In the last few days I found myself looking for effective projects that help with COVID-19, and there seem to be many EAs doing so as well. But for most of us the search for such effective projects should be awfully hard (though not impossible) - Because if we are used to say that climate change and global poverty are very low on neglectedness, then COVID-19 on the same scale would be absurdly lower.

Eventually, this is the case with every crisis that receives extreme global attention. Global attention makes it hard to help without being easily replaceable by many others that are willing to help, besides from individuals with relatively rare skills that are relevant for that specific crisis.

However, global attention and aid are directed towards the crisis, not towards the cause the crisis is related to. And even if it's difficult for many in the EA movement to be useful for the crisis (say, coronavirus pandemic), we can still use this opportunity to direct some of the global attention towards the cause (Biosecurity) and towards other causes of global catastrophic risks.

The opportunity and EA's advantage

There is an opportunity in the global hindsight attitude of “we could have been more prepared”, and there is an advantage that is unique to EA - we have been analyzing the importance of Biosecurity for the last decade, which can:

  • Be very interesting for individuals who are now interested in Pandemic Preparedness, and could consider a career in this direction.
  • Serve as an example for the importance of mitigating global catastrophic risks. This hindsight feeling that is present nowadays can help emphasize the need for preparedness on other risks as well, which is also an opportunity for affecting career choices.
  • Serve as an example for the importance of EA's work; e.g. this showcases how cause prioritization (as Biosecurity has been in the community’s top 10 causes in 2019, 2018, and on other lists) affected funding (such as OpenPhil’s grants to Jon Hopkins Center of Health Security, David Baker lab, or others) and other projects.

I’d like to open a discussion on the following question:

How can the EA community utilize this moment in time for motivating individuals to (1) work on the cause of Biosecurity*, (2) work on other global catastrophic risks causes, (3) have a positive attitude towards EA?

Also, I'd be happy to hear other opinions on how we can be effective in times of crises - as individuals or as a movement. For instance, if we would act in a more organized way, would there be additional options?

* One could argue that Biosecurity might become much less neglected after this crisis. If this is true, this can justify focusing more on (2) and (3).

Courses of action

Some possible answers to the question above:

  • This would be a great time to re-publish relevant EA articles in the right mediums.
  • In EA Israel we’re working on translating several articles - I believe this can be beneficial for other local communities as well. Here’s our list of such articles. Please comment there if you are familiar with any other readings you think we should prioritize.
  • Using EA local groups’ current infrastructure of event-planning, to make career-based events on these topics.
  • Individuals in quarantines might be more available for EA-related projects, which can be a good opportunity to get people more committed.
  • During this time, it would be useful to collect places where people who wanted to help with COVID-19 can be found (e.g. Facebook groups, people involved with the Coronavirus Tech Handbook or Project Open Air). With a certain focus on the techy places, as these seem like promising grounds for new aspiring EAs. On this note, if by the end of this epidemic we can estimate how many people were looking for such volunteering opportunities, we’d be able to better estimate the opportunity at hand.


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I've been thinking about this also so I'm glad to see this post!

Anecdote: I've been talking to friends and family about COVID-19 since late January/February, and started my first attempts at social distancing towards the beginning of March. In these first few days, a lot of my (non-EA) friends seemed to think this response was an overreaction. Later on, a lot of them came around to say, "wow, you were right," which I've tried to use to point some more credibility towards EA.

Some not-fully-formed ideas I have about this:

  • I think there's an opportunity, once this begins to resolve, to hopefully get some media attention and say something along the lines of "there's a community of people who were thinking about this before it happened, and who are thinking of other possible threats. Here's how you can help."
  • I also think that we might see an influx of young not-currently-EAs interested in helping address future pandemics, but I suspect a lot of them will be drawn to becoming doctors and nurses. So perhaps some publicity for these careers and/or a talent pipeline for biosecurity careers might be useful.