Our favorite links this month include:
There are also plenty of job listings, some of which close soon!
— The EA Newsletter Team
P.S. After three years of writing the Newsletter, Aaron Gertler (that's me) will be moving on to a new role. Thanks for everything, readers!
I produced this edition in collaboration with Will Fenning.
News and updates from the world of effective altruism
How much impact can a small donor have?
As EA has grown to have nearly $50 billion in committed funding
, some smaller donors have begun to wonder how much their giving matters, relative to the vast grants of Open Philanthropy or the FTX Foundation.
Benjamin Todd argues in a recent post
that smaller donations can still have a substantial impact, for a few reasons:
- New donations still have high marginal cost-effectiveness. What matters isn't how much money has already been donated, but how much your donation will accomplish. GiveWell estimates that their current charities are roughly 8x as effective as giving cash directly to very poor people — which, in turn, may produce roughly 100x as much wellbeing as personal consumption (for someone living in a developed country).
- Small donors should be able to roughly match large donors in terms of cost-effectiveness. Imagine that Open Philanthropy makes a $10 million grant to Charity X. You then give $100 to the same charity. As Todd explains, you should expect your money to be roughly as cost-effective as Open Philanthropy's "last dollar" — which allows you to keep pace with a major foundation staffed by expert researchers.
- Small donors can also (sometimes) be more cost-effective than large donors. Some of the best opportunities may be off-limits to larger funds. For example, political campaigns in some countries can only raise money from small donors. You can also do "people-focused grantmaking" — supporting the work of someone you trust, or even investing in your own education or career.
How much can we change things for future generations?
It's difficult to predict how our actions today might shape the next year — let alone the next century.
But these long-term effects are important, and it's worth trying to understand them. And while we can't investigate the future, we can
investigate the distant past, and how it shaped the present.
This notion inspired Jaime Sevilla's recent work on the intergenerational impact of historical events (see his summary
Sevilla examines papers on the African slave trade, the rise of Christianity, medieval trading practices, and other things that scholars thought could have lasting effects. In the end, he concludes that while most of the studies found significant results, the actual effects
"If you worked hard to move culture in a particular direction, I would expect at most 10% of the change [...] to persist in future generations."
A promising study on clean water
Dylan Matthews is an atypical journalist — his stories are mostly about solutions, rather than problems. So it's no small thing when he finds "maybe the most hopeful news I've read this year".
The source? Striking evidence from a study of water chlorination in Kenya. In an experiment, researchers tested the impact of devices that dispense small, safe amounts of chlorine in village water sources. This is a cheap intervention, even by public health standards — and it seemed to cut child mortality by more than half in the villages where it was available.
We don't yet know what to expect as the program scales up. The study's authors wonder whether the experiment might have happened in an especially contaminated area, making clean water more impactful than it would be elsewhere. Still, the initial numbers are very promising — we'll be watching closely to see what happens next.
GiveWell gets a vote of confidence
Open Philanthropy just announced a $300 million grant to GiveWell's recommended charities — triple what they gave last year.
The reason: GiveWell's "impressive progress in identifying more cost-effective giving opportunities". While their "Top Charities" list hadn't changed much in recent years, they made many new recommendations in 2021, including Pure Earth (reducing lead exposure) and the International Rescue Committee (treating malnutrition).
We look forward to seeing what GiveWell will find in 2022; see this update
for more on their recent progress and plans for the coming year.
(Note: GiveWell already expects to fill "all funding needs" at most of their top charities this year, which means that new donations may not be disbursed for some time. For more, see their FAQ on "rollover funds"
In other news
Links we share every time — they're just that good!
Opportunities to work on some of the world's most pressing problems
The 80,000 Hours Job Board features more than 700 positions. We can’t fit them all in the newsletter, so check out the others on their website!
You can see more positions in the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
Applications due soon
Data Engineer and Full-Stack Engineer, Our World in Data (Remote) (apply by 3 December)
Research Assistant in Philosophy and Economics, Global Priorities Institute (Oxford) (apply by 12:00 pm GMT on 6 December)
Director of Engineering, Wave (Remote)
Executive Assistant and Groups Support, Centre for Effective Altruism (Oxford or remote) (apply by 1 January)
Finance Associate, Centre for Effective Altruism (Oxford or remote) (apply by 15 December)
Head of Lab Operations, Telis (Boston)
Human Practices Program Officer, International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation (Paris or remote)
Machine Learning Engineer
, Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (Remote)
Predoctoral Research Fellow in Economics
, Global Priorities Institute (Oxford) (apply by 5 January)
Research Engineer, Societal Impacts
, Anthropic (SF Bay Area)
, US-China Business Council (Beijing)
Senior Financial Controller, Fund and Business,
Lantern Ventures (London)
Senior Food Business Manager
, Compassion in World Farming (Remote) (apply by 17 December)
Stanton Nuclear Security Fellowship
, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Washington, DC)
Synthetic Biology Consultant
, Booz Allen Hamilton (Washington, DC)
, Centre for the Governance of AI (Oxford or remote)
, GiveWell (Bay Area or remote)
, Open Philanthropy (SF Bay Area or remote)
, Ought (Bay Area)
, The Good Food Institute (Various locations)
Books, events, community projects, and more!
Last chance to get ready for EA Giving Tuesday!
Facebook’s Giving Tuesday donation match is coming up at 5:00 am PST on Tuesday, 30 November. That's in less than 16 hours!
Over the past four years, the EA community has used this opportunity to direct $1.5 million in matching funds to outstanding nonprofits. But the match runs out fast; you'll need to perfect your settings and practice your clicking ahead of time.
For instructions on how to maximize your chance of getting matched — and a Facebook simulator you can practice on — visit eagivingtuesday.org.
Introducing EA for Jews
EA for Jews is a newly-launched global community of Jews coming together to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
They welcome people from all backgrounds, and they'd be especially keen to hear from volunteers who would like to help run the project or speak about EA in their communities. To learn more and join, visit the group's website.
Free coaching for senior staff at EA organisations
The COO of The Business Growth Agency, a business coaching practice in London, recently shared an invitation for experienced EA org staffers to apply for free coaching — on topics ranging from productivity and goal-setting to recruitment and marketing.
Lecture: Good news on climate change + worst-case scenario
The last of three lectures organised by the Effective Environmentalism group will be taking place on 19 December, from 6-7pm GMT. It is a free, online event and you can register your attendance here.
What to expect (from the promo posted to the EA Forum):
“Dr. John Halstead from the Forethought Foundation will be discussing some recent positive climate science, as well as some potential worst-case scenarios. In this talk, John will firstly discuss some good news on climate change: on current policy, emissions look set to be lower than once feared, as is the risk of very high climate sensitivity. Secondly, John will discuss a worst-case scenario in which we burn all of the fossil fuels: how many fossil fuels are there, how likely we are to burn them, how we might do so if we did, the warming that would produce, and what that might mean for life on Earth.”
Panel event: What good is crypto?
Sam Bankman-Fried, Peter Singer, and other panelists will discuss the impact the crypto community could achieve with its giving, as well as the potential for blockchain technology to improve antipoverty efforts. The event takes place on 2 December at 4pm PST.
You can see updates from a wide range of organizations on the EA Forum.
Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good
Cutting-edge science and technology often provoke a "haste vs. caution" argument: should we move fast and aim to improve the world quickly, or move slowly and carefully to lower the risk of disaster?
Nick Bostrom addresses this question in a brief and influential paper: Astronomical Waste: The Opportunity Cost of Delayed Technological Development. From the abstract:
“With very advanced technology, a very large population of people living happy lives could be sustained in the accessible region of the universe. For every year that development of such technologies and colonization of the universe is delayed, there is therefore an opportunity cost: a potential good, lives worth living, is not being realized.
"Given some plausible assumptions, this cost is extremely large. However, the lesson for utilitarians is not that we ought to maximize the pace of technological development, but rather that we ought to maximize its safety, i.e. the probability that colonization will eventually occur.”
For more on this contentious subject, see "differential progress".
We hope you found this edition useful!
If you’ve taken action because of the Newsletter and haven’t taken our impact survey, please do — it helps us improve future editions.
(Actions we'd love to hear about include donating to charity, applying to a job, or joining a community group.)
Finally, if you have feedback for us, positive or negative, let us know!
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team