate way to raise money, because it doesn’t interfere with the existence or promotion of efficient campaigns.”

    Well here we’re speaking at cross-purposes (as I suggested in my reply), because I began by explicitly disavowing the argument that ALS is actually causing harm by taking resources that otherwise would have been donated better charities. I don’t think there’s compelling evidence for that. I just argued that even granting that, it would still be much enormously better- and so it’s vitally important to try to communicate this- if people made donations based on thinking about where it could do the most good.

    • August 29, 2014 at 1:09 pm —

      – I was referring to your acclaim of effective giving. And yes you actually have to be utilitarian to quantify things like that – the bulk of the debate revolves around that. And it’s not helping many more, a lot more that’s sparking controversy. It is about helping many, many people a little over helping fewer people a lot, because the former accumulate more DALYs just because they are many and they’re are often many, because helping them is cheap and helping people who are worse off is harder and more expensive. It’s about whether one should measure causes like that. The idea and its implications are much more complex and again I don’t think that we should go there – enough has been written elsewhere.

      Let’s agree that we disagree on that and move on. I said that for the sake of the argument I assume there are no such issues.

      – I didn’t say that it is labeled as “particularly bad” – just ‘averagely’;)

      – I know it wasn’t your argument but in your previous reply you implied that it wasn’t his either.

      – “I’ve yet to see an argument against that!” See first paragraph.

      The particular charges that I explicitly mentioned can be leveled against ANY type of giving. E.g., in the second article we are advised to donate money for mosquito nets. Yet one of the leading organizations which rates charities according to their efficiency doesn’t recommend donating to this charity because it has received so many funds that it cannot effectively handle them. So isn’t that article then promoting charity cannibalism or is it just not thinking enough about where donations could do most good.

      As it was mentioned above in the comments moral licensing kicks in when you just think about donating money – it’s not provoked by how, where or how much you give, it’s a question of who gives. The same charges can be leveled against any form of charity, because they are human ills not charity shortcomings. Again some of them in different forms are explored in the discussion about and within this line of thinking about charity, because they usually come up as issues in such context.

      – “ it’s vitally important to try to communicate this”
      I am saying that ALS or any other campaign for that matter is not keeping anyone from doing that. So why bring them to the table? It implies that people who take part in the challenge don’t think about this issues which is also just a speculation.

      Yes people should think and be reasonable in general, not just about the ice bucket challenge. And yes my comments are not targeted at you and your claim but mostly at the cited articles and the attitude toward the ALS challenge in them.

      • August 31, 2014 at 9:07 am —

        OK, so we are assuming (for the sake of argument) that the effective altruist/giving idea that we should work out what does the most good and do things that we expect to do relatively enormous good helping people, rather than things that help people an enormously smaller amount?

        “The particular charges that I explicitly mentioned can be leveled against ANY type of giving. E.g., [mosquito nets]… isn’t that article then promoting charity cannibalism or is it just not thinking enough about where donations could do most good. ”

        Maybe the charges (which I disavow) of moral licensing etc. apply to any type of giving. And maybe (although surely not) all funding to charities is cannibalistic (i.e. it’s a pure zero sum game) But that doesn’t seem to impact the point that it would be better to give to charities which help people much more, than those which help people much less. Nor does the fact that GiveWell think that AMF may lack room for more funds atm (although they are expanding). Even if Will were wrong to use the example of malaria (which I doubt) it wouldn’t follow that there are not enormous differences in causes.

        “I am saying that ALS or any other campaign for that matter is not keeping anyone from doing that. So why bring them to the table? It implies that people who take part in the challenge don’t think about this issues which is also just a speculation.”

        It seems pretty certain that all the people who donated money via the ice bucket challenge couldn’t have reflectively thought that ALS was the most effective charity to donate to. Given that, it would have been better- literally, many thousands of lives would have been saved- had people thought to give effectively. So if you do assume the validity of the broad ‘effective giving’ framework, it still seems vitally important to raise the point that enormous amounts of suffering could have been avoided if, instead of giving to the viral campaign, people gave to causes likely to be more effective.

        • September 2, 2014 at 4:32 am —

          1.
          I never said that the charges in question had any impact on that part of the argument. In my second post I just pointed them out, because you suggested that the ALS challenge was not specifically targeted in the two articles. In my third comment I elaborated on the issue exactly because you thought that they were argument against the rationale behind effective giving. I tried to explain that they are invalid arguments in such a conversation because they have nothing to do with types of giving, but with human nature. It was a side note, a clarification.

          2.
          The viral campaign doesn’t force anyone to give to ALS. One can react like Matt Damon did – and promote another cause. Of course he actually proposed another ineffective charity. There are variations of the ice bucket challenge in most other countries with different charities – most of them ineffective – like cancer research or disaster relief and in some countries everyone chooses their own (ineffective) charity.

          Again, as I said before, the main problem is not the ALS campaign or any other publicity campaign, but the charities behind these campaigns – there would have been no problem if the same viral campaign were to promote an effective charity. I mean “it would have been better-literally, many thousands of lives would have been saved” if there were viral campaigns like that instead of no viral campaigns.

          So the article should have been titled “The Cold Hard Truth about the ALS Foundation” or “The Cold Hard Truth about ALS Patients”. That would have been more to the point and it wouldn’t have needed questionable arguments just in order to find flaws in the campaign itself.
          See this tobacco ad http://goo.gl/HwMaBo . In the bottom it doesn’t say “advertising casuses lung cancer” or “This magazine causes emphysema”. It says “Smoking causes …”

          But you passed by my proposal for legislative changes, so I assume you think ALS foundation has the right to exist in its current form – I have a further claim then.

          3. The “broad framework” includes the assumption that only a few people would participate in effective giving – and most people will waste their money. It also includes the claim that this smaller amount of people are fully making up for their low numbers with high impact.

          As I pointed out people who participate in effective giving can even participate in the viral campaign, like a one time thing, without hurting their long term commitment (the latter is also part of the same framework).

          The other people generally do not think about charity in such a way at all, not just when they are donating to viral campaigns. They have other priorities different than effectiveness and would have wasted their money anyway.

          We have this multitude of people who would never participate in effective giving (that is also part of the theory) and we assume that it is legal for the ALS foundation to collect donations. In this case isn’t it better (at least a little tinny bit) to make a campaign targeted to those masses, and what a better way to do this than a viral campaign.

          It’s a free market and if, as it was argued in the articles, this campaigns offer enormous reward for an insignificant price – imagine the demand for that. Remember you said that we assume that there isn’t any cannibalism involved, so that money would have gone down the drain anyway. And as was mentioned, most people don’t and won’t participate in effective giving so it couldn’t have been enourmously better without this type of campaigns. And when we add the fact that the sum they have raised is considered insignificant it should be even less of a problem.

          When someone promotes a Pepe Romero concert they don’t do it by complaining that MTV2 promotes different types of music, nor do they do it by bashing the Harlem Shake.

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