BR Blog

August 12, 2015 Sandy Speaks Debbie Nathan

Closed-circuit camera footage shows Sandra Bland arriving at Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas, July 10. Three days later, she was found hanging in her cell. / Waller County Sheriff's Office

“Good morning, my beautiful kings and queens!” This is how Sandra Bland often began the more than two dozen videos she made before she was found hanged in a Texas jail on July 13. For months she posted the videos on Facebook and tagged them #SandySpeaks.

I “met” Bland the day her death went viral on social media. I was immediately drawn to her Facebook page because I knew something about Hempstead, the town where she was falsely arrested and then died. I’d been researching hundreds of pre–World War II interviews with elderly black Texans who had been slaves. Most of the interviews were conducted for the federal government and are accessible online through the Library of Congress.

The former slaves told of black men whipped and shot for refusing to work overtime in Jim Crow cotton fields and of a mother murdered after rejecting a white man’s demand that she send her seven-year-old son to work. Even religion was regulated...

August 07, 2015 Response to Hauke Hillebrandt Emily Clough

I was glad to see Hauke Hillebrandt’s excellent response to my essay on the politics of effective altruism (EA), which clarified Giving What We Can’s research strategy. I’d like to respond to three points: research methods for EA, the political context of NGOs, and the problem of identifying effective advocacy organizations.

It is laudable that Giving What We Can integrates insights from different kinds of research into their assessment of charities. That said, to my knowledge RCTs remain the most systematically used tool for understanding the impact of NGO interventions in the philanthropic sector, even among those who identify with the EA movement. I agree that RCTs can be designed to incorporate institutional, social, or political variables into their survey instruments, in which case they are capable of capturing unintended consequences of an intervention (Give Directly has incorporated measures like alcohol consumption and domestic violence into its RCTs to find out whether cash transfers were having these unintended side effects—they weren’t). The consistent incorporation of institutional and political variables into RCTs that are used in the EA community would help us identify and avoid the kind of harm I...

July 31, 2015 Effective Altruism, Continued: On Measuring Impact Hauke Hillebrandt

Photograph: International Organization for Migration.

The debate on effective altruism continues. Here Hauke Hillebrandt, Director of Research at Giving What We Can, responds to Emily Clough's essay on the political impact of NGOs

For more debate on the forum, read Rwanda's Minister of Health Agnes Binagwaho's response to Angus Deaton. Read Deaton's reply here.

We at Giving What We Can would like to thank Emily Clough for her thoughtful response. We constantly strive to update our beliefs on the basis of new evidence, and so we welcome criticism of both the ideas behind effective altruism as well as the practical matter of which charities we recommend. It is particularly valuable to hear the thoughts of scholars of...

July 27, 2015 Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source

Listen above to Claudia Rankine on Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon. The conversation was sponsored by Boston Review.

In the time of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Charleston, the poet Claudia Rankine has been the lyric teller of our deepest hurt. Her new book, Citizen: An American Lyric, was a best-seller and something of a lifeline this year, mapping America’s racial traumas—from the Katrina travesty (2005) to the death of Trayvon Martin (2012) and the now-and-then travails of Serena Williams.

Rankine says that American life is made of these moments when race gets us “by the throat.” Only some are nationally noted tragedies. The rest: millions of episodes between friends and loved ones, errors of human interaction, when “citizens” of...

July 24, 2015 GMOs Are Safe—So Let's Label Them Simon Waxman


Yesterday the House of Representatives found itself with a surprising group of allies: scientists. Discarding the know-nothing posture it has perfected in debates over climate change, contraception, abortion, research funding, and just about every other issue implicating scientific reasoning, the body sided with the overwhelming majority of scientists in acknowledging the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for human consumption. The House voted to ban state requirements that food companies affix special labels to products containing genetically modified ingredients.

As Pamela Ronald, a plant biologist at the University of California, Davis and author of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food (2008), wrote in a September 2013 Boston Review forum, the genetically engineered foods on the market

are as safe to eat and safe for the environment as organic or conventional foods. That is the conclusion reached by...