Which cause is most effective?

In previous posts, we explained what causes are and presented a method for assessing them in terms of expected effectiveness.

In this post, we apply this method to identify a list of causes that we think represent some particularly promising opportunities for having a social impact in your career (though there are many others we don’t cover!).

We’d like to emphasise that these are just informed guesses over which there’s disagreement. We don’t expect the results to be highly robust. However, you have to choose something to work on, so we think it’ll be useful to share our guesses to give you ideas and so we can get feedback on our reasoning – we’ve certainly had lots of requests to do so. In the future, we’d like more people to independently apply the methodology to a wider range of causes and do more research into the biggest uncertainties.

The following is intended to be a list of some of the most effective causes in general to work on, based on broad human values. Which cause is most effective for an individual to work on also depends on what resources they have (money, skills, experience), their comparative advantages and how motivated they are. This list is just intended as a starting point, which needs to be combined with individual considerations. An individual’s list may differ due also to differences in values. After we present the list, we go over some of the key assumptions we made and how these assumptions affect the rankings.

We intend to update the list significantly over time as more research is done into these issues. Fortunately, more and more cause prioritisation research is being done, so we’re optimistic our answers will become more solid over the next couple of years. This also means we think it’s highly important to stay flexible, build career capital, and keep your options open.

In the rest of this post we:
1. Provide a summary list of high priority causes
2. Explain what each cause is and overview our reasons for including it
3. Explain how key judgement calls alter the ranking
4. Overview how we came up with the list and how we’ll take it forward
5. Answer other common questions

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What should you do with a very large amount of money?

A philanthropist who will remain anonymous recently asked Nick Beckstead, a trustee of 80,000 Hours, what he would do with a very large amount of money.

Nick, with support from Carl Shulman (a research advisor to 80,000 Hours), wrote a detailed answer: A long-run perspective on strategic cause selection and philanthropy.

If you’re looking to spend or influence large budgets with the aim of improving the world (or happen to be extremely wealthy!) we recommend taking a look. It also contains brief arguments in favor of five causes.

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Why I’m doing a PhD

I’ve just started a PhD in Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School. People who have thought hard about how to make a difference seem to disagree about the value of PhDs. Having thought about this quite thoroughly for my own situation, I’ve decided to write up my decision process. Hopefully some of the considerations that were relevant for me will be generally applicable and useful to others making similar decisions.

Summary

Essentially, I’m doing a PhD because:

  • I want to use my career to do as much good as I can. However, I’m quite uncertain about which causes are most important and what I should do with my career long term. This means I want to spend the next few years learning and building “career capital” to keep my options open for whatever is highest impact later.

  • I believe that the PhD I’m doing is the best way for me to do this right now because:

  • It gives me the opportunity to build skills across a variety of disciplines/areas, whilst expanding my network and also giving me credentials that will help me later

  • At the same time, the research itself could be valuable – I’ve got a lot of flexibility with what I focus on, within an area that has the potential to be very important and useful (improving rationality/decision making)

  • I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to work on other high impact projects during the next few years alongside my PhD – volunteering for 80,000 Hours being just one example

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