It doesn't maximize the utility of donations to spend lots of money saving the lives of a handful of people vs. other interventions that can save the lives of many more people suffering from diseases like malaria at a much lower cost per patient than the interventions that Watsi is promoting.
I think Watsi donors will feel good about helping specific people, but I'm personally interested in my donations actually being maximally impactful. If you want to save the most lives per dollar, the sort of extraordinary treatments that Watsi funds are not a great way to do it.
If Watsi didn't exist, many of the patients on our site would have likely died. How do you quantify that impact? How do you prove that all the donations made via Watsi would have been allocated to some other cause had we not existed?
Also, I'd like to say that we really respect GiveWell's work. Quantifying social impact is a really tough challenge, and it's great to see such an intelligent team working on the problem.
Furthermore, we actually think they'd be big fans of donations made on Watsi, at least those made to patients at Nyaya Health, which was rated one of GiveWell's "Standout Organizations" last year.
Roughly, by comparing it to the number of people who die in other hypothetical scenarios. You can't get exact numbers, but you can do a damn sight better than saying "it can't be done".
> How do you prove that all the donations made via Watsi would have been allocated to some other cause had we not existed?
Of course they wouldn't. But what if, instead of creating Watsi, you had put the same effort into advocating for more efficient charities? (This is a serious question. I actually wouldn't be completely shocked if it turns out that that would have been less effective.)
> Nyaya Health, which was rated one of GiveWell's "Standout Organizations" last year.
However, they didn't estimate its cost-effectiveness. And on that metric... I go to your website and see that $1000 can stop someone from maybe becoming infertile, and that just doesn't seem like it can possibly win against malaria nets. (Looking deeper, that seems like one of the lowest value treatments available, but I don't expect the others to win either.)
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you guys are doing this. I'm not convinced you're doing the best you possibly could, but you're doing far better than me. I absolutely think your impact on the world is massively positive. But I don't anticipate donating to you myself any time soon.
Anecdotally, I'm not someone who normally gives to charity, but I gave through Watsi, because I could see and to some degree feel the real impact of the money. As a secondary effect, I actually feel more charitable, whether that means I will give to other types of organizations remains to be seen, but I would not discount the halo effect systems like Watsi may have.
People who are already giving the max to GiveWell-supported charities should not divert their funds to Watsi.
People who have more to give and want maximum impact should follow GiveWell's recommendations.
However, many people have not given to the max, nor do they care so much about maximum impact. For them, there is Watsi to direct their dollars to a noble cause, rather than on Minecraft-themed plush toys or something.