The EA Newsletter: February 2020
Dear readers,

This month, we lead with a grim topic: the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus, which has been a major concern for people around the world.

While much remains unknown, we've shared some resources you can use to learn more about the disease — and about people and organizations who are working to guard against future pandemics.

And we also have good news to share: promising research, political victories, and lessons from the founder of a hugely impactful charity.

Even in difficult times, people generate more inspiring stories than we can possibly include. We hope you find value in what we've chosen.

— The EA Newsletter Team

News and updates from the world of effective altruism

Pandemic risk: What we know, and how to prepare

We’ve gotten a lot better at detecting and responding to pandemics since 1918, when Spanish flu spread across the world. But contagious diseases still pose a serious threat to human civilization.

The COVID-19 coronavirus situation is ongoing, and any information we provide may be out of date by the time you read this. If you want to stay current, we recommend looking for recent news from expert sources — for example, updates from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Nevertheless, we think that this podcast episode from early February offers good coverage of the subject from multiple angles, if you keep the dates in mind. The podcast page also links to many other resources on pandemic prevention, risk communication, and health advice.

For more on the topic of biosecurity within the EA landscape, we recommend summaries from Open Philanthropy and 80,000 Hours.

Should we do more to study economic growth?

Most EA funding in global development goes toward low-risk, RCT-backed interventions meant to improve individuals’ health and/or income.

In one of the most popular EA Forum posts of all time, John Halstead and Hauke Hillebrandt argue that this may be the wrong focus. They contend that much more research effort should go toward looking for cost-effective ways to boost economic growth, which correlates very strongly with human welfare and gets relatively little attention from EA organizations.

The post generated responses from development researchers like Sindy Li, Alexander Berger, and GiveWell’s Catherine Hollander.

Effective altruism and political advocacy

In 2016, the Effective Altruism Foundation launched a ballot initiative asking the city of Zurich to increase the funding it allocated to global development, and to allocate that funding more effectively.

Nearly four years later, the foundation
won a massive victory, passing an updated version of their initiative that will cause roughly $5 million per year in additional development funding.

For more on how ballot initiatives can be used to push for EA-aligned policy, see Peter Hurford’s EA Global talk or Jason Schukraft’s intervention profile.

When should we publish research with risky consequences?

Scientific research can facilitate the development of threatening technology (“offense”), but can also help us build countermeasures against that technology (“defense”). 

In “The Offense-Defense Balance of Scientific Knowledge,” Toby Shevlane and Allan Dafoe examine this paradigm as it applies to the publication of artificial intelligence research. They also look at examples from many other fields, including biological research and improvements in drone hardware. Their insights may be relevant not only to AI researchers, but also to anyone whose work could have dangerous consequences.

A new record for Giving Tuesday

In November 2019, the EA Giving Tuesday project organized people to support effective charities during Facebook’s annual donation match. This is harder than it sounds, because the match only lasts a few seconds — but donors still set a new record by bringing in $563,000 in matching funds

Some donors joined the project after seeing it in the Newsletter, which is one of our favorite things about this work. We’re glad we helped people learn about a chance to do more good!

In other news:
For more stories like these, try these EA-related newsletters and podcasts!

Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good

Even if we agree that an issue is important, we may disagree on how best to advocate for it.

For example: If we want people to eat less meat, should we focus on the suffering of farmed animals, or the environmental impact of meat production? How can we know which approach to use in a given situation?

Sentience Institute’s “Foundational Questions in Effective Animal Advocacy” examines questions like these through many different lenses. How successful have different strategies been throughout history? How socially acceptable are they? How well do they inspire activists?

The page is a living document, frequently updated with new evidence, and could be a useful resource for any impact-focused animal advocate.


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 positions as they arise (or post a position yourself), check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
Applications due very soon Center for Security and Emerging Technology Effective Giving Future of Humanity Institute GiveWell Global Catastrophic Risk Institute Open Philanthropy Ought Our World in Data


Books, events, community projects, and more!

EAGxBerlin (and other conferences)

The first EAGx conference of the year has been confirmed: EAGxBerlin, which will take place from 12-14 June. Sign up here to receive an email when applications open.

Other EAGx conferences are coming up in:
Apply for a grant to work on effective animal advocacy

Animal Charity Evaluators’ Effective Animal Advocacy Fund is currently running a grant round. Apply by 27 February to be considered.

Biorisk reduction workshop

Members of NEAD (Netzwerk für Effektiven Altruismus Deutschland, the German EA Network) will be running a Global Catastrophic Biorisk Reduction (GCBR) workshop from 1-3 May in Oxford. They recommend the event for people who want to get involved in GCBR work but aren’t yet sure how they can contribute in ways that are “robustly good.”

Prizes for helping people make predictions

Metaculus, a website where people compete to forecast future events, just launched the Bentham Prize, which will award $600 every two weeks to users who have made especially valuable contributions.

These could include “public predictions, models, factorisations, comments that help improve questions, datasets, and links to relevant sources.”

The first round awarded prizes for contributions related to animal welfare; the second round has yet to be announced.
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!

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

Special thanks: The photos in this edition were provided by Sam Deere of the Centre for Effective Altruism.

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
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