Our favorite links this month include:
  • A podcast episode on whether the abolition of slavery was inevitable ⬇️
  • New charity ideas in biosecurity and global health from Charity Entrepreneurship, which has announced its 2023 charity incubation program, and other announcements ⬇️
  • Articles on “welfare ranges” of different species, the H5N1 strain of the bird flu, AI safety (and AI progress), and more. 
— Lizka (for the EA Newsletter Team)



Was slavery abolition inevitable?

It might be reassuring to think that widespread abolition of slavery was inevitable by the 21st century. But is this true? 

In a recent 80,000 Hours podcast episode, Professor Christopher Brown pushes back against this idea. He rebuts one prominent theory — that the practice of slavery was bound to end as it was no longer profitable for slaveholders and traders — by noting that people involved in the slave trade were viewing the system as profitable. And mechanization of labor also doesn’t guarantee the end of slavery; the episode calls us to imagine modern-day hypotheticals like captive boys trained from childhood to be the shock troops in war, or enslaved people treated as luxuries for the rich.

The episode focuses on the history of abolition; how enslaved people fought back, the part played by the politics of the American Revolution, the role of individuals, and more. One change is described as especially significant: the shift from feelings of unease about the morality of slavery to organized action in slaveholding societies. Brown notes that it might be comforting to think that “once [people] understood the cruelty of slavery, then of course they would organize and do something about it,” but he stresses that “not only did it not happen that way, but it almost never happens that way.” 

Brown urges listeners to take this as a lesson that change like this is up to us: “I think we need to watch ourselves individually, and watch the worlds that we live in and the people that we elect, and think about what harms we do or what harms we authorize or permit because they just seem basic to the world in which we live. [...] The world gets better or worse on the choices we make individually and collectively — not because things are just sort of trending in the right direction.

Spotting a pandemic before it happens: bird flu as a case study

Worries about bird flu have been around for a while, but they’ve recently been ramping up again; in October, a strain of the flu (H5N1) infected minks at a fur farm and probably started spreading from one mink to another (which hadn’t happened with mammals before). The development is particularly concerning because minks are well suited to transmitting the disease to humans. You can read more here.

It currently seems unlikely that H5N1 will spread widely among humans — as of right now, Metaculus predicts a 2% chance that H5N1 will cause at least 10,000 human deaths. But when diseases develop like this, a natural question is “will this be the next COVID?

There are different approaches to forecasting such questions. One approach is to look at a list of qualities that make a disease more likely to cause a catastrophic global pandemic, and see which of these (and how many) are met. For example: 
  • Is there an efficient transmission route, such as respiratory droplets, airborne transmission or via the bites of common jumping or flying insects? (No, for H5N1)
  • Is the number of deaths from this disease divided by the number of confirmed cases high? (Yes, for H5N1)
  • Is the disease potentially transmissible across most of the world population? (Yes, for H5N1)
Although the chances of H5N1 spreading among humans are low, the potential harms are big enough that taking action to lower the risk is warranted. This could involve scaling up testing and surveillance, shutting down mink farms, and taking vaccination preparation seriously.

Welfare ranges: how much can different animals experience?

Comparing interventions that affect different species is incredibly difficult; if you’re choosing between improving the lives of farmed chickens or saving some pigs from factory farms, how do you decide? One of the difficulties here is that it’s not clear how to compare the experiences of different animals, and this gets harder when the animals in question are less similar to humans.

A report from Rethink Priorities estimates the “welfare ranges” of different species. These ranges track the difference between the most intense pleasures and the most intense pains that the animal can experience. The authors explain that these ranges should be viewed as a starting point for further research, but they’re fairly confident that none of the vertebrates has a welfare range that’s more than twice the size of another vertebrate’s. This means that, for instance, pigs probably experience a span of positive to negative feelings no more than twice that of salmon (in a given time period). The report also addresses a number of questions readers might have about this research and lists promising areas for future work. A lot more needs to be done before we really understand how to best help animals and prioritize between different species, but research like this is an important step.z

In other news

For more stories, try these email newsletters and podcasts


Links we share every time — they're just that good!


Boards and resources
  • The 80,000 Hours Job Board features 700 positions. We can’t fit them all in the newsletter, so you can check them out there.
  • The EA Opportunity Board collects internships, volunteer opportunities, conferences, and more — including part-time and entry-level job opportunities.
  • You can see more positions in the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
  • If you’re interested in policy or global development, you may also want to check Tom Wein’s list of social purpose job boards.


Against Malaria Foundation Charity Entrepreneurship Effective Institutions Project GiveWell Open Philanthropy Rethink Priorities
Expression of Interest - Project lead/co-lead for a Longtermist Incubator (Remote, flexible, $67,000 - 115,000, apply by 28 February)

Independent project
Expression of interest - Project lead for hardening pharmaceutical response to pandemics (3-12 months)



Charity incubation: apply to start a nonprofit in biosecurity or large-scale global health

Charity Entrepreneurship has announced the charity ideas that they’ve selected for participants to co-found via their 2023 Incubation Program, which focuses on biosecurity and global health interventions in poorer regions. (The 2024 February-March program will focus on farmed animals and global health and development mass media interventions, and you can apply early via the same link.)

The program runs 10 July - 2 August, and provides participants with full-time training, stipends to cover living costs, and seed funding of up to $200,000 per project. Apply here by 12 March

This post outlines the charity ideas, explains what professional backgrounds might be helpful for co-founding them, and more. Nonprofit entrepreneurship has been highlighted as a high-impact career path.


Apply for the EAGxCambridge conference (17-19 March)

EAGxCambridge is designed for people who have a solid understanding of the main concepts of effective altruism, and who are making decisions and taking actions based on them. Attendees will have the chance to participate in discussions, workshops, talks, and career fairs with people working on different projects in effective altruism. Preference will be given to applicants who live in the UK or Ireland or have plans to move there within the next year. 

Apply here by 3 March

You can find out about other upcoming EA conferences here.


Other opportunities & resources

  • Summer internship at Open Philanthropy
    • Open Philanthropy is looking for students currently enrolled in degree programs (or people whose work offers externship/secondment opportunities) to apply for a remote research internship from 5 June – 11-25 August. The internship is paid ($1,900 per week) and focuses on cause prioritization research. More information here. Apply by 26 February
  • Machine learning bootcamp for AI alignment
  • New resources for getting involved in AI safety
  • Call for articles for a peer-reviewed student research journal
    • Students can submit articles on how to make the world a better place to Flourish, a peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal for student research. Submit ideas here by 15 March.
Organizational Updates

You can see updates from a wide range of organizations on the EA Forum.

Timeless Classic

In his 2013 paper on the Moral Imperative towards Cost-Effectiveness in Global Health, Toby Ord makes the case that cost-effectiveness, or the overall benefit an intervention provides per unit of cost, is “one of the most morally important issues in global health.”

You can see more on differences in impact between different charities here, and a counterpoint to some of the claims in the linked paper here.
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– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team
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A community project of the Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1149828) – Centre for Effective Altruism, Trajan House, Mill Street, Oxford OX2 0DJ, United Kingdom
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