Your September 2019 EA Newsletter    
Hello, <<First Name>>!

This month, we’re featuring the 2019 Effective Altruism Survey.

The survey is a key source of information on our global community — including its demographics, geography, and donations. Many organizations use the results to set priorities for the coming year.

If you think of yourself, however loosely, as an “effective altruist,” please consider taking the survey — even if you’re very new to EA! Every response helps us get a clearer picture. 

Other information:
  • We estimate that the survey will take 30 minutes to complete. 
  • One random respondent will receive a $1000 voucher which can be used to support any organization listed on the EA Funds platform.
Take the Survey


News and updates from the world of effective altruism.

Will MacAskill, a key figure in the history of effective altruism, recently held an
“Ask Me Anything” session on the EA Forum, responding to questions on topics like:  

During and after the Cold War, a series of strategic errors and logistical blunders exposed the world to risks from nuclear and biological weapons. 

In The Dead Hand, David E. Hoffman explores these incidents. Collectively, they demonstrate that even minor mistakes and miscommunications can lead to disaster when dangerous technologies are involved. 

(Of course, this lesson could just as easily apply to artificial intelligence, engineered pandemics, and other threats we may face in the future.)

On the EA Forum, Kit Harris summarizes the book’s key points and alarming anecdotes. As a preview, here’s a passage that stood out to us:

“In one case, staff at a storage facility stole fissile material using only a crowbar and a hacksaw.”

If you donate to a charity that gives out vaccines, you might estimate the impact of your donation as something like “the number of vaccines purchased” multiplied by “the average impact of a vaccine.”

However, the real world is often too complex to be captured by a simple cost-effectiveness estimate. To really understand your impact, you might have to consider the charity’s fixed and overhead costs, the behavior of your fellow donors, and many other factors. 

In a recent EA Forum article, Saulius Šimčikas examines dozens of these factors, compiling a detailed list of ways that cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading. 

While the end result may seem intimidating, you don’t need to master the full list before you give. Even if you only consider a few relevant points, you’re still taking steps to become a more careful, better-informed donor.

Cash is more flexible than many other forms of disaster relief, because it can help with anything from home repairs to keeping food on the table. Even in wealthy countries, it has the potential to make disaster relief much more efficient.

During the 2017 hurricane season, GiveDirectly (best known for sending cash to some of the world’s poorest people) tested the impact of providing affected Americans with cash transfers to help them recover from devastating storms. 

The results were promising, and GiveDirectly has now teamed up with to support thousands of families affected by this year’s hurricanes. Google has contributed $3 million to the project, and will also help GiveDirectly collect critical data on how the timing of cash aid affects its impact on recipients.

In other news:
  • Cluster headaches cause enormous suffering. Could preventing them be among the most effective causes? [Read more]
  • Meat production involves major economic waste, because farmers must estimate demand years in advance. Plant and cell-based meat production could solve this problem and create a more efficient meat industry. [Read more]
  • Effective altruism deals with global issues and includes speakers of many languages. But the vast majority of EA conversations and resources are in English. How should we deal with the resulting challenges? [Read more]
  • AI systems can be built to give human-friendly results. But that’s not the same as actually responding to human values — which change over time, differ from person to person, and involve tradeoffs between different things we care about. How can we build systems that account for these factors? [Read more]
Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good.

Many societies throughout history have been guilty of serious collective wrongdoing. Slavery, genocide, and other “moral catastrophes” not only harm huge numbers of people, but also require compliance or even assistance from a large fraction of a society’s members.

In “The Possibility of an Ongoing Moral Catastrophe,” Evan Williams argues that this dark historical record implies that our society may also be guilty of large-scale wrongdoing in ways we aren’t aware of. (Even if we recognize problems with the way we live today, our descendents may fault us for actions we don’t even realize are harmful.) 

But the paper goes beyond critique: Williams also suggests steps we can take to understand what we might be doing wrong, and to solve whatever problems we discover:

“We should regard intellectual progress, of the sort that will allow us to find and correct our moral mistakes as soon as possible, as an urgent moral priority rather than as a mere luxury. And we should also consider it important to save resources and cultivate flexibility, so that when the time comes to change our policies, we will be able to do so quickly and smoothly.”

You can also read Linchuan Zhang’s summary of the paper.

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

80,000 Hours’
High-Impact Job Board features more than 200 positions across dozens of organizations.

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, check out the Effective Altruism Job Postings group on Facebook.
Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative Centre for the Governance of AI (apply by 13 October) Charity Entrepreneurship (apply by 22 September) GiveWell Open Philanthropy Project Ought Other positions (sampled from the High-Impact Job Board)


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

Most of the talks from EA Global: San Francisco (2019) are now available on YouTube. Topics include reforming the U.S. voting system, building a new agricultural revolution, and starting new charities from scratch.

Oxford University Press just released “Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues” — a compilation of academic essays from philosophers, economists, and political theorists on issues in EA philosophy. 

Animal Charity Evaluators is seeking external reviewers to review and critique their research content. Sign up here if you’d like to take part.

EA Global: San Francisco 2020 will take place on the weekend of March 18-20. Applications will open later this year.

(Note that this is earlier in the year than past EA Global events in San Francisco — mark your calendars!)

Organizational Updates

You can view updates from a wide range of EA-aligned organizations on the EA Forum.

(Updates are submitted by organizations, and lightly edited 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, 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
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.