Your May 2020 EA Newsletter    

In the introduction to this edition of the Newsletter, we’d like to feature an upcoming event unlike anything else in the history of effective altruism.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s EAGxBerlin conference has been turned into EAGxVirtual. This is likely to become the largest EA event ever held, with a series of online talks, meetings, and group discussions spanning every time zone. And anyone in the world is welcome to apply!

If you’ve read at least a couple of articles or books about effective altruism, you are a good candidate for this event.  You can apply using the link below, or learn more about the event on the EAGx website.

(The event is being run on a 'pay what you want' basis. The suggested price is $40, with a minimum contribution of $5.)

— The EA Newsletter Team
Apply to EAGxVirtual

News and updates from the world of effective altruism

Is gain-of-function research worth the risk?

“In 2014, as the Food and Drug Administration did cleanup for a planned move to a new office, hundreds of unclaimed vials of virus samples were found in a cardboard box in the corner of a cold storage room. Six of them, it turned out, were vials of smallpox. No one had been keeping track of them; no one knew they were there.”

Many biology labs work on “gain-of-function” research, which involves studying how viruses might be modified to become more dangerous (and in some cases, actually making the modifications).

In theory, this can help us predict how viruses might mutate in the wild and prepare to counter them. However, it’s unclear how useful the work really is; we can only study a tiny number of possible mutations, and many countries lack the necessary infrastructure to make use of this research. Meanwhile, dangerous viruses have been accidentally released from labs more than a few times — and if this were to happen with a modified virus, the results could be catastrophic.

In an article for Vox, Kelsey Piper argues that the risks outweigh the rewards, and that we should reconsider government support for gain-of-function research.

How COVID-19 is affecting animal farming

The Open Philanthropy Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter (written by Lewis Bollard) is always a good source for recent news on effective animal advocacy.

In the
latest edition, Bollard shares his initial thoughts on how COVID-19 may affect farmed animals. These include:
  • Supply disruptions that may reduce meat consumption in the U.S. (though it’s also possible that chicken consumption will rise as people substitute it for more expensive red meat)
  • Much lower seafood consumption in China (which accounts for more than half of the world’s farmed fish)
  • Policy changes that make it harder to sell farmed wildlife and generally restrict the operations of “wet markets” (though some wet-market activity is still allowed, and restrictions may accelerate China’s “national transition toward large-scale factory farms”)
As the meat industry struggles with shortages, sales of meat alternatives have more than doubled in the last year. (Image credit: Lewis Bollard's newsletter.)

Pandemic policy in the developing world

To control COVID-19, many developing countries are taking some of the same steps as rich countries, by instituting lockdown policies that restrict movement and reduce economic activity. However, in places where more people are very poor and have few savings, restricting economic activity can have much harsher consequences.

In a writeup for the Center for Global Development, economics professor Martin Ravallion points out the risks of lockdown policies in the developing world and explains how governments can change their food support and welfare systems to avoid disastrous outcomes. (He offers additional thoughts in a personal blog post.)

One of Ravallion’s recommendations is for governments to share health information through TV, radio, and mobile networks. On that note, two EA-aligned health charities — Charity Science Health and Suvita — are working with policymakers in India to send texts and voice calls to millions of people, in order to survey public knowledge about COVID-19 and encourage behavior change.

Predicting the future of COVID (and many other phenomena)

If we want to improve the world, it helps to be good at predicting how it will change in the future. To that end, some EA funding goes toward developing platforms where people can share predictions. Some platforms are used only by experts; others allow people to join more freely, in hopes that a large number of non-expert predictions can still help us get a sense for what might happen.

Nuño Sempere just launched the Forecasting Newsletter, which lists available forecasting platforms and collects relevant news articles. You can subscribe here or read the first issue on the EA Forum.

We also wanted to highlight this article on coronavirus forecasting, which explains how expert predictions about the pandemic haven’t been especially accurate, and how non-experts have done surprisingly well on Philip Tetlock’s platform, Good Judgment Open.

Other news and articles:

Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good

Much of the best writing on effective altruism doesn’t come from EA-aligned charities. One example of this is Poor Economics, published in 2011 by the economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo.

In their book, the authors (who would later win the 2019 Nobel Prize) examine some surprising aspects of economic behavior among people living in extreme poverty, and explain how we can use this knowledge to design better programs and interventions.

Here’s an excerpt of the book (you can see the full passage here):

“Living on 99 cents a day means you have limited access to information — newspapers, television, and books all cost money — and so you often just don’t know certain facts that the rest of the world takes as given, for example, that vaccines can stop your child from getting measles.

"It means living in a world whose institutions are not built for someone like you. 
Most of the poor do not have a salary, let alone a retirement plan that deducts automatically from it.

"It means making decisions about things that come with a lot of small print when you cannot even properly read the large print. What does someone who cannot read make of a health insurance product that doesn’t cover a lot of unpronounceable diseases?

"It means going to vote when your entire experience of the political system is a lot of promises, not delivered; and not having anywhere safe to keep your money, because what the bank manager can make from your little savings won’t cover his cost of handling it. And so on.”



Books, events, community projects, and more!

How to find online EA events

Note: We also shared this resource last month, and will continue to share it as long as much of the world remains under lockdown.

The EA community has been working furiously to plan online events during this time of worldwide lockdown. Related resources:  

EA organizations seeking volunteer mentors

Are you an experienced entrepreneur, charity professional, or researcher? Consider signing up to help a team of charity founders through Charity Entrepreneurship’s mentorship network. This is an opportunity to make a substantial impact with a relatively low time investment, even if you aren’t interested in pursuing full-time EA work.

The following areas are in especially high demand:
  • Fundraising (including private, institutional, and corporate fundraising)
  • Cost-effectiveness analysis
  • Charity registration and compliance in the U.S. and U.K.
If you are at a mid-to-senior level in an impactful career path, and you identify as a woman or as non-binary, consider applying to become a mentor at Women and Nonbinary Altruism Mentorship. They are especially interested in finding mentors who specialize in cultivated meat, international development, or computer science.

Prize for undergraduate work on global priority-setting

The Forethought Foundation just announced a prize for work focusing on questions in global priorities research, open to students who will graduate in the 2019-2020 academic year.

Submissions can include theses, dissertations, and other substantive work in the fields of economics or philosophy; applicants do not have to be based in those departments as long as their work has relevance in those fields. For more information on potential topics, see the foundation’s research areas.

Learn more or apply for the prize on this page. Submissions must be made by 1 July 2020.


Opportunities to work on some of the world's most pressing problems

80,000 Hours’ High-Impact Job Board features more than 450 positions.

If you’re interested in policy or global development, you may also want to check Tom Wein’s list of social purpose job boards.

If you want to find out about new positions as they arise (or post a position yourself), check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
Charity Entrepreneurship Open Philanthropy GiveWell The Humane League
Other featured roles

Each month, 80,000 Hours asks us to feature a few roles from their job board. These may be unusually strong opportunities to make an impact.

Program Manager, Pandemics, Rockefeller Foundation (New York)

Chief Operating Officer, New Harvest (Cambridge, MA)

Policy Manager, OpenAI (San Francisco)

Intern, National Security, U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security (Washington, D.C.)

Project Assistant, Biological Safety & WMD Non-Proliferation, Organization for Security and Coordination in Europe (Vienna; apply by 25 May)
Organizational Updates

You can see updates from a wide range of EA-aligned organizations on the EA Forum. (Organizations submit updates, which CEA edits for clarity.)

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!

Aaron, Heidi, Michal, Pascal, and Sören
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team

The Effective Altruism Newsletter is a joint project between the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Effective Altruism Hub, and Rethink Charity.
Click here to access the full EA Newsletter archive
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