EA Newsletter June 12, 2019

Effective Altruism Newsletter

June 12, 2019

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“Billionaire philanthropy is a good problem to have.”

Bill and Melinda Gates, as well as other billionaire philanthropists, are often criticized for not being sufficiently transparent or accountable. But Raj Kumar believes that these donors may be improving the quality of foreign aid — because they care more about results and less about politics than other groups focused on global development.

”Most of the original study findings hold up... that just doesn’t make a very exciting headline.”

In 2004, Edward Miguel and Michael Kremer published a landmark study indicating that mass deworming improved health and school attendance in Kenya. A decade later, a fierce debate — the “Worm Wars” — broke out over the validity of the findings.

In a new paper, economist Owen Ozier argues that this debate was primarily caused by innocent miscommunication. He also shares his thoughts on what we’ve learned about deworming since 2004, and whether these programs are likely to be cost-effective.

“For most of the trillions of wild animals on the planet, suffering is inevitable.”

Life as a wild animal can be brutal and unforgiving. And it’s hard to figure out how we can help, since ecosystems are complex and it’s important not to cause unintended damage. In Fast Company, Brian Kateman shows how researchers are approaching this issue and explains some of the steps that we’ve already begun to take.

“And I would ask about risks, and they would say, ‘Oh, that's not really something that I've thought about.’”

Helen Toner is the director of strategy at CSET, a think tank focused on security issues related to advanced technology. She recently spoke to Julia Galef about what she learned from years spent discussing AI with scientists and policymakers in the U.S. and China.

And finally, a brief piece of good news, which shows the progress we’ve made in fighting “one of the world’s leading killers”: Algeria and Argentina are the latest countries to be certified as malaria-free by the World Health Organization.  

EA Forum Highlights:

Timeless Classic

”Our approach to existential risks cannot be one of trial-and-error. There is no opportunity to learn from errors. The reactive approach – see what happens, limit damages, and learn from experience – is unworkable. Rather, we must take a proactive approach.”

— Nick Bostrom, “Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards”

A risk is “existential” when it is both global (affecting all of human civilization) and terminal (destroying or radically reducing the future potential of the people involved).

Bostrom’s writings on existential risk have informed the way many people approach the long-term future. He’s done a lot of additional work in the last 17 years, but his 2002 paper is still worth reading.


As always, 80,000 Hours’ High-Impact Job Board features a wide range of positions — including 61 that were added in the last month.

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.

Chief of Staff, GiveDirectly

Director of Growth & Development, One for the World

Freelance Copyeditor (Part-Time), Centre for Effective Altruism

Head of Marketing, Founders Pledge

Head of UK Fundraising, Compassion in World Farming

Production Artist, The Humane League

Project Manager (Technology & Measurement), Center for Effective Global Action

Recruiting Coordinator, OpenAI

Research Assistant (Lawfare), Brookings Institute

Research Assistant (Sustainable Finance), Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

Research Associate (Asia Studies), Council on Foreign Relations

Researcher, Animal Charity Evaluators

Senior Full-Stack Web Engineer, Ought

Senior Scientist (Plant-Based Specialization), Good Food Institute

Strategic Policy Researcher, DeepMind

Technical Copywriter, Partnership on AI

VP of Marketing, GiveWell

Organizational Updates

Updates are submitted by organizations and lightly edited for clarity.

80,000 Hours

80,000 Hours released their 2018 Annual Review. They also shared two interviews with their Director of Research (Rob Wiblin), and wrote a critique of a survey question they sent out in 2018 (on the value of new hires to EA organizations). They still have a funding gap; if you'd like to help close it, learn how to donate here.

Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators published a report on effective animal advocacy in Brazil, as well as a paper on operations management for nonprofits. They also released their 2019 Guide to Effective Giving, a booklet featuring their recommended charities and other giving opportunities.

Center for Human-Compatible AI

CHAI’s annual conference brought together more than 80 researchers and thinkers in the AI safety community for a weekend of discussions. Stuart Russell’s new book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Russell was also awarded the Carnegie Fellowship, and gave testimony on autonomous weapons to the National Security Committee on AI and the United Nations. CHAI researchers submitted Adversarial Policies: Attacking Deep Reinforcement Learning to NeurIPS 2019. Rohin Shah gave a live Q&A on the Value Learning Sequence.

Centre for Effective Altruism

CEA has a new Community Liaison, Sky Mayhew, who now serves alongside Julia Wise as a contact person for community members. You can contact either Julia or Sky for help with a range of community questions or concerns.

Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

CSER researchers published papers on AI and nuclear weapons and climate diplomacy. Ellen Quigley was appointed to work with Cambridge University's CFO to establish a ‘responsible investment’ research programme, for which she is hiring two research assistants. Other updates: a video interview about civilizational collapse, a long-form article on ‘post-natural’ wildlife, an article on artificial diseases, and a blog post on a recent UN biodiversity report.

Effective Altruism Foundation

EAF ran a research workshop on disvalue from AI with researchers from OpenAI, MIRI, FHI, and Deepmind. They also published a report on how to create disruptive research teams.

Future of Humanity Institute

FHI are working to build their research capacity in the topics listed on this page; researchers working in any of those areas are encouraged to get in touch, even if no current opening seems to fit.

Future of Life Institute

FLI released two podcasts: one on applied AI safety and ethics, and one on consciousness. They also published an overview of Pax’s State of AI report. Ariel Conn published an article on lethal autonomous weapons and the UN; Jessica Cussins Newman published an article about the OECD’s AI principles.


GiveWell summarized their progress in 2018, which included moving $65 million to their recommended charities (not including contributions from Good Ventures), an increase of more than $20 million from 2017. GiveWell also outlined their plans for 2019.

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute

Seth Baum spoke at the IAA Planetary Defense Conference. GCRI announced a call for advisees and collaborators for people who want to get more involved in working on global catastrophic risk, especially the social and policy dimensions of AI. GCRI will be attending EA Global: San Francisco; get in touch with them if you’d like to meet with a researcher.

Open Philanthropy Project

The Open Philanthropy Project announced eight promising machine learning researchers as the 2019 Class of the Open Phil AI Fellowship. They also announced grants of $400,000 to the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, $300,000 to Employ America, and $264,000 to the Ayni Institute.

The Life You Can Save

TLYCS launched an affiliate Australian charity; Aussies can now make tax-deductible donations to TLYCS Australia's recommended charities and Operations Fund. Giving Games launched their new website (including resources for facilitators and a platform for voting and survey administration) and published an article explaining the use and purpose of the new platform.

Wild Animal Initiative

WAI staff started two additional research projects, on predicting the outcomes of ecosystem changes and on understanding trade-offs between traits that affect welfare and reproductive success. WAI staff members will be at EA Global this month; they will give a talk and host a meetup on wild animal welfare.

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This is an archived version of the EA Newsletter sent to 51,102 subscribers on March 7, 2019. To see the full archives, click here.