This month's newsletter features:
We'd also like to note an opportunity that ends tonight, 20 September, at 11:59 PM PST: If you want to attend the EA Student Summit and be considered for individual mentorship, apply now!
(You can apply after that date if you just want to attend.)
— The EA Newsletter Team
News and updates from the world of effective altruism
Air pollution is much worse than we thought
As we learn more about air pollution, it becomes increasingly clear how much damage pollution causes. A group of national science academies estimates that it contributes to five million premature deaths each year.
Fortunately, we have many ways to attack this problem. Action by the U.S. alone could prolong millions of lives and generate more than enough savings to compensate for the cost of emissions reductions.
As for the question of how best to reduce emissions: We recommend exploring the climate change recommendations made by Founders Pledge. (While we don’t necessarily endorse their conclusions, their full report is quite thorough, and a good starting point.)
What can cash transfers accomplish in a pandemic?
We have strong evidence that cash transfers tend to increase the well-being of recipients. But what happens when you throw COVID-19 into the mix? Could cash transfers keep people from going to work while sick, or help them avoid hospitals full of other infected patients?
As you might expect, GiveDirectly was interested in this question, and worked with a group of elite economists (including Nobel Laureate Abhijit Banerjee) to learn more. They studied the impact of several different transfer types, including basic income payments ($0.75 per day for multiple years) and lump-sum transfers (a single payment of around $500).
Overall, the results were promising: Transfers appeared to reduce the rate of non-COVID illness, as well as risky social interaction. Meanwhile, they had a positive impact on food security and mental health. But the researchers’ takeaways weren’t universally positive; basic incomes tend to increase risk-taking and investment, both of which can expose recipients to major economic shocks during an event as disruptive as a pandemic. (Governments may not want to encourage people to start new businesses when a lockdown could happen at any time.)
Can a philosophy class alter ethical behavior?
A trio of professors just conducted what they call “the first controlled experiment testing the real-world behavioral consequences of moral philosophy instruction.”
The study was simple: Half the students in an intro philosophy course went to a discussion section around the ethics of eating meat; the other half were asked to discuss the ethics of charity. And then, in a result which surprised even the authors, students in the “meat” subgroup purchased less meat than before. This effect may be temporary, but it held up for at least a few weeks before the study was published, and it could still be going even now.
Will other moral philosophers follow suit, with similar experiments? Will it turn out that moral instruction can routinely promote behavioral change? We can't be sure yet, but if we see other studies like this, we'll let you know.
Human-level AI may not be available anytime soon
Many EA-aligned researchers work on AI risk — preparing for a time when superhuman AI systems come to exist, and may need to be aligned with humanity’s interests if we want to enjoy a comfortable future.
But how long will it actually take before these systems arrive?
Asya Bergal’s EA Global talk covers one side of this question in great detail, presenting a collection of arguments for why AI may not even be “human-level” soon (let alone superhuman):
- Surveys of expert opinion are ambiguous, but hint that experts tend to expect long timelines.
- Growth in machine-learning capabilities may slow down.
- Our current means for creating AI may just not be up to the task.
In other news:
For more stories, try these EA-related email newsletters and podcasts.
If you want to discuss effective altruism with others, check out EA Hub's list of relevant online groups.
Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good
We agree with 80,000 Hours when they note, in a recent post: “Effective altruism is widely misunderstood, even among its supporters.”
Fortunately, Will MacAskill’s “The definition of effective altruism” — this month’s classic article — lists and counters some of the most common misunderstandings. These include the argument that EA ignores systemic change and the charge that it’s just a rebranding of utilitarianism.
The paper isn’t groundbreaking, but as a clear definition of EA that sums up some fundamental ideas, it still makes for a good read.
If you want to read further discussion of misunderstandings around EA, see the “FAQs and Common Objections” page of effectivealtruism.org.
Opportunities to work on some of the world's most pressing problems
The 80,000 Hours Job Board features more than 500 positions. We can’t fit them all in the newsletter, so check out the others on their website!
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 soon
Personal and Administrative Assistant, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Cambridge, UK) (Apply by 27 September)
Chief Executive Officer, Future of Humanity Foundation (Oxford) (Apply by 28 September)
AI Governance Project Manager, Centre for the Governance of AI (Oxford) (Apply by 30 September)
Research Assistant (Sustainable Finance), Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (Cambridge, UK) (Apply by 4 October)
Biosecurity Engagement Program Advisor, General Dynamics (Washington, DC)
Deputy Editor (Future Perfect), Vox Media (Washington, DC)
Digital Communications Intern, IDinsight (Remote)
Director of Research, 1Day Sooner (Remote)
In-House Counsel // General Application, Open Philanthropy (San Francisco or remote)
Partnerships Manager, GiveDirectly (Various cities)
Product Manager, Founders Pledge (London)
Researcher (Pandemics), Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (Seattle)
Research Scientist (Clarity), OpenAI (San Francisco)
Senior Researcher, GiveWell (Oakland or remote)
Various positions, The Good Food Institute (Washington, DC or remote)
Books, events, community projects, and more!
Apply to the EA Student Summit
The EA Student Summit, which takes place from 24-25 October, will feature talks on the latest thinking in effective altruism.
While the event is aimed at students, others are welcome to apply if they want to provide advice or mentorship to newer members of the community.
See more details here, and be sure to apply by 20 September (that's today!) if you want to be considered for the individual mentorship program. (You can apply after that date if you just want to attend.)
EAGxAsia-Pacific: Applications open soon
Applications for EAGxAsia-Pacific (November 21-22) will open in a few weeks. Join the Facebook event for updates.
Note that this is a virtual event — you don’t have to live in Asia to attend!
Apply for a grant from EA Funds
The Animal Welfare Fund, the Long-Term Future Fund, and the EA Infrastructure Fund are calling for applications.
If you have a project you think will improve the world, and it seems like a good fit for one of the Funds, we encourage you to apply here.
Deadlines for each fund:
- Long-Term Future Fund: Friday, 25 September
- EA Infrastructure Fund: Friday, 2 October
- Animal Welfare Fund: Friday, 9 October
Early-career funding from Open Philanthropy
Open Philanthropy is offering early-career funding to individuals interested in improving the long-term future. These grants will primarily fund graduate study, but could also fund other activities meant to build career capital. You have plenty of time to prepare an application; they aren’t due until 1 January, 2021.
To apply or see more details, read this post.
Career profiles from experienced professionals in EA roles
Women and Non-Binary Altruism Mentorship (WANBAM) recently published a series of video interviews with women who hold mid-to-senior-level positions in a variety of EA cause areas. Transcripts are also available.
The Life You Can Save is seeking volunteers
The Life You Can Save is now accepting volunteer applications. Positions are available in:
- Media Relations
- Paid Search Expertise
- The TLYCS Changemakers Program
- The Effective Giving Bloggers Program
New books on effective altruism
We’d like to highlight two newly-published books on EA topics, with brief summaries from the publishers:
For a general audience, Max Bazerman’s Better, Not Perfect (recommended by Will MacAskill and Peter Singer, among others):
“Every day, you make hundreds of decisions. They’re largely personal, but these choices have an ethical twinge as well; they value certain principles and ends over others. Bazerman argues that we can better balance both dimensions — and that we needn’t seek perfection to make a real difference for ourselves and the world.
"Better, Not Perfect provides a deeply researched, prescriptive road map for how to maximize our pleasure and minimize pain. Bazerman shares a framework to be smarter and more efficient, honest and aware — to attain your ‘maximum sustainable goodness.’”
For an academic audience, Moral Uncertainty, written by Will MacAskill, Krister Bykvist, and Toby Ord:
“Very often we are uncertain about what we ought, morally, to do. We do not know how to weigh the interests of animals against humans, how strong our duties are to improve the lives of distant strangers, or how to think about the ethics of bringing new people into existence.
"But we still need to act. So how should we make decisions in the face of such uncertainty?”
You can download Moral Uncertainty as a free PDF.
For a broader selection of events and social opportunities, see "Connecting with Online EA Events."
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