by RyanCarey1 min read8th Jun 202115 comments



Halstead asks about the performance of groups that EAs have previously funded.

But what about groups that we haven't previously funded, including those that EAs are allied with, or have offered non-monetary support? Who stood out, that we should aim to support in the future?

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It seems like CEPI has taken pretty good actions (funding RNA vaccine R&D in 2018, funding Moderna in January 2020, leading COVAX). I'm excited about the plan they outline at

  1. Compress vaccine development timelines to 100 days
  2. Develop a universal vaccine against coronaviruses
  3. Develop a library of vaccine candidates against other threats

and hope the EA community will be interested in supporting it. CEPI was initially funded by the Wellcome Trust, Gates Foundation, and several national governments (Norway, Japan, Germany, India), and (according to Wikipedia) have since been supported by the EU Horizon 2020 program and the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada and the UK.

One example might be Dominic Cummings, who is clearly very influenced by EA ideas, even if he has been somewhat (in my opinion unfairly) shunned by the EA community. It seems he was one of the major forces pushing the UK government towards more decisive action on things like lockdowns. See e.g. here or here.

He was also apparently instrumental in pushing through a big grant for Our World In Data despite the sclerotic procurement process.

even if he has been somewhat (in my opinion unfairly) shunned by the EA community

What's this referring to? I know he consumes a bunch of rationalist content, but wasn't aware of much interaction with EA, or of any action of the community towards him.

[edit; just found their donation page and they recieved considerable OpenPhil support, so not a candidate based on the OP's criteria].

One Day Sooner seem like a candidate. I don't know if they've received EA support, although at least one EA (David Manheim) works with them. I think they've done good work in bringing attention and legitimacy to the idea of human challenge trials in a pandemic situation, which seems plausibly like a very important thing for future pandemics.

Several other people who work with them are connected to EA.

Patrick McKenzie isn’t a “group”, and he probably doesn’t need your money, but he did get ahead of coronavirus impacts in Japan successfully:

And VaccinateCA was very impressive.

The obvious one to me is the adjacent LessWrong-style rationality community, which as a whole took this pandemic at least as seriously as we did fairly early on, and wrote useful and prescient articles like this one on the credibility of the US CDC. 

To me the shining example of this is Jacob Falkovich's Seeing the Smoke, which somehow helped convince the UK to lockdown in March 2020.

I would add the New England Complex Systems Institute, particularly Yaneer Bar Yam: 

In this article from January 2020, which has aged very well, they were advocating for restrictions on international movement and warning of the effect of superspreader events on estimates of R0. 

Yaneer Bar Yam also started this multidisciplinary effort to tackle covid: 

Could you give examples of "allies of the EA community, groups that EAs have offered non-monetary support? And what about groups that we haven't previously funded - who stood out, such that we should aim to support them in the future?"

Edit: I think I get what you mean now based on the answers others gave above!

EAs have voted in various elections in the United States. This study adjusted for various factors and found that Republican Party power at the state level was associated with modestly higher amounts of death from COVID-19. Since the majority of EA voters have picked the Democratic Party, this can be taken as something of a vindication. Of course, there are many other issues for deciding your vote besides pandemics, and that study might be wrong. It's not even peer reviewed.

The difference might be entirely explained by politically motivated differences in social distancing behavior between Democratic and Republican citizens, although if that's the case it could still somewhat vindicate opposition to the Republican Party.

Also, the study was done before the vaccine rollout; it will be interesting to see a similar analysis from a later date.

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This NYTimes Magazine article might be interesting. Its framing is basically "why did the CDC fail, and how can it do better next time?". 

It mentions some other groups that allegedly did better than the CDC. Though I don't know to what extent these groups were or were not EA-funded. E.g., it says:

The Covid Rapid Response Working Group, at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard, was one of several independent organizations that stepped in to help fill the gap. In the last year, these groups, run mostly out of academic centers and private foundations, have transformed reams of raw data — on transmission rates and hospitalization rates and death tolls — into actionable intelligence. They have created county-by-county risk-assessment tools, devised national testing strategies and mapped out national contact-tracing programs. In many if not most cases, they have moved faster than the C.D.C., painting a more accurate picture of the pandemic as it unfolded and offering more feasible solutions to the challenges that state and community leaders were facing.