Your November 2019 EA Newsletter

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner. As in 2018, Facebook will mark the day by matching millions of dollars in donations — a fantastic opportunity to double your giving to an effective cause.

EA Giving Tuesday project offers guidance and support in getting your donations matched; see their website, or our writeup in this edition, for more details.

There’s a lot of other exciting news this month, from a free updated edition of Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save to a Nobel Prize win for three of our favorite economists. We hope you enjoy the newsletter!

— The EA Newsletter Team


News and updates from the world of effective altruism

A Nobel Prize for global development 

This year’s Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to three scholars whose work has been an inspiration to effective altruism: Esther Duflo, Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer.

Banerjee and Duflo co-founded J-PAL, which works with academics around the world to conduct research on poverty reduction and effective policy. (J-PAL's Innovation in Government Initiative received a million-dollar grant from GiveWell in January.)

Kremer is a founding member of Giving What We Can. He also helped to run a major study of deworming medication, which found that reduced worm loads in childhood could lead to higher incomes later in life. His work has been central to GiveWell’s support for deworming charities.

More on the Nobel winners:
  • David Evans, of the Center for Global Development, wrote detailed summaries of the research careers of Duflo and Kremer.
  • The magazine Open published an article that combines stories from Banerjee’s early life with a brief history of development economics.

Lessons from GiveDirectly's first ten years

GiveDirectly provides unconditional cash transfers and basic income payments to some of the world’s poorest people. The organization just celebrated its tenth anniversary with a list of lessons they’ve learned over the last decade. These cover both fieldwork (hold village meetings to get community buy-in) and internal operations (invest in good office chairs).

Thanks in part to GiveDirectly’s work, basic incomes have recently become more popular among development researchers and policymakers. This month alone, we’ve seen early results from a basic-income study in California and initial enrollment for a program in Brazil.

Keeping artificial intelligence aligned with human values

Jacob Steinhardt, a Berkeley professor and machine learning expert, has written a guide to research on “AI alignment” (building systems that are much more capable than humans, but that still reliably “move the world towards states that humans want”). Even for EA organizations that work on many different causes, alignment work is often a high priority (including for 80,000 Hours and the Open Philanthropy Project).

While Steinhardt asks that readers not view his work as an authoritative summary of the field, we see it as a strong introduction. An excerpt:

“I outline four broad categories of technical work: technical alignment (the overcoming of conceptual or engineering issues needed to create aligned AI), detecting failures (the development of tools for assessing the safety/alignment of a system or approach), methodological understanding (best practices backed up by experience), and system-building (how to tie together the three preceding categories in the context of many engineers working on a large system).”

Doing good when you don't have good data

In order to do good effectively, we need evidence to help us find the most promising actions and strategies. This implies a need for data. But how often can we actually gather enough data to form confident conclusions? 

In “Reality is often underpowered,” Greg Lewis argues that EA often overestimates the value of the data we can realistically access. In his view:
  • Low sample sizes and high uncertainty should make us less confident about much of what we learn from certain sources of data.
  • We should also consider how we might use impressions, case studies, and other qualitative information to better understand the world.

In other news:
For more stories like these, see this list of EA-related email newsletters.

Visualizing the world's "breathtaking" progress on child mortality. 

(This is an animated GIF. If you can't see the animation, view it here.)

Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good

Social movements like effective altruism can often do more good as they grow larger. Thus, it may seem as though movement-building work is among the most effective things we can do: getting a new person involved in EA could have as much impact as years of direct work.

However, it seems unlikely that we should devote all of our resources to growing rather than actually working. So how should we think about the trade-off?

There can also be downsides to growing quickly: for example, if people become aware of your movement faster than they begin to think well of it, you might attract more critics than supporters.

In “How Valuable is Movement Growth?”, Owen Cotton-Barratt explores these issues and their implications for effective altruism. His ideas have had a major influence on EA community-building work — and they can also be quite relevant to community building in many different fields, from animal welfare to public policy.
In Cotton-Barratt's model, mass awareness of a movement can lead to mass acceptance or tremendous controversy.


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.
Applications due very soon (start here!)
Against Malaria Foundation
Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative
Center for Human-Compatible AI (Berkeley)
Charity Entrepreneurship 
Forethought Foundation
GiveWell (Oakland preferred, remote possible)
The Good Food Institute
Kristen Bell and Marc Evan Jackson — Eleanor and Shawn of TV's The Good Place — appear on a free audiobook edition of The Life You Can Save. More details available below.


Books, videos, events, community projects, and more!

Want to double the size of your charitable donation this year?

Facebook has confirmed that it will match $7 million in donations to U.S. nonprofits on Giving Tuesday (3 December). Last year, the EA Giving Tuesday project helped direct nearly $500,000 of Facebook’s matching funds to highly effective nonprofits. This year, the project team is collaborating with Rethink Charity to help people double their donations.  

For updates and instructions on how to get matched, sign up on the project’s website.

Celebrities celebrate an EA classic

Peter Singer’s
The Life You Can Save, an influential work in the history of effective altruism, is celebrating its tenth anniversary! 

On 3 December, a new edition of the book will be available for free — as an eBook or audiobook from the website of The Life You Can Save (a charity named after the book). The audiobook is narrated by celebrity supporters, including Kristen Bell, Paul Simon, and Stephen Fry. 

To be alerted when the book comes out, you can sign up for updates from TLYCS. If you’d like to help get the word out about the book launch, see these ideas on how to share the news.

Engineering the future of biology

Applications for 
Catalyst, a biosecurity summit focused on collaborative problem-solving, are now open. On 22 February, at The Laundry in San Francisco, synthetic biologists, policymakers, academics, and biohackers will gather to discuss a major question of the 21st century: how can we engineer a future that is enhanced, but not endangered, by biotechnology? 

If you’d like to meet other individuals invested in the future of biotechnology, or to brainstorm solutions to open problems in biosecurity, apply by 7 December to secure a spot.

Mentorship opportunity for women and non-binary EAs

Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship
is accepting applications from prospective mentees who want to explore how they can use their careers or other resources to do good effectively, and who identify as women or non-binary.

If accepted, you’ll receive support and guidance from a mentor with experience in your area of interest. You can apply through this form.

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.)
This is just a nice picture of some trees.

We've experimented in this edition by adding images related to the content, rather than the usual nature photos. 

If you have feelings about the change, let us know

Thanks for reading!

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

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
A community project of the Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1149828) – Centre for Effective Altruism, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford
OX1 1PT, United Kingdom
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