Projects I’d like to see

We’ve just launched the Effec­tive Altru­ism Grants pro­gram to help peo­ple put promis­ing ideas into prac­tice. I’m hop­ing that the pro­gram will en­able some peo­ple to tran­si­tion onto higher-im­pact paths that they oth­er­wise wouldn’t have been able to pur­sue.

Here I’m go­ing to list some ap­pli­ca­tions I’d per­son­ally like to see. The list of ideas isn’t close to ex­haus­tive, and you’re not guaran­teed fund­ing if you ap­ply with one of these ideas. And I’m not claiming that any par­tic­u­lar ver­sion of these ideas is good. But they rep­re­sent some pro­jects I’m po­ten­tially ex­cited about, de­pend­ing on ex­e­cu­tion. For some of them, I’d be happy to provide men­tor­ship in or­der to help them suc­ceed. More po­ten­tial ideas are listed on the Effec­tive Altru­ism Grants web­page. Note that CEA might not be able to fund all of the fol­low­ing types of pro­jects, but we may share promis­ing pro­pos­als that we are un­able to fund with our part­ners.


Gen­eral types of ap­pli­ca­tions I’d like to see

Fur­ther study

You need to pur­sue grad­u­ate study in or­der to move into an im­pact­ful line of work.

Ex­plor­ing a ca­reer switch

You think you could do more good in a ca­reer other than the one you’re cur­rently in, but you’re not sure what, ex­actly, is the best al­ter­na­tive. Fund­ing for around three months might al­low you to do in­tern­ships, make ap­pli­ca­tions, and get ad­vice from peo­ple. You’d like to do this, but you can’t af­ford it.

Earn­ing-to-give buy-out

You’re cur­rently earn­ing to give, be­cause you think that your dona­tions are do­ing more good than your di­rect work would. It might be that we think that it would be more valuable if you did di­rect work. If so we could donate a pro­por­tion of the amount that you were donat­ing to wher­ever you were donat­ing it, and you would move into work.

Buy­ing re­search time

You’re a pro­fes­sor and could spend more time on im­pact­ful re­search if you were bought out of your teach­ing and ad­minis­tra­tive du­ties.

Un­paid internships

You have an op­por­tu­nity to do an un­paid in­tern­ship, but couldn’t oth­er­wise af­ford it.

New organisation

You have an idea for a new non-profit or for-profit or­gani­sa­tion, and need some startup fund­ing to test it out.

Run­ning a lo­cal group

You’re cur­rently lead­ing a lo­cal group, and would like to run it full-time.

More spe­cific ideas that I’d like to see

EA Outreach and Community

I’d be ex­cited to see peo­ple mov­ing into part-time or full-time po­si­tions run­ning lo­cal groups. For in­stance, per­haps some­one is a suc­cess­ful lo­cal group leader while a stu­dent, and feel they could con­tinue that work full-time af­ter they grad­u­ate.

I’d be ex­cited to see ap­pli­ca­tions from coun­tries where we don’t cur­rently have a large pres­ence. For in­stance, we don’t have much of a pres­ence in China, even though it’s very likely that it will be one of the most im­por­tant and in­fluen­tial coun­tries over the 21st cen­tury. There are big challenges to adapt­ing EA to res­onate with Chi­nese cul­ture, but I’d be par­tic­u­larly ex­cited to see ap­pli­ca­tions aimed at try­ing to figure out how to ad­dress those challenges.

With re­spect to lo­cal groups, I’d love to see group lead­ers try­ing out new ac­tivi­ties and then writ­ing up an as­sess­ment. If such ex­per­i­ments are suc­cess­ful, they could be rol­led out to other lo­cal groups. (The Oxford Pri­ori­ti­sa­tion Pro­ject is a re­cent ex­am­ple of this—a write-up of their pro­ject is com­ing soon.)

A few ideas I’d like to see tested are as fol­lows:

Anti-Debates

De­bat­ing is a very com­mon ac­tivity at uni­ver­si­ties, but the usual style of de­bat­ing is an­ti­thet­i­cal to the EA ap­proach to rea­son­ing. The aim is to defend a par­tic­u­lar point of view, rather than to figure out what the truth is. It’s com­bat­ive rather than col­lab­o­ra­tive, and rhetoric tends to take prece­dence over ev­i­dence and logic.

In­stead, we could run “anti-de­bates”, where two peo­ple pub­li­cly dis­cuss a topic, stat­ing their views at the out­set. They get scored by a panel of judges on a set of crite­ria that we be­lieve to be gen­uinely epistem­i­cally valuable, such as:

Qual­ity and breadth of ar­gu­ments given

Un­der­stand­ing of the op­po­site point of view (and avoidance of ‘straw man’)

Ap­pro­pri­ate de­gree of be­lief given the level of ev­i­dence at hand

Willing­ness to change your mind in face of con­trary argument

Pre­dic­tion tournaments

You lead a group which gets to­gether to make fore­casts, with real money on the line, in or­der to im­prove your fore­cast­ing abil­ity. You might share your pre­dic­tions with oth­ers, to help in­form their de­ci­sions.

Dragon’s Den/​Shark Tank-style ca­reer choice discussions

You lead a group which gets to­gether ev­ery week. Each week, one of the mem­bers has to stand up in front of ev­ery­one and out­line your ca­reer plans, ex­plain­ing why you’re choos­ing what you’re choos­ing, and why that’s the best way for you to do the most good. Peo­ple would then de­bate with you whether you’re choos­ing the right path. A var­i­ant would be the ‘re­ciproc­ity ring’. where peo­ple offer you any help they can (such as things to read, or in­tro­duc­tions), or ‘peer coach­ing’ net­works, where peo­ple can men­tor each other to talk through their ca­reer plans and offer ad­vice.

Re­search work­ing groups

A group of you could work on a shared re­search pro­ject, over the course of a semester. This could be on cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion, or on a spe­cific topic of EA im­por­tance (e.g. go­ing through the GiveWell char­ity cost-effec­tive­ness mod­els and crit­i­cis­ing them or in­ves­ti­gat­ing what the best policy is within a cer­tain area).

Spe­cific skill-building

I worry that at the mo­ment too many of the most ded­i­cated com­mu­nity mem­bers are build­ing gen­eral-pur­pose skills, such as by go­ing into con­sult­ing, rather than get­ting skills in par­tic­u­lar ar­eas that are un­der­rep­re­sented within the effec­tive al­tru­ism move­ment.

This could in­clude grad­u­ate level study in biol­ogy, ma­chine learn­ing, eco­nomics, or poli­ti­cal sci­ence, tak­ing up fel­low­ships at a think-tank, or go­ing into gov­ern­ment. For those with a quan­ti­ta­tive PhD, it could in­volve ap­ply­ing for the Google Brain Res­i­dency pro­gram or AI safety fel­low­ship at ASI.

New organisations

I’d love to see peo­ple mak­ing a con­certed effort to de­velop EA in new ar­eas. One ex­am­ple would be a think-tank, where peo­ple would work out what poli­cies look most promis­ing from an EA per­spec­tive. (There are risks in­volved in this area—in par­tic­u­lar of EA be­com­ing par­ti­san—so I think that at this stage the best ap­proach would be re­search and in­ves­ti­ga­tion, rather than ac­tivism.) Another would be a GiveWell for im­pact in­vest­ing, where you could search for the best im­pact in­vest­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties from an EA per­spec­tive.

Writing

I’d be keen to see more long-form writ­ing done on EA top­ics, whether for blogs, main­stream me­dia, or books. In gen­eral, I’m much more in­ter­ested by deep sub­stan­tial pieces of writ­ing rather than short think-pieces. Topics could in­clude:

Cause prioritisation

CRISPR and erad­i­cat­ing malaria

What life is re­ally like on $1.90 per day

Geoengineering

Pan­demics from novel pathogens

Open borders

Wild an­i­mal suffering

Fur­ther anal­y­sis of com­mon ways of do­ing good (e.g. re­cy­cling, fair trade, di­vest­ment, or cam­paigns) in terms of their effec­tive­ness.

Often there’s already quite a lot of high-qual­ity ma­te­rial on these top­ics, scat­tered across blogs and re­search ar­ti­cles. What’s needed is for some­one to gather to­gether those ma­te­ri­als and write a sin­gle go-to in­tro­duc­tion to the topic. (To a sig­nifi­cant ex­tent that’s what Do­ing Good Bet­ter was do­ing.)

I’d be keen to see more peo­ple take ideas that we think we already know, but haven’t ever been put down in writ­ing, and write them up in a thor­ough and even-handed way; for ex­am­ple, why ex­is­ten­tial risk from an­thro­pogenic causes is greater than the ex­is­ten­tial risk from nat­u­ral causes, or why global health is a par­tic­u­larly promis­ing area within global de­vel­op­ment.

For younger writ­ers, one strat­egy could be to co-au­thor a book with an es­tab­lished aca­demic. They might have pro­duced a body of re­search on an im­por­tant topic, but not be very good at or very in­ter­ested in writ­ing clearly for a wider au­di­ence. In which case, you could sug­gest to them that you could pro­duce a co-au­thored book on their topic.