May 28, 2022
[This is one of the finalists in the 2022 book review contest. It’s not by me - it’s by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting is done, to prevent their identity from influencing your decisions. I’ll be posting about one of these a week for several months. When you’ve read them all, I’ll ask you to vote for a favorite, so remember which ones you liked - SA]
Everyone familiar with Effective Altruism knows that “good intentions aren’t enough.”
If you want your charitable giving to mean something, you also need to measure your favorite program’s effects with good statistical data.
But we don’t always clarify that good intentions and accurate data still aren’t enough. You also need to know that you’ve collected the right data and asked the right questions, and these are both much, much harder than the introductory effective altruist material tends to let on.
I first picked up James Ferguson’s The Anti-Politics Machine a year ago, expecting to read about a failed development project that could have benefited from an evidence-based approach. But instead I found an intervention that could have been backed by every experiment in the world and still would have fallen apart, a program so profoundly shaped by the lens of “development economics” that its practitioners misinterpreted almost every facet of what they were doing.