Lately, we've been looking over feedback from readers. Quite a few people asked if we could include even more content each month.
We like the Newsletter's current size, but as a compromise, we made a list of other newsletters we like and shared it in a bonus section. If you want to read more news about tackling the world's biggest problems, we think you'll find something worthwhile!
— The EA Newsletter Team
News and updates from the world of effective altruism.
How to measure human progress
Our World in Data tracks thousands of metrics in their quest to understand the world’s largest problems.
They recently distilled this list down to just 12 core metrics:
They believe these numbers are essential to getting a sense for how the world has changed in the last few centuries, and where we stand today.
Each metric is beautifully illustrated through an interactive chart, which shows per-country data and includes a slider that lets you easily view historical shifts. We highly recommend browsing the page — it may help you internalize how much our lives have improved (in many ways), and how much remains to be done.
Eradicating malaria, once and for all
“At a time in history when we’re armed with solid science and sufficient resources to deploy it, letting malaria continue to be a death sentence is arguably ethically indefensible.”
On the topic of “how much remains to be done”: A major study funded by the Gates Foundation presents evidence that we might be able to wipe out malaria by 2050.
This year, the disease is likely to kill more than 200,000 children under five, and to sicken millions more. Recommendations from the Lancet Commission (which published the report) include wider distribution of insecticide-treated bednets, better training for national malaria program managers, and the modification of mosquito DNA through gene drives.
New frontiers in meatless marketing
We’ve begun to develop technology that can grow meat directly from animal cells, letting us avoid the problems of animal farming (particularly the suffering of hundreds of billions of animals killed for food each year).
But this “new” meat will seem strange and discomfiting to many shoppers. Terms like “cell-based” and “cultured” don’t test well. How can these products be named in a way that appeals to more consumers?
After nine months of research, The Good Food Institute (which promotes the development and use of meat alternatives) has, alongside a variety of companies in the space, officially adopted the term “cultivated meat”. The linked article explains how they chose the term, and the ways it can be used to describe every step of the culturing … that is, the cultivation process.
(Sometimes, marketing is an important obstacle on the path to a better world; we were impressed by GFI's attempts to clear away that obstacle.)
How much can we influence the future?
“Unless we get our act together as a species, there’s only so many of these centuries that we’re going to be able to survive.”
Are we living at the most influential time in history? That is, the time when we have as much power as we ever will to shape the long-term future?
Some argue in favor of this proposition. Some of their reasons:
Others argue against it. Some of their reasons:
- We possess technology that could destroy our civilization, but lack sufficient control over it. This could lead to a very bad future.
- We live at a time of unusually high interconnectedness. This could help us cooperate to create global policies which safeguard the future.
While the debate may feel abstract, it has serious implications for what we should do if we want to maximize our impact.
- Certain past eras may have been more influential (like the Cold War, when we were arguably much closer to annihilation).
- Some future period could make ours look unimportant by comparison. For example, our attempts to colonize outer space could affect where (or whether) trillions of people eventually live.
- We seem to have become ever more capable of influencing the future over time. Perhaps that trend will continue?
For example, if we expect the future to be more influential than today, we might want to save more resources to use later, and to spend fewer on present-day activity that may not matter very much in the long run.
(That said, this is a very complicated issue, and the subject of intense research; this summary is only scratching the surface.)
Safely sharing dangerous knowledge
“Real example: The Guardian successfully ordered part of the smallpox genome to a residential address from a bioprinting company."
Some issues can be difficult to discuss because of “infohazards” — true information that could enable someone to cause harm.
Risks from biotechnology often involve infohazards. For example, it gets easier every year for people to create a virus if they have the necessary blueprints — which makes it essential to control who can access information about, say, the structure of smallpox.
A group of researchers recently published a comprehensive guide to “bioinfohazards” on the EA Forum. The guide includes dozens of examples of ways that biological information can be misused — and advice on how to share it safely.
Update: A victory for veggie burgers
A few months ago, we shared a story about states that tried to ban terms like “veggie burger”, lest they confuse customers who expected meat.
(As you might expect, the meat industry had a hand in these bans.)
These policies led to a number of legal battles. And plant-based meat companies just won a major victory, as Mississippi withdrew its restrictive regulations in response to a lawsuit. (Other states are still in court.)
In other news:
Bonus Section: Other Newsletters
This month, we’ve swapped out our “Timeless Classic” section for a list of newsletters that cover some of our favorite topics. The section will return next month.
Interested in global health and development?
Jeff Mosenkis (Innovations for Poverty Action) collects a weekly set of links and publishes them on the blog of development scholar Chris Blattman (subscribe here). These cover everything from experimental data to amusing anecdotes about the lives of researchers.
MIT’s Poverty Action Lab sends out several newsletters that cover research findings and lessons on applying them to government policy.
The World Bank offers many different newsletters. Readers of the EA Newsletter might be especially interested in “Development Research” and “Development Impact Evaluation News”.
The Life You Can Save has a monthly newsletter focused on the work of their recommended global development charities, with an emphasis on stories about the people who carry out that work.
Interested in animal advocacy?
The Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter (written by Lewis Bollard, a program officer at the Open Philanthropy Project) covers topics related to reducing the suffering of farmed animals: regulation, meat substitutes, cage-free pledges, and more.
But Can They Suffer is a monthly newsletter about effective animal advocacy in all its forms — research findings, recent news, job openings, and upcoming events. You can view the last three issues here.
The Good Food Institute Newsletter covers news and career opportunities related to cultivated meat and other meat alternatives.
Interested in artificial intelligence?
The Alignment Newsletter (written by a team of researchers and practicing programmers) covers recent work on AI alignment, including original analysis and criticism.
ChinAI (written by Jeff Ding, a researcher at the Future of Humanity Institute) covers the AI landscape in China by translating content from government agencies, newspapers, corporations, and other sources.
Import AI (written by Jack Clark, the Director of Strategy and Communications at OpenAI) covers many facets of the subject, from technical progress to policy debates — plus, a weekly short story.
Interested in effective altruism, generally?
The EA London Newsletter isn’t just for Londoners; it also includes news and articles related to various EA cause areas. Here’s an example.
Opportunities to work on some of the world's most pressing problems.
80,000 Hours’ High-Impact Job Board features more than 300 high-impact 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 hear about new positions as they arise (or post a position yourself), check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
Books, videos, events, community projects, and more!
If you try to follow the principles of effective altruism (even loosely), please consider taking the EA Survey, which closes on 15 October.
The survey is a key source of information on our global community, helping us understand what we've accomplished and how we can do better.
- We estimate that the survey will take 25 minutes to complete.
- One random respondent will receive a $1,000 voucher that can be used to support any organization listed on the EA Funds platform.
This November, you may be able to double your charitable donations through the EA Giving Tuesday project. Last year, the project helped direct nearly $500,000 in matching funds to highly effective nonprofits.
If you’d like to learn more, sign up on the project’s website.
“The most important book I have read in quite some time.”
— Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
Stuart Russell's new book — Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Control Problem — is now available (US edition, UK edition).
In the book, Russell (a professor of computer science and the director of the Center for Human-Compatible Intelligence) explains why he has come to consider his own discipline an existential threat to our species, and suggests ways that we could change course while we still have time.
Russell also published an op-ed this week in the New York Times; read it here to get a sense for the content of the book.
The Global Priorities Institute is holding the 3rd Oxford Workshop on Global Priorities Research from 12-13 December. Academics interested in attending the workshop can apply to attend until 13 October.
Have you seriously considered saving money you'd planned to donate, so that you can donate it later and take advantage of better opportunities in the future?
Whatever you decided, Eva Vivalt (an EA Global speaker and lecturer at the Australian National University) might be interested in interviewing you for a blog series about “giving later”. Send her an email to get in touch.
(For more on the question of when to give, see Eva’s recent blog post.)
Correction: In the previous edition of the Newsletter, we stated that EA Global: San Francisco 2020 would be held from 18-20 March. The conference will actually be held from 20-22 March.
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, Michał, Pascal, and Sören
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team