Big List of Cause Candidates

Many thanks to Ozzie Gooen for suggesting this project, to Marta Krzeminska for editing help and to Michael Aird and others for various comments.

In the last few years, there have been many dozens of posts about potential new EA cause areas, causes and interventions. Searching for new causes seems like a worthy endeavour, but on their own, the submissions can be quite scattered and chaotic. Collecting and categorizing these cause candidates seemed like a clear next step.

We —Ozzie Gooen of the Quantified Uncertainty Research Institute and I— might later be interested in expanding this work and eventually using it for forecasting —e.g., predicting whether each candidate would still seem promising after much more rigorous research. At the same time, we feel like this list itself can be useful already.

Further, as I kept adding more and more cause candidates, I realized that aiming for completeness was a fool’s errand, or at least too big a task for an individual working alone.

Below is my current list with a simple categorization, as well as an occasional short summary which paraphrases or quotes key points from the posts linked. See the last appendix for some notes on nomenclature. If there are any entries I missed (and there will be), please say so in the comments and I’ll add them. I also created the “Cause Candidates” tag on the EA Forum and tagged all of the listed posts there. They are also available in a Google Sheet.

Animal Welfare and Suffering

Pointer: This cause has its various EA Forum tags (farmed animal welfare, wild animal welfare, meat alternatives), where more cause candidates can be found. Brian Tomasik et al.’s Essays on Reducing Suffering are also a gift that keeps on giving for this and other cause areas.

1.Wild Animal Suffering Caused by Fires

Related categories: Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

An Animal Ethics grantee designed a protocol aimed at helping animals during and after fires. The protocol contains specific suggestions, but the path to turning these into policy is unclear.

2. Invertebrate Welfare

In this post, we apply the standard importance-neglectedness-tractability framework to invertebrate welfare to determine, as best we can, whether this is a cause area that is worth prioritizing. We conclude that it is.”

Note: See also Brian Tomasik’s Do Bugs Feel Pain.

3. Humane Pesticides

The post argues that insects experience consciousness, and that there are a lot of them, so we should give them significant moral weight (comments contain a discussion on this point). The post goes on to recommend subsidization of less-painful pesticides, an idea initially suggested by Brian Tomasik, who “estimates this intervention to cost one dollar per 250,000 less-painful deaths.” The second post goes into much more depth.

4. Diet Change

The first post is a stub. The second post looks at a reasonably high-powered study on individual outreach. It concludes that, based on reasonable assumptions, the particular intervention used (showing videos of the daily life of factory-farmed pigs) isn’t competitive with other interventions on humans:

“(...) we now think there is sufficient evidence to establish that individual outreach may work to produce positive change for nonhuman animals. However, evidence in this study points to an estimate of $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $46 to $1100), which is worse than human-focused interventions even from a species neutral perspective. More analysis would be needed to see how individual outreach compares to other interventions in animal advocacy or in other cause areas.

Given that a person can be reached for ~$2 and that they spare ~1 pig week, that works out to $150 per pig saved (90% interval: $23 to $560) and, again assuming that each pig has a ~6 month lifespan, that works out to $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $47 to $1100). To put this in context, Against Malaria Foundation can avert a year of human suffering from malaria for $39, this does not look very cost-effective.”

Comments point out that the postulated retention rates may be too high (making the intervention even worse). Lastly, the second post was written in 2018, and more work might have been done in the meantime.

The third post is somewhat more recent (Nov 2020), but it reports results in terms of “portions of meat not consumed” rather than “animal-years spared”. This makes a comparison with previous research not be straightforward, because different animals correspond to different intensity and length of suffering per kilogram of meat produced, and the post does not report how big these portions are or to which animals they belong.

The fourth post explores “current and developing alternatives to self-reporting of dietary data.

5. Vegan/​Vegetarian Recidivism

“But there’s a big problem with vegan/​vegetarian advocacy: most people who switch to vegan/​vegetarian diets later switch back.”

The post suggests paying more attention to the growth rate of the vegan/​vegetarian movement. It also suggests some specific measures, like producing resources which make it easier for vegetarians/​vegans to get all the nutrients they need in the absence of animal products.

6. Plant-Based Seafood

This Charity Entrepreneurship report ultimately concludes that: ”...while fish product creation in Asia is the most promising intervention within food technology in terms of impact on animals, it is not the most promising intervention for Charity Entrepreneurship to focus on.”

Note: Charity Entrepreneurship has produced many more reports. But, as they are not tagged on the EA Forum, they were difficult to incorporate in this analysis, given the search method I was using (see Appendix: Method). They are, however, available on their webpage.

7. Moral Circle Expansion

“This blog post makes the case for focusing on quality risks over population risks. More specifically, though also more tentatively, it makes the case for focusing on reducing quality risk through moral circle expansion (MCE), the strategy of impacting the far future through increasing humanity’s concern for sentient beings who currently receive little consideration (i.e. widening our moral circle so it includes them.)”

In particular, the post makes this point by comparing moral circle expansion to AI alignment as a cause area.

8. Analgesics for Farm Animals

Related categories: Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

“There is only one FDA approved drug for farm animal pain in the U.S. (and that drug is not approved for any of the painful body modifications that farm animals are subjected to), FDA approval might meaningfully increase the frequency with which these drugs actually used, and addressing this might be a tractable and effective way to improve farm animal welfare [...] Farm animals in the U.S. almost never get pain medication for acutely painful procedures such as castration, tail docking, beak trimming, fin cutting, abdominal surgery, and dehorning. What I was not aware of until this morning is that there is only one FDA approved medication for ANY farm animal analgesic, and that medication is specifically approved only for foot rot in cattle [...] In contrast, the EU, UK, and Canada have much higher standards for food residues in other domains (hormones, antibiotics, etc.) but have nevertheless approved several pain medication for several procedures in species of farm animals. As a result, these drugs are much more commonly used there.”

9. Welfare of Specific Animals

Rethink Priorities has done research on the welfare of specific animals, and possible interventions to improve it. They produced a number of profiles, some of which I include here for illustration purposes, but without any claim to comprehensiveness. Thanks to Saulius for bringing my attention to this point.

10. Cell-Based Meat R&D

Based on a Fermi estimate, the author concludes that “cell-based meat research and development is roughly 10 times more cost-effective than top recommended effective altruist animal charities.”

11. Antibiotic Resistance in Farmed Animals

“Reducing antibiotic use in farms is very likely to be net positive for humans. However, it is not clear whether it would be net positive for animals. If farmers stop using antibiotics, animals might suffer from more disease and worse welfare. This effect might be mitigated by the fact that (i) farmers can replace antibiotics with substitutes such as probiotics, prebiotics, and essential oils, which also prevent disease, and (ii) farmers might be motivated to make adaptations to farming practices which prevent disease and also benefit animal welfare, such as lowering stocking density, reducing stress, and monitoring disease more closely. It is not obvious how likely it is that farmers will take these disease-mitigating measures, but since high disease rates increase mortality, decrease carcass profitability, and could cause reputational damage, it is plausible that they will be motivated to do so. Alternatively, animal advocates could take the ‘holistic strategy’ of promoting welfare measures which also tend to cause reduced antibiotic use. Tentatively, I take the view that eliminating antibiotic use on a farm would not lead to worse lives for those animals.

Eliminating antibiotics might also be expensive for producers, and because of this, it could increase the price of animal products in the short term, which would be good for animals. The literature weakly supports the view that meat prices will increase following an antibiotic ban. However, there is also some support for the view that price will increase differentially for smaller and larger animals, which lands us with the small animal replacement problem. This problem could be avoided by the approach taken to the intervention, e.g. a corporate campaign targeting only small animals.”

12. Helping Wild Animals Through Vaccination

“We will first see some cases of successful vaccination programs in the past, including vaccination against rabies, anthrax, rinderpest, brucellosis, and sylvatic plague, in addition to the proposal to vaccinate great apes against Ebola. Next, we will see how zoonotic epidemics have been the object of growing attention.We will then see some responses to them that are misguided and harmful to animals. We will then see the prospects for eventual wild animal vaccination programs against coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2. We will see the three main limitations of such hypothetical programs. These are the lack of an effective vaccine, the lack of funding to implement the vaccination program, and the lack of an effective system to administer the vaccine. We’ll consider the extent to which these limitations could be overcome and what clues previous examples of vaccination can provide. As we will see, such programs remain to date merely speculative. They could be feasible at some point as other wild animal vaccination programs show. However, it remains uncertain whether there will be human interest in implementing them, despite the benefits for animals themselves.

Finally, we will see the reasons why, if implemented, programs of this kind could substantially help not just the vaccinated animals, but many others as well. Not only would this prevent zoonotic disease transmission to other animals, but such measures could also help inform other efforts to vaccinate animals living in the wild. Moreover, each successful vaccination program helps to illustrate that helping animals in the wild is not impractical, but realistic. This helps to raise concern for these animals and to inspire action on their behalf.”

Community Building

1.Effective Animal Advocacy Movement Building

Related categories: Animal Welfare and Suffering

The post argues that EAA-specific movement-building might be particularly neglected within EA.

2. Non-Western EA

The post asks about expanding EA beyond the USA and Europe. It gets some pushback in the comments, particularly because of the difficulty of transmitting ideas with high fidelity.

3. Understanding and/​or reducing value drift.

Pointer: This cause has its own EA Forum tag.

4. Values Spreading

Values spreading refers to improving other people’s values. The idea has met with some skepticisim, but perhaps variants of it, like highly targetted or high-leverage values spreading, could still be promising.

Transhumanism

Related categories: Global Health and Development, States of Consciousness

1.Cryonics

Cryonics will probably get cheaper if more people sign up. It might also divert money from wealthy people who would otherwise spend it on more selfish things. Further, cryonics might help people take long-term risks more seriously.

One advantage of life extension is that it might prompt people to think in a more long-term-focused way, which might be nice for solving coordination problems and x-risks.”

One could also argue “that cryonics doesn’t create many additional QALYs because by revival time we’ve probably hit Malthusian limits. So any revived cryonics patients would be traded off against other future lives.”

2. Ageing

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

3. Genetic Enhancement

The post makes the argument both from a short and long-term perspective. I was particularly intrigued by the suggestion to select for empathy; the comments also suggest selecting against malevolent traits.

4. Finding Extraterrestrial Life

Politics

Politics: Ideological Politics

1. Local Political Causes

2. Fighting Harmful Ideologies

Note: Post is a stub.

Politics: Global politics

Pointer: See also the EA Forum tag for Global Governance.

1. Democracy Promotion

The author estimates the benefits of democracy. They then suggest concrete actions to take: “a review essay on the efficacy of tools of external democracy promotion finds that non-coercive tools like foreign aid that is conditioned on democratic reforms and election monitoring are effective, while coercive tools like sanctions and military intervention are ineffective… One tool EA organizations can fund is election monitoring. Research suggests that election monitoring can play a causal role in decreasing fraud and manipulation.” Some forum comments suggest that the area is too costly, and not that neglected.

2. Human Rights in North Korea

The scale of suffering seems vast, and marginal interventions (e.g., smuggling North Koreans out of China) might be cost-effective. The post also suggests capacity building in this area might be a promising intervention.

3. Improving Local Governance in Fragile States

Politics: System Change, Targeted Change, and Policy Reform.

Note: These categories are grouped together because in practice the distinction between broad system change from outside a political system and targeted change or policy reform within a system is often not quite clear.

Pointer: This cause candidate has a related EA Forum tag: Policy Change.

1. Better Political Systems and Policy-Making

Pointer: The related Institutional Decision-Making has its own EA Forum tag; more cause candidates can be found there.

2. Getting Money Out of Politics and Into Charity

Donors from two opposing parties could be matched to send their money to their favourite charities instead than to zero-sum political contests.

3. Vote Pairing

The post makes the case that vote pairing —where one or more voters for a mainstream candidate in a safe US state vote for a third-party candidate in exchange for a vote from a third candidate supporter in a contested state— is much more effective than other traditional interventions.

4. Electoral Reform

Pointer: This cause has its own EA Forum tag. I’m adding one post for illustration purposes:

Note: Included here for completeness. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a new cause area because the Center For Election Science is working on it.

5. Tax Justice

The post gives an overview of current efforts to make tax evasion or tax flight harder, and why this should be thought of as positive. A commenter, Larks, makes the opposite case.

6. Effective Informational Lobbying

The first post starts with a literature review and concludes by proposing “something along the lines of ‘effective lobbying’: a rigorous approach to institutional-level change, starting with the legislature, that would take a portfolio approach to policy advocacy,” and outlines how that would broadly look.

The second post is a “call to all interested in lobbying as both a career and an EA methods topic.” Having a discussion group on this topic seems like a great idea, so I gave the post a strong upvote. However, it seems like it didn’t get picked up when it was posted in mid-December 2020.

7. Ballot Initiatives

“The goal of this post is to bring ballot initiatives to the collective attention of the EA community to help promote future research into the effectiveness of ballot initiative campaigns for EA-aligned policies and movement-building.” The post gives examples of what might be accomplished with ballot initiatives and covers their advantages and disadvantages.

8. Increasing Development Aid

Related categories: Global Health and Development.

9. Institutions for Future Generations

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

10. Decline or Collapse of the US.

There are reasons to believe that the probability of regime collapse of the US in the next 50 years is higher than 0.5%. The dis-utility from Collapse could be extreme in certain scenarios.

Politics: Armed Conflict

This cause has two related EA Forum tags: Armed conflict and Nuclear Weapons which may contain more cause candidates.

1. Preventing or Reducing The Severity of Nuclear War

Note: Luisa Rodríguez has more content in this cause.

Global Health and Development

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag.

1. Reducing the Efficiency of Genocides

Related categories: Politics

The post makes the case that at least some genocides (the Rwandan, Myanmar, and possibly the Somalian genocides) could have been stopped with better oversight and targeted use of resources.

2. Malnutrition

The author asks about the impact of malnutrition, i.e., “eating the wrong things as a voluntary choice despite having alternatives.” This would mostly be a problem for middle and high-income countries.

3. Raising IQ

Related categories: Transhumanism

“Interventions to raise IQ could do a lot of good because of potentially significant flow-through effects of intelligence. IQ also has the benefit of being easily quantifiable, which would make it simpler to compare interventions.”

Note: In practice, the raising-IQ framing is unpalatable for some people, as are some charities in an adjacent space, like Project Prevention. However, because one of the most effective ways of raising IQ is reducing malnourishment or undernourishment, and in particular, iodine deficiency, one could focus on these causes instead. Note that mal/​undernourishment in kids leads to lower wages in adulthood. Although one might suspect IQ is the mediating factor, it’s not necessary to emphasize the connection.

4. Physical Goods

“Seven out of eight of the Givewell top charities deal with physical goods—anti-malaria nets, deworming medication, and vitamins. But otherwise, there’s not much discussion/​active work in EA on how to improve/​spin up the physical manufacture and distribution of physical goods beyond donating money to existing organisations.”

5. Fighting Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea seems like a large problem because more people die of it per year (or did so in 2015). The remedy is apparently “oral rehydration therapy: a large pinch of salt and a fistful of sugar dissolved in a jug of clean water.”

Note: GiveWell has moved slowly and cautiously on this topic, but Evidence Action’s Dispensers for Safe Water program is now a GiveWell Standout charity.

6. International Supply Chain Accountability

Related categories: Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

Workers’ organizations can lobby international companies to adopt better labour conditions across their supply chain, and to get the original companies to pay for these efforts. A particularly promising strategy is to apply pressure in the countries these companies originate from (Spain, Germany, the US), rather than in the countries where the products are made. This seems to be working for the case of Inditex (Zara, and various other textile brands). It is unclear how, and if, EA might get organizations working in this area to accept external funds, but they could in principle absorb a lot of them.

Note: I’m the author of this post.

7. Chloramphenicol for Heart Attacks

The article linked suggests approving Chloramphenicol as a coronary treatment, which is claimed to be a fixed cost of “$25 million spent once to save 400,000 lives per year in the U.S. alone.” Comments point out that the estimate “seems to be based on one study of 21 pigs.”

8. COVID-19

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag, which contains more cause candidates. Here are some examples included for illustration purposes:

9. Clean Cookstoves

This is a very quick, rough model of the cost-effectiveness of promoting clean cookstoves in the developing world. It suggests that:

“If a clean cookstove intervention is successful, it may have roughly the same ballpark of cost-effectiveness as a GiveWell-recommended charity.

Circa 90% of the impact comes from directly saving lives, based on a model which estimated both the number of lives saved and the impact on climate change.”

10. Agricultural R&D

“In combination, the difficulties with estimating the effects of R&D and the potential barriers to adoption suggest that the estimated benefit-cost ratios reported earlier are likely to be upwardly biased. The benefit-cost ratios estimated are also lower than those associated with Giving What We Can’s currently recommended charities. For instance, the $304 per QALY estimate based on the Copenhagen Consensus benefit-cost ratio, which appears to be at the higher end of the literature, compares unfavourably to GiveWell’s baseline estimate of $45 to $115 per DALY for insecticide treated bednets (GiveWell, 2013). The benefit-cost ratios also appear to be lower than those associated with micronutrient supplements, as discussed earlier. While there are significant benefits that remain unquantified within agricultural R&D, the same is also true for interventions based on bednet distribution, deworming and micronutrient supplements. As a result, while this area could yield individual high impact opportunities, the literature as it stands does not seem to support the claim that agricultural R&D is likely to be more effective than the best other interventions.”

11. Air Purifiers Against Pollution

“The goal for this post is to give an introduction into the human health effects of air pollution, encourage further discussion, and evaluate an intervention: The use of air purifiers in homes. These air purifiers are inexpensive, standalone devices not requiring any special installation procedure. A first analysis suggests that the cost-effectiveness of this intervention is two orders of magnitude worse than the best EA interventions. However, it is still good enough to qualify as an ’effective’ or even ‘highly effective’ health intervention according to WHO criteria.”

12. Stubble Burning in India

Stubble burning in north India is a major contributor to seasonal decreases in ambient air quality [...] Stubble burning releases carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and methane as well as particulate matters (PM10and PM2.5) (Abdurrahman, Chaki, & Saini 2020). These pollutants affect the immediate area and also drift southeast to Delhi, smothering the city of ~22 million in thick haze. At their peak, these fires are responsible for ~58% of Delhi air pollution (Beig et al. 2020). The consequences of this air pollution include skin and eye irritation, respiratory problems (dry cough, wheezing, breathlessness, chest discomfort, asthma), and hypertension (Rizwan, Nongkynrih, & Gupta 2013). Air pollution is estimated to be responsible for at least 48,000 premature deaths in Delhi alone in 2020 (Greenpeace, n.d.).[5] Nationwide, the open burning of agricultural residue is estimated to be responsible for more than 66,000 premature deaths in India (GBD MAPS Working Group 2018).[6]

13. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Interventions

According to GiveWell’s research, the overwhelming majority of the value of mass deworming interventions (DW) comes from expected long-term economic effects rather than short-term effects on health. The mechanism by which these long-term effects occur is unclear, especially as the health effects are so small.

The best WASH interventions (in particular, Dispensers for Safe Water, but possibly also Development Media International) have larger health effects than DW.

If the long-term effects of deworming are related to the health effects of worms, it is likely that the long-term economic effects of WASH interventions are at least as good. If the effects are somehow specific to worms, given that a significant part of the benefit of WASH is in preventing parasitic worm infestation, there should still be significant long-term effects of WASH interventions.

Global Health and Development: Mental Health

Related categories: States of consciousness.

Pointer: This cause candidate has two related EA Forum tags: Mental Health (Cause Area) and Subjective Well-Being. For illustration purposes:

“Not only does mental illness seem to cause as much, if not more, total worldwide unhappiness than global poverty, it also seems far more neglected. Effective mental health interventions exist currently. These have been improving over time and we can expect further improvements. I estimate the cost-effectiveness of a particular mental health organisation, StrongMinds, and claim it is (at least)four times more effective per dollar than GiveDirectly, a GiveWell recommended top charity. This assumes we understand cost-effectiveness in terms of happiness, as measured by self-reported life satisfaction [...] Even if mental health is a large-scale, neglected problem, we shouldn’t consider it a possible moral priority if there aren’t effective treatments. Fortunately, there are.”

The project, which seems to be ongoing, tries to systematically assess a long list of mental health interventions.

Initially, various EAs proposed varied experimental mental health interventions. There are a number of posts asking if “mental health issue X” should fall within Effective Altruism’s purview. Of these, mental health apps represent probably the most well-argued intervention and stand on a class of their own. In particular, they are scalable.

States of Consciousness.

1. Psychedelics

Related categories: Global Health and Development: Mental Health.

The post makes the case from an EA perspective and offers a cash prize for counter-arguments.

2. Fundamental Consciousness Research

″...if your goal is to reduce suffering, it’s important to know what suffering is.”

3. Increasing Access to Pain Relief (Opioids) in Developing Countries

Related categories: Global Health and Development. Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

Access to opioids is unduly restricted, such that the pain of some deaths can amount to “torture by omission”. The author suggests, as a tentative donation target, the Pain and Policy Studies Group of the University of Wisconsin-Madison which “runs ‘International Pain Policy Fellowships’, which train national champions of the cause to identify and overcome barriers to the use of opioids in their countries. The programme has had numerous in-country successes.” However, the program seems to now be defunct. One organization that I personally perceive as promising, which is working in this space, is The Organisation for the Prevention of Intense Suffering.

4. Cluster Headaches

“Cluster headaches are considered one of the most excruciating conditions known to medicine...”; “there is [...] evidence that psilocybin mushrooms can prevent and abort entire episodes. Such evidence has been published as survey data and is also widely reported by patients in cluster headache groups. TwoPhase I RCTs are ongoing and should add to the existing evidence for efficacy. Lack of access to psilocybin mushrooms and widespread information about using them are key barriers to effective treatment for many patients.”

5. Drug Policy Reform

Related categories: Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

“In the last 4 months, I’ve come to believe drug policy reform, changing the laws on currently illegal psychoactive substances, may offer a substantial, if not the most substantial, opportunity to increase the happiness of humans alive today.”

6. Love

“Making it possible for people to deliberately fall in love seems like a high priority, competitive with good short- and medium-term causes such as malaria prevention and anti-aging. However, there is little serious work on it.”

7. Universal Euphoria

Compressing as much happiness into a unit of matter can be pursued at all levels of technological development. With current technology, we could have animal farms dedicated to making rats, about which we know a fair bit, maximally happy. With future technology, we could have computer simulations of maximal bliss.

The idea is sometimes thought to be morally repugnant or philosophically misguided, and a quick Fermi estimate suggests that current happy animal farms would not be cost effective compared to interventions in the developing world.

Space

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag.

Related categories: Existential risk, Transhumanism, Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform.

1. Space Colonization

If we had a backup planet, existential risk would be reduced. Further, we’d be able to have more people. However, even with a backup planet, existential risk in both planets would be correlated, and the protection from extinction that the second planet provides would be inversely proportional to the degree of correlation. One might expect this correlation to be particularly high for hostile AI. See here for some discussion on these points.

User @kbog looked at this issue in more depth, and concluded that:

In this post I take a serious and critical look at the value of space travel. Overall, I find that the value of space exploration is dubious at this time, and it is not worth supporting as a cause area, though Effective Altruists may still want to pay attention to the issue. I also produce specific recommendations for how space organizations can rebalance their operations to have a better impact.

2. Space Governance

“I argue that space governance has been overlooked as a potentially promising cause area for longtermist effective altruists. While many uncertainties remain, there is a reasonably strong case that such work is important, time-sensitive, tractable and neglected, and should therefore be part of the longtermist EA portfolio [...] The work I have in mind aims to replace the current state of ambiguity with a coherent framework of (long-term) space governance that ensures good outcomes if and when large-scale space colonisation becomes feasible.”

Education

Related categories: Global Health and Development.

1. Global Basic Education

The post could use some work, but I can imagine both of its points being true: education has intrinsic value (all things being equal, we want to have more education), and extrinsic value (it is somewhat correlated with health outcomes, and economic productivity).

2. Philosophy in Schools

“In this post I consider the possibility that the Effective Altruism (EA) movement has overlooked the potential of using pre-university education as a tool to promote positive values and grow the EA movement. Specifically, I focus on evaluating the potential of promoting the teaching of philosophy in schools.”

Climate Change

Related categories: Politics: System change, targeted change, policy reform. Politics: Culture war.

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

1. General

Most notably, climate change has a long tail of bad outcomes, and it impacts more than just GDP, as previously modelled.

Note: The disagreement about whether EA should give more attention to climate change is probably older than any of these posts.

2. Public R&D to Deal With Climate Change

3. Leveraging the Climate Change Movement

“This willingness to act seems to be mostly tied to climate change and cannot be easily directed towards more effective causes. Therefore, I think EAs could influence existing concerns and willingness to act on climate change to direct funds/​donations towards cost-effective organizations (i.e., CfRN, CATF)with relatively low investment of time.”

4. Extinguishing or Preventing Coal Seam Fires

“Much greenhouse gas emissions comes from uncontrolled underground coal fires. I can’t find any detailed source on its share of global CO2 emissions; I see estimates for both 0.3% and 3% quoted for coal seam fires just in China, which is perhaps the world’s worst offender. Another rudimentary calculation said 2-3% of global CO2 emissions comes from coal fires. They also seem to have pretty bad local health and economic effects, even compared to coal burning in a power plant (it’s totally unfiltered, though it’s usually diffuse in rural areas). There are some methods available now and on the horizon to try and put the fires out, and some have been practiced—see the Wikipedia article. However, the continued presence of so many of these fires indicates a major problem to be solved with new techniques and/​or funding for the use of existing techniques.”

5. Paris-Compliant Offsets

“We should be rapidly exploring higher quality and more durable offsets. If adopted, these principles could be a scalable and high-leverage way of moving organisations towards net-zero.”

6. Help coral reefs survive climate change

Existential Risks

Pointer: This cause has its own EA Forum tag. More cause candidates may be found there, or in the related AI Alignment, AI Governance and Civilizational Collapse & Recovery tags.

1. Corporate Global Catastrophic Risks

“It might be useful to think of corporations as dangerous optimization demons which will cause GCRs if left unchecked by altruism and philanthropy.”

Comments present a different perspective.

2. Aligning Recommender Systems

Pointer: See the related Near-Term AI Ethics tag.

“In this post we argue that improving the alignment of recommender systems with user values is one of the best cause areas available to effective altruists, particularly those with computer science or product design skills.”

3. Keeping Calories in the Ocean for a Possible Catastrophe

In particular, the post suggests cultivating bacteria. ALLFED’s director answers in the comments.

Note: Included here for completeness. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a new cause area since ALLFED is now working on it.

4. Resilience of Industry and the Electric Grid

5. Foods for Global Catastrophes (ALLFED)

Note: Included here for completeness. This isn’t, strictly speaking, a new cause area since ALLFED is now working on it.

6. Preventing Ideological Engineering and Social Control

Related categories: Politics

Ideological engineering and social control: A neglected topic in AI safety research? (@geoffreymiller)

“Will enhanced government control of populations’ behaviors and ideologies become one of AI’s biggest medium-term safety risks?”

7. Reducing Long-Term Risks from Malevolent Actors

The authors make the case that a situation when malevolent actors rise to power has many negative externalities. They propose countermeasures, such as advancing the science of malevolence. This would involve developing better constructs and measures of malevolence, and hard-to-beat detection measures, such as neuroimaging techniques. Comments suggest further concrete measures, such as having elections for parties rather than leaders (which gives less power to individuals).

8. Autonomous Weapons

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag

9. AI Governance

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag, and is already being worked on at FHI’s Centre for the Governance of AI, among other places. For illustration purposes:

10. Improving Disaster Shelters to Increase the Chances of Recovery From a Global Catastrophe

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag.

“What is the problem? Civilization might not recover from some possible global catastrophes. Conceivably, people with access to disaster shelters or other refuges may be more likely to survive and help civilization recover. However, existing disaster shelters (sometimes built to ensure continuity of government operations and sometimes built to protect individuals), people working on submarines, largely uncontacted peoples, and people living in very remote locations may serve this function to some extent.

What are the possible interventions? Other interventions may also increase the chances that humanity would recover from a global catastrophe, but this review focuses on disaster shelters. Proposed methods of improving disaster shelter networks include stocking shelters with appropriately trained people and resources that would enable them to rebuild civilization in case of a near-extinction event, keeping some shelters constantly full of people, increasing food reserves, and building more shelters. A philanthropist could pay to improve existing shelter networks in the above ways, or they could advocate for private shelter builders or governments to make some of the improvements listed above.”

11. Discovering Previously Unknown Existential Risks

The most dangerous existential risks appear to be the ones that we only became aware of recently. As technology advances, new existential risks appear. Extrapolating this trend, there might exist even worse risks that we haven’t discovered yet.

12. Exploring Using Insights from International Relations Theory to facilitate International Cooperation Against Existential Risks

Dealing with existential risks requires international cooperation. Naturally, one might expect scholars of international relations (IR) to provide the best answers regarding how states can cooperate to protect humanity’s long-term potential. Yet reading Tody Ord’s new book The Precipice as a PhD student in IR, I am surprised how little attention my field has paid to the existential threats Toby raised in the book, such as global disease, climate change, and risks from artificial intelligence (AI).

Although mainstream IR often overlooks existential risks, it does offer insight into how to make international cooperation easier. In particular, IR theory’s emphasis on the importance of national interests offers us a realistic view of international behavior. Isaac Asimov, a universalist and humanist, once dismissed decisions based on the national interest as “emotional” reactions on “such nineteenth century matters as national security and local pride.” My view is exactly the opposite: We should work with states as they are, not what we wish them to be.

13. Reducing Risks from Whole Brain Emulation

14. Preventing/​Avoiding Stable Longterm Totalitarianism

Pointer: This cause candidate has related EA forum tags: Global dystopia and Totalitarianism

15. Reducing Risks from Atomically Precise Manufacturing /​ Molecular Nanotechnology

Rationality and Epistemics

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. It has seen more work on LessWrong.

1. Developing the Rationality Community

2. Progress Studies

3. Epistemic Progress

  • Epistemic Progress has also been suggested as a cause area, but this topic has seen more activity outside the EA Forum.

Donation timing

1. Counter-Cyclical Donation Timing

2. Patient Philanthropy

Pointer: This cause has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

3. Improving our Estimate of the Philanthropic Discount Rate

How we should spend our philanthropic resources over time depends on how much we discount the future. A higher discount rate means we should spend more now; a lower discount rate tells us to spend less now and more later.

According to a simple model, improving our estimate of the discount rate might be the top effective altruist priority.

Other

Trivia: See Wastebasket Taxon.

1. Eliminating Email

Civilization could have better workflows around email.

2. Software Development in EA

Note: Post is a stub.

3. Tweaking the Algorithms which Feed People Information

The post is structured in a confusing way, but a core suggestion is to tweak various current AI systems, particularly the Youtube and Facebook algorithms, to better fit EA values. However, the post doesn’t give specific suggestions of the sort a Youtube engineer could implement.

4. Positively Shaping the Development of Crypto-Assets

The article tries to analyze the promisingness of influencing the development of crypto assets from an ITN perspective, in 2018. Three of its most notable points are:

  • Effective Altruists should shape the implementation of any high-impact new technology,

  • crypto-assets constitute a new organizational technology which could solve a bunch of coordination problems, and

  • the use of crypto assets could result in beneficial resource redistribution.

5. Increasing Economic Growth

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

6. For-Profit Companies Serving Emerging Markets

7. Land Use Reform

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag, but no full-fledged EA forum posts.

The Land Use Reform tag covers posts that discuss changes to regulations around the use of land (e.g. for housing or business development). These changes could lead to increases in economic growth and welfare in locations around the world.

8. Markets for Altruism

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

9. Meta-Science

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

10. Scientific Progress

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. However, it is mostly a stub, as far as EA Forum posts go. For illustration purposes:

11. EA Art & Fiction

Pointer: This cause candidate has its own EA Forum tag. For illustration purposes:

11. Corporate Giving Strategies and Corporate Social Responsibility

Note: This cause area comprises two distinct areas: giving by companies, and giving by employees.

Note: Corporate Social Responsability has the potential to be used by companies to cheaply distract from their pretty terrible working conditions in their supply chains by having ineffective corporate giving strategies which donate to recipients in the developed world. Last time I checked (two years ago). See International Supply Chain Accountability.


Appendix I: Method

I queried all forum posts using the following query at the EA forum’s GraphQL API:

{
posts(input: {
terms: {
meta: null  # this seems to get both meta and non-meta posts
after: "10-1-2000"
before: "10-11-2020" # or some date in the future
}
}) {
results {
title
url
pageUrl
postedAt
}
}
}

Then, I copied them over to a document called last5000posts.txt.

The EA forum API returns a maximum of 5000 entries, but this is not a problem because it currently only has 4077 posts.

I then searched for the keywords “cause x”, “cause y”, “new cause”, “cause”, “area”, “neglected”, “promising”, “proposal”, “intervention”, “effectiveness”, “cost-effective”, using grep, a Unix/​Linux tool, taking care to use the case-insensitive option (this is necessary because, although links contain the title in lowercase, links don’t always contain the full title). An example of using grep to do this is:

grep -i "cause x" last5000posts.txt >> searchoutputs.txt 

which appends the results to the searchoutputs.txt file if the file exists, and otherwise creates that file.

I then looked through the posts with the “Cause-Prioritization” tag and under the most upvoted posts to see if I had missed anything. I then went through all EA Forum tags which had some relation to cause candidates and read through the relevant posts.

When I started tagging the posts I’d found, I found out about the “Less-discussed Causes” tag. I didn’t like its categorization scheme, which also included things other than cause candidates, so I continued creating my own tags. The “Less-discussed Causes″ tag had about 5 posts I wouldn’t have found. I also found many more posts which were not in the tag.

I imagine a similar method could be used to efficiently populate other tags.

Appendix II: A Note on Nomenclature

Trivia: See Soviet Nomenklatura.

Thanks to Michael Aird for pushing for clarification of the terms I’m using, and for asking exactly what this list was about.

Terms:

  • Cause Area: A broad category of causes. For example, “animal welfare and suffering” would be a cause area, “factory-farmed animals” and “wild animal welfare” would be slightly less-broad cause areas.

  • Cause: Something more specific than a cause area. For example, “analgesics for farm animals” would be a cause within the “factory-farmed animals” cause area.

  • Intervention, charity idea, etc.: Something more specific than a cause. For example, a ballot initiative to provide more space for factory-farmed animals, like 2018 California Proposition 12 would be an intervention. “Working to bring approval voting to Saint Louis” would be an intervention within the cause “better voting methods”, itself within the cause area “better political systems”.

  • Meta-intervention: An intervention that can be applied to different causes. For example, ballot initiatives.

Question: On what level of specificity am I working in this post?

In practice, it’s often hard to establish whether something is a cause area, a cause, or an intervention. For example, I’d say that “climate change” is a cause area and that “extinguishing or preventing coal seam fires” is a cause, but the original post refers to it as a cause area.

Column C —”Level of specificity”— this google sheet contains information about the categorization chosen for each cause candidate (from intervention to cause area).