Bruce Friedrich makes the case that inventing outstanding meat replacements is the most effective way to help animals

Well, you can perfectly replicate it. You can do better. … If you are going to go the conventional meat-making way, you are constrained by the biology of the animal. If you want to use plant-based meat … you can do taste tests and find things that people like even more…

Bruce Friedrich

Before the US Civil War, it was easier for the North to morally oppose slavery. Why? Because unlike the South they weren’t profiting much from its existence. The fight for abolition was partly won because many no longer saw themselves as having a selfish stake in its continuation.

Bruce Friedrich, executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), thinks the same may be true in the fight against speciesism. 98% of people currently eat meat. But if eating meat stops being part of most people’s daily lives — it should be a lot easier to convince them that farming practices are just as cruel as they look, and that the suffering of these animals really matters.

That’s why GFI is “working with scientists, investors, and entrepreneurs” to create plant-based meat, dairy and eggs as well as clean meat alternatives to animal products. In 2016, Animal Charity Evaluators named GFI one of its recommended charities.

In this interview I’m joined by my colleague Natalie Cargill, and we ask Bruce about:

  • What’s the best meat replacement product out there right now?
  • How effective is meat substitute research for people who want to reduce animal suffering as much as possible?
  • When will we get our hands on clean meat? And why does Bruce call it clean meat, rather than in vitro meat or cultured meat?
  • What are the challenges of producing something structurally identical to meat?
  • Can clean meat be healthier than conventional meat?
  • Do plant-based alternatives have a better shot at success than clean meat?
  • Is there a concern that, even if the product is perfect, people still won’t eat it? Why might that happen?
  • What’s it like being a vegan in a family made up largely of hunters and meat-eaters?
  • What kind of pushback should be expected from the meat industry?

Keiran Harris helped produce today’s episode.

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“It’s my job to worry about any way nukes could get used”

Now we have more countries with nuclear weapons, we have major potential flashpoints. We also, even though we are not in the Cold War … you do have the possibility of some sort of miscalculation or accident…

Samantha Pitts-Kiefer

Rogue elements within a state’s security forces enrich dozens of kilograms of uranium. It’s then assembled into a crude nuclear bomb. The bomb is transported on a civilian aircraft to Washington D.C, and loaded onto a delivery truck. The truck is driven by an American citizen midway between the White House and the Capitol Building. The driver casually steps out of the vehicle, and detonates the weapon. There are more than 80,000 instant deaths. There are also at least 100,000 seriously wounded, with nowhere left to treat them.

It’s likely that one of those immediately killed would be Samantha Pitts-Kiefer, who works only one block away from the White House.

Samantha serves as Senior Director of The Global Nuclear Policy Program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and warns that the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack are alarmingly high. Terrorist groups have expressed a desire for nuclear weapons, and the material required to build those weapons is scattered throughout the world at a diverse range of sites – some of which lack the necessary security.

When you combine the massive death toll with the accompanying social panic and economic disruption – a nuclear 9/11 would be unthinkably bad. And yet, Samantha reminds us, we must confront the possibility.

Clearly, this is far from the only nuclear nightmare. We also discuss:

  • In the case of nuclear war, what fraction of the world’s population would die?
  • What is the biggest nuclear threat?
  • How concerned should we be about North Korea?
  • How often has the world experienced nuclear near misses?
  • How might a conflict between India and Pakistan escalate to the nuclear level?
  • How quickly must a president make a decision in the result of a suspected first strike?
  • Are global sources of nuclear material safely secured?
  • What role does cyber security have in preventing nuclear disasters?
  • How can we improve relations between nuclear armed states?
  • What do you think about the campaign for complete nuclear disarmament?
  • If you could tell the US government to do three things, what are the key priorities today?
  • Is it practical to get members of congress to pay attention to nuclear risks?
  • Could modernisation of nuclear weapons actually make the world safer?

Keiran Harris helped produce today’s episode.

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Ofir Reich on using data science to end poverty and the spurious action/inaction distinction

Ofir Reich spent 6 years doing math in the military, before spending another 2 in tech startups – but then made a sharp turn to become a data scientist focussed on helping the global poor.

At UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action he helps prevent tax evasion by identifying fake companies in India, enable Afghanistan to pay its teachers electronically, and raise yields for Ethiopian farmers by messaging them when local conditions make it ideal to apply fertiliser. Or at least that’s the hope – he’s also working on ways to test whether those interventions actually work.

Why dedicate his life to helping the global poor?

Ofir sees little moral difference between harming people and failing to help them. After all, if you had to press a button to keep all of your money from going to charity, and you pressed that button, would that be an action, or an inaction? Is there even an answer?

After reflecting on cases like this, he decided that to not engage with a problem is an active choice, one whose consequences he is just as morally responsible for as if he were directly involved. On top of his life philosophy we also discuss:

  • The benefits of working in a top academic environment
  • How best to start a career in global development
  • Are RCTs worth the money? Should we focus on big picture policy change instead? Or more economic theory?
  • How the delivery standards of nonprofits compare to top universities
  • Why he doesn’t enjoy living in the San Francisco bay area
  • How can we fix the problem of most published research being false?
  • How good a career path is data science?
  • How important is experience in development versus technical skills?
  • How he learned much of what he needed to know in the army
  • How concerned should effective altruists be about burnout?

Keiran Harris helped produce today’s episode.

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Our descendants will probably see us as moral monsters. What should we do about that?

Immanuel Kant is a profoundly influential figure in modern philosophy, and was one of the earliest proponents for universal democracy and international cooperation. He also thought that women have no place in civil society, that illegitimate children should receive fewer legal protections, and that there was a ranking in the moral worth of different races.

Throughout history we’ve consistently believed, as common sense, truly horrifying things by today’s standards. According to University of Oxford Professor Will MacAskill, it’s extremely likely that we’re in the same boat today. If we accept that we’re probably making major moral errors, how should we proceed?

If our morality is tied to common sense intuitions, we’re probably just preserving these biases and moral errors. Instead we need to develop a moral view that criticises common sense intuitions, and gives us a chance to move beyond them. And if humanity is going to spread to the stars it could be worth dedicating hundreds or thousands of years to moral reflection, lest we spread our errors far and wide.

Will is an Associate Professor in Philosophy at Oxford University, author of Doing Good Better, and one of the co-founders of the effective altruism community. In this interview we discuss a wide range of topics:

  • How would we go about a ‘long reflection’ to fix our moral errors?
  • Will’s forthcoming book on how one should reason and act if you don’t know which moral theory is correct. What are the practical implications of so-called ‘moral uncertainty’?
  • If we basically solve existential risks, what does humanity do next?
  • What are some of Will’s most unusual philosophical positions?
  • What are the best arguments for and against utilitarianism?
  • Given disagreements among philosophers, how much should we believe the findings of philosophy as a field?
  • What are some the biases we should be aware of within academia?
  • What are some of the downsides of becoming a professor?
  • What are the merits of becoming a philosopher?
  • How does the media image of EA differ to the actual goals of the community?
  • What kinds of things would you like to see the EA community do differently?
  • How much should we explore potentially controversial ideas?
  • How focused should we be on diversity?
  • What are the best arguments against effective altruism?
    Keiran Harris helped produce today’s episode.

Keiran Harris helped produce today’s episode.

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Annual review December 2017

Summary

This year, we focused on “upgrading” – getting engaged readers into our top priority career paths.

We do this by writing articles on why and how to enter the priority paths, providing one-on-one advice to help the most engaged readers narrow down, and introductions to help them enter.

Some of our main successes this year include:

  1. We developed and refined this upgrading process, having been focused on introductory content last year. We made lots of improvements to coaching, and released 48 pieces of content.
  2. We used the process to grow the number of rated-10 plan changes 2.6-fold compared to 2016, from 19 to 50. We primarily placed people in AI technical safety, other AI roles, effective altruism non-profits, earning to give and biorisk.

  3. We started tracking rated-100 and rated-1000 plan changes. We recorded 10 rated-100 and one rated-1000 plan change, so with this change, total new impact-adjusted significant plan changes (IASPC v2) doubled compared to 2016, from roughly 1200 to 2400. That means we’ve grown the annual rate of plan changes 23-fold since 2013. (If we ignore the rated-100+ category, then IASPCv1 grew 31% from 2017 to 2016, and 12-fold since 2013.)

  4. This meant that despite rising costs, cost per IASPC was flat. We updated our historical and marginal cost-effectiveness estimates, and think we’ve likely been highly cost-effective, though we have a lot of uncertainty.

  5. We maintained a good financial position,

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Guide to effective holiday giving in 2017

It’s that wonderful time of year again – the time I have to rush out a blog post about effective holiday giving before heading off for the Christmas break.

Here’s our article on how to find the best charity to give to.

In short we now recommend giving to the Effective Altruism Funds – this allows you to delegate the decision to world experts who research the most effective places to give full time. It’s fast and really hard to do better.

Alternatively, if you’d like to try something new, check out donor lotteries. They’re a great innovation for small to medium sized donors, though take a minute to fully understand.

If you want to do your own research, my holiday giving guide from last year is still a good starting point, as are the recent posts by the researchers at GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project on where they’re giving.

A possible new year’s resolution

Thinking longer term, this is the time of year that many people take the Giving What We Can pledge to donate 10% of their income to the most impactful organisations than can find. Last year 318 people did so over the holidays, and Giving What We Can is running a pledge drive again this year.

Donating 10% is one of the more straightfoward ways you can have more social impact.

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Michelle hopes to shape the world by shaping the ideas of intellectuals. Will global priorities research succeed?

In the 40s and 50s neoliberalism was a fringe movement within economics. But by the 80s it had become a dominant school of thought in public policy, and achieved major policy changes across the English speaking world. How did this happen?

In part because its leaders invested heavily in training academics to study and develop their ideas. Whether you think neoliberalism was good or bad, its history demonstrates the impact building a strong intellectual base within universities can have.

Dr Michelle Hutchinson is working to get a different set of ideas a hearing in academia by setting up the Global Priorities Institute (GPI) at Oxford University. The Institute, which is currently hiring for three roles, aims to bring together outstanding philosophers and economists to research how to most improve the world. The hope is that it will spark widespread academic engagement with effective altruist thinking, which will hone the ideas and help them gradually percolate into society more broadly.

Its research agenda includes questions like:

  • How do we compare the good done by focussing on really different types of causes?
  • How does saving lives actually affect the world relative to other things we could do?
  • What are the biggest wins governments should be focussed on getting?

Before moving to GPI, Michelle was the Executive Director of Giving What We Can and a founding figure of the effective altruism movement. She has a PhD in Applied Ethics from Oxford on prioritization and global health.

We discuss:

  • What is global priorities research and why does it matter?
  • How is effective altruism seen in academia? Is it important to convince academics of the value of your work, or is it OK to ignore them?
  • Operating inside a university is quite expensive, so is it even worth doing? Who can pay for this kind of thing?
  • How hard is it to do something innovative inside a university? How serious are the administrative and other barriers?
  • Is it harder to fundraise for a new institute, or hire the right people?
  • Have other social movements benefitted from having a prominent academic arm?
  • How can people prepare themselves to get research roles at a place like GPI?
  • Many people want to have roles doing this kind of research. How many are actually cut out for it? What should those who aren’t do instead?
  • What are the odds of the Institute’s work having an effect on the real world?

If you’re interesting in donating to or working at GPI, you can email Michelle at [email protected]

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Prof Tetlock on predicting catastrophes, why keep your politics secret, and when experts know more than you

Prof Philip Tetlock is a social science legend. Over forty years he has researched whose forecasts we can trust, whose we can’t and why – and developed methods that allow all of us to be better at predicting the future.

After the Iraq WMDs fiasco, the US intelligence services hired him to figure out how to ensure they’d never screw up that badly again. The result of that work – Superforecasting – was a media sensation in 2015.

It described Tetlock’s Good Judgement Project, which found forecasting methods so accurate they beat everyone else in open competition, including thousands of people in the intelligence services with access to classified information.

Today he’s working to develop the best forecasting process ever by combining the best of human and machine intelligence in the Hybrid Forecasting Competition, which you can start participating in now to sharpen your own judgement.

In this interview we describe his key findings and then push to the edge of what’s known about how to foresee the unforeseeable:

  • Should people who want to be right just adopt the views of experts rather than apply their own judgement?
  • Why are Berkeley undergrads worse forecasters than dart-throwing chimps?
  • Should I keep my political views secret, so it will be easier to change them later?
  • How can listeners contribute to his latest cutting-edge research?
  • What do we know about our accuracy at predicting low-probability high-impact disasters?
  • Does his research provide an intellectual basis for populist political movements?
  • Was the Iraq War caused by bad politics, or bad intelligence methods?
  • What can we learn about forecasting from the 2016 election?
  • Can experience help people avoid overconfidence and underconfidence?
  • When does an AI easily beat human judgement?
  • Could more accurate forecasting methods make the world more dangerous?
  • How much does demographic diversity line up with cognitive diversity?
  • What are the odds we’ll go to war with China?
  • Should we let prediction tournaments run most of the government?

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Why you should consider applying for grad school right now

Application deadlines for US PhD programs are coming up over the next month. We think many of our readers who are considering grad school at some point in the next few years should apply this year.

We’re writing this informal list of pros and cons now because a number of people we’ve coached recently have been more reluctant to apply for grad school than we think they should have been.

Why should they take the option seriously?

  • You have to plan far ahead of time. If you apply now you will only begin the program late next year. Even if you don’t feel ready to start a PhD today, you should consider whether you will be in a year’s time. If you aren’t sure, applying keeps that option open. We’ve spoken to many people considering grad school but thought they would work for a few years before returning, only to have their situation change and grad school seem like a much better option. Early in your career, your mind can change more often than you expect.
  • An increasing number of the paths we recommend, especially in research and policy, are much easier to pursue with a PhD. For example, if you want to work on improving our ability to control pandemics, the best options appear to be research (most likely in academia but perhaps also in the private sector), or policy reform (in think tanks, government agencies, congressional, or elsewhere). Some of the best roles are only open to people with PhDs.

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Going undercover to expose animal cruelty, get rabbit cages banned and reduce meat consumption

What if you knew that ducks were being killed with pitchforks? Rabbits dumped alive into containers? Or pigs being strangled with forklifts? Would you be willing to go undercover to expose the crime?

That’s a real question that confronts volunteers at Animal Equality (AE). In this episode we speak to Sharon Nunez and Jose Valle, who founded AE in 2006 and then grew it into a multi-million dollar international animal rights organisation. They’ve been chosen as one of the most effective animal protection orgs in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators for the last 3 consecutive years.

In addition to undercover investigations AE has also designed a 3D virtual-reality farm experience called iAnimal360. People get to experience being trapped in a cage – in a room designed to kill then – and can’t just look away. How big an impact is this having on users?

In this interview I’m joined by my colleague Natalie Cargill – Sharon Nuñez and Jose Valle also tackle:

  • How do they track their goals and metrics week to week?
  • How much does an undercover investigation cost?
  • Why don’t people donate more to factory farmed animals, given that they’re the vast majority of animals harmed directly by humans?
  • How risky is it to attempt to build a career in animal advocacy?
  • What led to a change in their focus from bullfighting in Spain to animal farming?
  • How does working with governments or corporate campaigns compare with early strategies like creating new vegans/vegetarians?
  • Has their very rapid growth been difficult to handle?
  • What should our listeners study or do if they want to work in this area?
  • How can we get across the message that horrific cases are a feature – not a bug – of factory farming?
  • Do the owners or workers of factory farms ever express shame at what they do?

If you’re interested in this episode you’ll also want to hear our comprehensive review of ways to help animals with Lewis Bollard.

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What are the most important talent gaps in the effective altruism community?

What are the highest-impact opportunities in the effective altruism community right now? We surveyed leaders at 17 key organisations to learn more about what skills they need and how they would trade-off receiving donations against hiring good staff. It’s a more extensive and up-to-date version of the survey we did last year.

Below is a summary of the key numbers, a link to a presentation with all the results, a discussion of what these numbers mean, and at the bottom an appendix on how the survey was conducted and analysed.

We also report on two additional surveys about the key bottlenecks in the community, and the amount of donations expected to these organisations.

Key figures

Willingness to pay to bring forward hires

We asked how organisations would have to be compensated in donations for their last ‘junior hire’ or ‘senior hire’ to disappear and not do valuable work for a 3 year period:

Most needed skills

  • Decisions on who to hire most often turned on Good overall judgement about probabilities, what to do and what matters, General mental ability and Fit with the team (over and above being into EA).

Funding vs talent constraints

  • On a 0-4 scale EA organisations viewed themselves as 2.5 ‘talent constrained’ and 1.2 ‘funding constrained’, suggesting hiring remains the more significant limiting factor, though funding still does limit some.

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We can use science to end poverty faster. But how much do governments listen to it?

In both rich and poor countries, government policy is often based on no evidence at all and many programs don’t work. This has particularly harsh effects on the global poor – in some countries governments only spend $100 on each citizen a year so they can’t afford to waste a single dollar.

Enter MIT’s Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Since 2003 they’ve conducted experiments to figure out what policies actually help recipients, and then try to get them implemented by governments and non-profits.

Claire Walsh leads J-PAL’s Government Partnership Initiative, which works to evaluate policies and programs in collaboration with developing world governments, scale policies that have been shown to work, and generally promote a culture of evidence-based policymaking.

We discussed (her views only, not J-PAL’s):

  • How can they get evidence backed policies adopted? Do politicians in the developing world even care whether their programs actually work? Is the norm evidence-based policy, or policy-based evidence?
  • Is evidence-based policy an evidence-based strategy itself?
  • Which policies does she think would have a particularly large impact on human welfare relative to their cost?
  • How did she come to lead one of J-PAL’s departments at 29?
  • How do you evaluate the effectiveness of energy and environment programs (Walsh’s area of expertise), and what are the standout approaches in that area?
  • 80,000 Hours has warned people about the downsides of starting your career in a non-profit. Walsh started her career in a non-profit and has thrived, so are we making a mistake?
  • Other than J-PAL, what are the best places to work in development? What are the best subjects to study? Where can you go network to break into the sector?
  • Is living in poverty as bad as we think?

And plenty of other things besides.

We haven’t run an RCT to test whether this episode will actually help your career, but I suggest you listen anyway. Trust my intuition on this one.

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Dr Cameron fought Ebola for the White House. Now she works to stop something even worse.

When you’re in the middle of a crisis and you have to ask for money, you’re already too late.

That’s Dr. Beth Cameron, and she’s someone who should know. Beth runs Global Biological Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

She has years of experience preparing for and fighting the diseases of our nightmares, on the White House Ebola Taskforce, in the National Security Council staff, and as the senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs.

Unfortunately, the nations of the world aren’t prepared for a crisis – and like children crowded into daycare, there’s a real danger that something nasty will come along and make us all sick at once.

During previous pandemics, countries have dragged their feet over who will pay to contain them, or struggled to move people and supplies to where they needed to be. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think that the same wouldn’t happen again today. And at the same time, advances in biotechnology may make it possible for terrorists to bring back smallpox – or create something even worse.

In this interview we look at the current state of play in disease control, what needs to change, and how you can work towards a job where you can help make those changes yourself. Topics covered include:

  • The best strategies for containing pandemics.
  • Why we lurch from panic, to neglect, to panic again when it comes to protecting ourselves from contagious diseases.
  • Current reform efforts within the World Health Organization, and attempts to prepare partial vaccines ahead of time.
  • How the Nuclear Threat Initiative, with just 50 people, collaborates with governments around the world to reduce the risk of nuclear or biological catastrophes (also, whether they might want to hire you).
  • Which global health security groups most impress Beth, and what they’re doing.
  • What new technologies could be invented to make us safer.
  • Whether it’s possible to help solve the problem through mass advocacy.
  • What and where to study, and how to begin a career in pandemic preparedness (below you’ll find a lengthy list of people and places mentioned in the interview, and others we’ve had recommended to us).
  • Much more besides.

Below you’ll find a coaching application form, three key points from the interview, extra resources to learn more, and dozens of people and places you can contact to begin a career in this field.

If you know nothing about this topic, it is recommended that you listen to the first hour or two of the episode with Howie Lempel first, as it lays out the problem more gradually.

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Our 20 most popular pieces of research

I recently wanted to see what content we’ve written in the past are still popular with readers. Our most visited pages are articles in our career guide, or tools like our career quiz, problem quiz and career decision tool, around which the site is designed. And of course anything that was released recently tends to attract a lot of readers. So let’s look at the others.

These are the pieces we’ve written that i) were most visited over the last three months, and ii) were written more than six months ago, iii) not a tool or part of our career guide. Enjoy!

  1. What are the 10 most harmful jobs?*
  2. Problem profile: Why Bill Gates and others are concerned about AI, and what to do about it

  3. To find work you love, don’t (always) follow your passion*

  4. Career review: Why an economics PhD might be the best graduate program

  5. Career review: If you want to change the world for the better, should you work in a think tank?

  6. Artificial Intelligence safety syllabus

  7. Which skills make you most employable?*

  8. Problem profile: Why helping to end factory farming could be the most important thing you could do

  9. Is global health the most pressing problem to work on?

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Speeding up social science 10-fold, how to do research that’s actually useful, & why plenty of startups cause harm

What is the best, state-of-the-art therapy for depression? Do most meat eaters think it’s wrong to hurt animals? How likely do Americans think climate change is to cause human extinction? How do we make academics more intellectually honest, so we can actually trust their findings? How can we speed up social science research 10-fold? Do most startups improve the world, or make it worse? Why is research in top journals less reliable?

If you’re interested in these questions, this interview is for you.

A scientist, entrepreneur, writer and mathematician, Spencer Greenberg is constantly working to create tools to speed up and improve research and critical thinking. These include:

  • Rapid public opinion surveys – which he has used to learn public opinion on animal consciousness, farm animal welfare, the impact of developing world charities and the likelihood of extinction by various different means;
  • Tools to enable social science research to be run en masse very cheaply by anyone;
  • ClearerThinking.org, a highly popular site for improving people’s judgement and decision-making;
  • Ways to transform data analysis methods to ensure that papers only show true findings;
  • Ways to decide which research projects are actually worth pursuing.

In this episode of the show, Spencer discusses all of these and more. If you don’t feel like listening, that just shows that you have poor judgement and need to benefit from his wisdom even more!

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You want to do as much good as possible and have billions of dollars. What do you do?

What if you were in a position to give away billions of dollars to improve the world? What would you do with it? This is the problem facing Program Officers at the Open Philanthropy Project – people like Dr Nick Beckstead.

Following a PhD in philosophy, Nick works to figure out where money can do the most good. He’s been involved in major grants in a wide range of areas, including ending factory farming through technological innovation, safeguarding the world from advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence, and spreading rational compassion.

This episode is a tour through some of the toughest questions ‘effective altruists’ face when figuring out how to best improve the world, including:

  • Should we mostly try to help people currently alive, or future generations? Nick studied this question for years in his PhD thesis, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. (The first 31 minutes is a snappier version of my conversation with Toby Ord.)
  • Is clean meat (aka in vitro meat) technologically feasible any time soon, or should we be looking for plant-based alternatives?
  • To stop malaria is it more cost-effective to use technology to eliminate mosquitos than to distribute bed nets?
  • What are the greatest risks to human civilisation continuing?
  • Should people who want to improve the future work for changes that will be very useful in a specific scenario, or just generally try to improve how well humanity makes decisions?
  • What specific jobs should our listeners take in order for Nick to be able to spend more money in useful ways to improve the world?
  • Should we expect the future to be better if the economy grows more quickly – or more slowly?

We also cover some more personal issues like:

  • Nick’s top book recommendations.
  • How he developed (what is in my view) exceptional judgement.
  • How he made his toughest career decisions.
  • Why he wants to see less dilettantism and more expertise in the effective altruism community.

Don’t miss it.

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New problem profile: Improving institutional decision-making

A few weeks ago we released a new problem profile focussed on improving decision-making in major societal institutions:

When powerful people make dumb choices it hurts us all. Here’s how to fix it.

In 2003, the United States chose to invade Iraq. Most now agree this decision was deeply flawed, costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

Exactly what went wrong here is a contested and controversial issue. At best, the decision-making process severely lacked rigour, and at worst, it was heavily biased.

The government justified the invasion thanks to the intelligence community’s claim that it was “highly probable” that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) – but this statement was ambiguous. Policymakers took that to indicate near-100% certainty, and made decisions accordingly.1 But “highly probable” could easily also be interpreted as 80% certainty, or 70% – carrying very different practical implications. Those involved didn’t really think through the relevant probabilities, or consider how likely the estimates were to be wrong, or the implications if they were.

Others have suggested that the US had already decided to invade Iraq, and that this decision influenced intelligence collection – not the other way around. This a particularly extreme example of what’s known as motivated reasoning – a tendency to reason in ways that support whatever conclusion one wants to be true.

The call to invade hinged on the subjective impressions of a few key people – subjective impressions that later turned out to be wrong,

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New career review: Policy-oriented civil service (with a UK focus)

We have a new career review focussed on government jobs developing policy, with a focus on the UK:

Working in the government you can have a big impact on pressing global problems. Here’s how to get started.

On the Sunday after Labour’s landslide victory in 1997, Tony Blair rang Alan Milburn to tell him he was going to be a minister in the Department of Health. Blair said: ‘We haven’t got a health policy. Your job is to get us one.’1

Milburn ‘was hungry for ideas’1 and met with a civil servant: Graham Winyard, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer. According to Winyard, this meeting was where the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) was born.1 NICE helps the National Health Service decide which treatments are evidence-based and cost-effective.

Although its approach is controversial,2 NICE is seen internationally as a role model for how to make evidence-based decisions about health spending.3 The editor of the British Medical Journal described it as ‘conquering the world’ and thought it might ‘prove to be one of Britain’s greatest cultural exports’.4

What if you could have this kind of impact?

There are civil servants working on some of the world’s most urgent problems, from how to prevent nuclear proliferation to encouraging economic growth in the developing world. Like Winyard, they often have opportunities to play a central role in solving these problems.

In this profile we cover why it’s possible to have a significant impact as a civil servant,

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Our computers are fundamentally insecure. Here’s why that could lead to global catastrophe.

Take a trip to Silicon Valley in the 70s and 80s, when going to space sounded like a good way to get around environmental limits, people started cryogenically freezing themselves, and nanotechnology looked like it might revolutionise industry – or turn us all into grey goo.

In this episode of the 80,000 Hours Podcast Christine Peterson takes us back to her youth in the Bay Area, the ideas she encountered there, and what the dreamers she met did as they grew up. We also discuss how she came up with the term ‘open source software’ (and how she had to get someone else to propose it).

Today Christine helps runs the Foresight Institute, which fills a gap left by for-profit technology companies – predicting how new revolutionary technologies could go wrong, and ensuring we steer clear of the downsides.

We dive into:

  • Can technology ‘move fast and break things’ without eventually breaking the world? Would it be better for technology to advance more quickly, or more slowly?
  • Whether the poor security of computer systems poses a catastrophic risk for the world.
  • Could all our essential services be taken down at once? And if so, what can be done about it? Christine makes a radical proposal for solving the problem.
  • Will AIs designed for wide-scale automated hacking make computers more or less secure?
  • Would it be good to radically extend human lifespan? Is it sensible to cryogenically freeze yourself in the hope of being resurrected in the future?
  • Could atomically precise manufacturing (nanotechnology) really work? Why was it initially so controversial and why did people stop worrying about it?
  • Should people who try to do good in their careers work long hours and take low salaries? Or should they take care of themselves first of all?
  • How she thinks the the effective altruism community resembles the scene she was involved with when she was young, and where it might be going wrong.

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Ending factory farming as soon as possible

Every year tens of billions of animals are raised in terrible conditions in factory farms before being killed for human consumption. Despite the enormous scale of suffering this causes, the issue is largely neglected, with only about $50 million dollars spent each year tackling the problem globally.

Over the last two years Lewis Bollard – Project Officer for Farm Animal Welfare at the Open Philanthropy Project – has conducted extensive research into the best ways to eliminate animal suffering in farms as soon as possible.

This has resulted in $30 million in grants, making the Open Philanthropy Project one of the largest funders in the area.

Our conversation covers almost every approach being taken, which ones work, how individuals can best contribute through their careers, as well as:

  • How young people can set themselves up to contribute to scientific research into meat alternatives
  • How genetic manipulation of chickens has caused them to suffer much more than their ancestors, but could also be used to make them better off
  • Why Lewis is skeptical of vegan advocacy
  • Open Phil’s grants to improve animal welfare in China, India and South America
  • Why Lewis thinks insect farming would be worse than the status quo, and whether we should look for ‘humane’ insecticides
  • Why Lewis doubts that much can be done to tackle factory farming through legal advocacy or electoral politics
  • Which species of farm animals is best to focus on first
  • Whether fish and crustaceans are conscious, and if so what can be done for them
  • Many other issues listed below in the ‘Overview of the discussion’.

Listening to this episode is among the fastest ways to get up to speed on how animals are mistreated and the best ways to help them.

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