Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

April 26, 2011

Changing your null on charities

Filed under: Culture,Greg Mortenson — Razib Khan @ 9:38 pm

My friend Holden Karnofsky has a review of the Greg Mortenson affair over at the The GiveWell Blog:

There has been a lot of coverage of the scandals around the Central Asia Institute. The founder has been accused of fabricating inspiring stories, as well as of spending less than half of the millions of dollars he’s raised on building schools.

The Central Asia Institute receives four stars from Charity Navigator (archived) and had perfect ratings from Great Nonprofits prior to the scandal (archived), but GiveWell has declined to give this organization a recommendation or distinction (note that that page was published in mid-2009).

In a sense this doesn’t indicate impressive foresight on our part: nearly all charities we examine do not receive recommendations or distinctions, so it’s not as though we spotted the fabrications and financial mismanagement ourselves. Yet in the bigger picture, I see this incident as a vindication of our approach to giving: it’s a reminder that you shouldn’t give charities the benefit of the doubt.

April 16, 2011

Greg Mortenson and “Three Cups of Tea”

Filed under: Culture,Greg Mortenson,Three Cups of Tea — Razib Khan @ 10:02 am

I’ve been a bit skeptical of the details of Greg Mortenson’s story in his book Three Cups of Tea for years. It seems be to so predicated on contemporary biases about the basic universal goodness of human nature. I hoped everything was true, but it seemed too good to be true. Other people who worked in Afghan NGOs tended to tell a more gritty and gray story, so either Mortenson was embellishing, or he had a special magic touch. Since I don’t believe in magic touches, I wondered as to the nature of embellishment.

Now 60 Minutes has made some allegations as the veracity of Mortenson’s narrative in Three Cups of Tea, and more importantly the finances and efficacy of his charity. In Mortenson’s response he seems to admit embellishment in terms of the “hook” in Three Cups of Tea. But the work of his charity is much more important than the details of some book, so we’ll see how that pans out. Not all investigative reports exhibit proper context, so I don’t necessarily assume that CBS News is giving the most accurate accounting.

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