Your March 2020 EA Newsletter    

To help you pass the time while you practice social distancing, we're sharing a smorgasbord of content this month.

Highlights include:
  • The Precipice, a new book on threats to human civilization.
  • A report on how personal actions affect climate change.
  • An EA Global talk discussing the barriers that slow the development and deployment of new vaccines., more than 500 job listings and a picture of a butterfly.

We also have a quick request.

We're always trying to make the EA Newsletter more... well, effective.

We want to inspire readers to take action — but it can be hard to tell when that actually happens.

If you've done something as a result of reading the Newsletter — donating to charity, applying to a job, joining an EA community group, subscribing to a podcast, etc. — could you please fill out our impact survey?
Take the survey
We learn a lot from this, and it helps us improve future editions of the Newsletter. Thanks for your help!

— The Team

News and updates from the world of effective altruism

Existential risk and the future of humanity

Quotes from Rob Wiblin's notes on The Precipice, a new book by the philosopher Toby Ord:

“The Biological Weapons Convention — a global agreement to protect humanity — has just four employees, and a smaller budget than an average McDonald’s.”

“In 1939, the renowned nuclear scientist Enrico Fermi told colleagues that a nuclear chain reaction was but a ‘remote possibility’. Four years later Fermi himself was personally overseeing the world’s first nuclear reactor.”

“In 2014, GlaxoSmithKline accidentally released 45 litres of concentrated polio virus into a river in Belgium.”

Toby is one of the founding members of the effective altruism movement, and is deeply concerned about existential risks — threats that could end human civilization, from global wars to asteroid impacts.

His book explores these threats, and offers ideas for how to prevent them.
(Here’s a longer summary.) It's currently on sale in the UK and can be pre-ordered in other countries.

You can get more of Rob’s notes, plus a long-form interview with Toby, on the website of the 80,000 Hours podcast.

Countering new diseases and other biothreats

In June of 2019, Daniel Gastfriend spoke at EA Global on a topic — pandemic prevention — that turned out to be deeply relevant less than a year later.

In “Manufacturing Medical Countermeasures” [video] [transcript], he argues that we aren’t prepared to manufacture and distribute vaccines fast enough to keep up with a new pandemic, and suggests ways to improve our preparedness by addressing financial, technical, and regulatory barriers. 

Though researchers and manufacturers are already working on a COVID-19 vaccine, Gastfriend’s talk contains useful lessons for how we can handle similar situations in the future. 

Lifestyle choices and climate change

Founders Pledge recently published a report on how different personal actions affect our carbon emissions, and how they compare to the effect of supporting high-impact climate charities. 

They find that: 
  • Some actions are much more important than others ( “all the energy saved by unplugging your phone charger for a day is undone by one second of car driving”).
  • Having children won’t lead to as many emissions as one might expect.
  • Careful donations can have a much larger impact than any lifestyle change an individual can make.
They also discuss how the mindset of “carbon offsetting” can lead us astray if we want to have the biggest impact we can on climate change.

What if we just gave people money?

Basic income programs — whose participants get regular, unconditional payments from their governments — are surging in popularity, from Andrew Yang’s U.S. presidential campaign to GiveDirectly’s massive experiments in Kenya.

Vox recently published a collection of stories on basic income around the world — in Alaska, California, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Iran, India, and more. Results vary, but on the whole, the concept seems like a promising one for governments to explore, in both developed and developing nations.

Will your future self uphold your present values?

As a child, you probably held a different set of moral values than you do today. (Personally, I’m a bigger fan of sharing my toys than I used to be.)

How might your moral values change in the next decade, or the decade after that? If you think your current values are good ones, should you try to avoid “value drift” that might change the way you want to live?

In her undergraduate thesis, Marisa Jurczyk examines factors that may lead to value drift for people in the EA movement, including unsustainable work practices and a lack of connection to the community. She also ponders whether we should even see “value change” as a bad thing.

More news and links
For more stories like these, check out some EA-related newsletters, videos, or podcasts!

You may also enjoy EA London's monthly updates.
This image from the Cellular Agriculture Society shows a vision of what cell-based meat manufacturing could look like in 2040. To learn more, visit the Project CMF website.

Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good

Some people worry that effective altruism might lead its proponents to give up on causes that excite them, in favor of cold calculations about what will most help the world.

In “Excited Altruism,” Holden Karnofsky argues that this doesn't have to be the case — rather, it’s entirely reasonable to feel excited and passionate about effective altruism. Helping others as much as you can doesn’t have to be a dry obligation; instead, it can be a source of deep personal meaning.

This quote ends the piece, and sums it up well:

“Today, anyone with a spare $100 has the ability to learn how relatively fortunate they are, to learn about their many options for making a difference, and to take truly meaningful and impactful action. 

In such a world, I expect a growing number of people to be asking the question, ‘How can I make the most of this opportunity?’ And I hope they’ll ask it not from a place of guilt and obligation, but from a place of self-actualization and excitement.”



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

80,000 Hours’ High-Impact Job Board features more than 500 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 jobs as they arise (or post a job yourself), check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.

Applications due very soon (start here!) 80,000 Hours AE Studio Charity Entrepreneurship Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford GiveWell Open Philanthropy Ought The Good Food Institute
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.

Communications Director, Nuclear Threat Initiative (Washington, DC)

Foreign Service Executive Officer, US Agency for International Development (Washington, DC) (apply by 14 April)

Program Manager, Health, Rockefeller Foundation (New York City)

Research Fellow in Ethics, US Naval Academy (Annapolis, MD)

Select Committee Student Researcher, UK House of Commons (London) (apply by 30 March)

Various roles, Sherlock Biosciences (Cambridge, MA)


Books, events, community projects, and more!

An incubator for high-impact charity startups

Have you ever considered starting a charity?

This is your chance:
Applications to the Charity Entrepreneurship (CE) Incubation Program are now open.

CE’s team spends thousands of hours each year researching potential charity ideas, building on large bodies of research from other organizations. They’re interested in hearing from people who want to start a high-impact charity in any of four areas: animal welfare, mental health and happiness, family planning, and health and development policy.

The program will be held in London from 29 June to 28 August; apply by 15 April.

You can boost your odds of acceptance by reading through the recommended resources on CE’s website, and by examining the research they’ve done on promising interventions.

News on EAGxAustralia

The EAGxAustralia conference will take place in Canberra from 25-27 September this year. Early-bird tickets go on sale on the 30th of March.

Economists and philosophers are invited to submit papers to the first-ever EAGxAustralia Workshop on Global Priorities. To apply to present, submit a 600-word abstract by 9 April. See the event website for further details.

Call for papers: Evaluating Progress in AI Workshop

The workshop will be held at the 2020 European Conference on AI. Submissions should cover topics relevant to measuring progress, developing benchmarks, characterizing milestones in AI, and/or forecasting societal impacts of AI advances.

Papers must be submitted by 20 March.
Organizational Updates

You can see updates from a wide range of EA-aligned organizations on the EA Forum. (Organizations submit updates, which we edit for clarity.)
We hope you found this edition useful!

As we mentioned above, if you’ve taken action because of the Newsletter and haven’t taken our impact survey, please do — it helps us improve future editions.

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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