One way I think EA fails to maximise impact is by its focus on legible, clear and attributable impact over actions where the impact is extremely difficult to estimate.

Writing Wikipedia articles on and around important EA concepts (except perhaps on infohazardous bioterrorism incidents) has low downside risk and extremely high upside risk, making these ideas much more easy to understand for policymakers and other people in positions of power who may come across them and google them. However, the feedback loops are virtually non-existent and the impact is highly illegible.

For example, there is currently no dedicated Wikipedia page for “Existential Risk” and “Global Catastrophic Biological Risk”.

Writing Wikipedia pages could be a particularly good use of time for people new to EA and people in university student groups who want to gain a better understanding of EA concepts or of EA-relevant policy areas.

Some other ideas for creating new Wikipedia articles or adding more detail to existing ones:

International Biosecurity and Biosafety Initiative for Science

Alternative Proteins

Governance of Alternative Proteins

Global Partnership Biological Security Working Group

Regulation of gain-of-function biological research by country

Public investment in alternative proteins by country

Space governance

Regulation of alternative proteins

UN Biorisk Working Group

Political Representation of Future Generations

Political Representation of Future Generations by Country

Political Representation of Animals

Joint Assessment Mechanism

Public investment in AI Safety research by country

International Experts Group of Biosafety and Biosecurity Regulators

Tobacco taxation by country

Global Partnership Signature Initiative to Mitigate Biological Threats in Africa

Regulations on lead in paint by country

Alcohol taxation by country

Regulation of dual-use biological research by country

Joint External Evaluations

Biological Weapons Convention funding by country

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I broadly agree with this and have also previously made a case for Wikipedia editing on the Forum:

As a caveat, there are some nuances to Wikipedia editing to make sure you're following community standards, which I've tried to lay out in my post. In particular, before investing a lot of time writing a new article, you should check if someone else tried that before and/or if the same content is already covered elsewhere. For example, there have been previous unsuccessful efforts to create an 'Existential risk' Wikipedia article. Those attempts failed in part because relevant content is already covered on the 'Global catastrophic risks' article.

Could this also be a good opportunity for pages written in languages other than English?

Yes very good point!

This article is several years old, but as of 2019, their machine translation tool was quite poor and my experience is that articles can have vastly different levels of depth in different languages, so simply getting French/Spanish/etc. articles up to the level of their English language analogues might be an easy win.


Thank you for your comment.

I believe that translators of EA articles should have a quality mindset and not only a mindset of translating x articles or y words in z time. Translators should translate from the articles with the most depth and those articles are mostly in English. Current article pageviews may determine priorities but we also need a depth of content on the subject and not only a handful of articles that are predicted to have more pageviews in the target language.

Translating articles about EA is low hanging fruit especially in Wikipedia language versions with more than several million speakers. We should not underestimate that one or 100 articles that we translate today will most likely remain in Wikipedia for decades even if not centuries even if totally changed by editors along the way.

There is a visibility gap of Effective Altruism in the Internet in general and in Wikipedia specifically. This and the fact that the impact of Wikipedia as a source of knowledge for the general public and to policy makers and decisors should not be ignored.

What I vehemently recommend is that there should not be payed editing promotion and investment. If individual EAs insist on this path what could happen is that EA will have a label for payed editing in Wikipedia. Payed editing in Wikipedia has a very bad reputation in the Wikipedian community and also outside of it and it stains EA and repels people. Voluntary translators are harder to come by perhaps but that should lead to an even more strong will by EA communities to reach out to its fellow members and argue for voluntary work on this matter. Edit-a-thons should be promoted by EA communities but with clear guidelines of Neutral Point of View (NPOV) editing and non-remunerized.

Edited: Corrected several typos by my part.

Note that it's much easier to improve existing pages than to add new ones.

More EA-relevant Wikipedia articles that don't yet exist:

  • Place premium
  • Population Ethics pages
    • Sadistic conclusion
    • Critical-threshold approaches
  • Cantril Ladder
  • Axelrod's Meta-Norm
  • Open-source game theory
  • Humane Technology
  • Chris Olah
  • Machine Learning Interpretability
    • Circuit
    • Induction head
  • Lottery Ticket Hypothesis
  • Grokking
  • Deep Double Descent
  • Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery Manufacturing and Computation
  • Global Priorities Institute
  • Scaling Laws for Large Language Models

Some of these articles are about AI capabilities, so perhaps not as great to write about.

Additionally, the following EA-relevant articles could be greatly improved:

That hasn’t been entirely my experience. In fact, when I made the page for the Foreign Dredge Act of 1906, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly others jumped in to improve on my basic efforts - it was clearly a case of just needing the page to exist at all before it started getting the attention it deserved.

By contrast, I’ve found that trying to do things like good article nominations, where you’re trying to satisfy the demands of self-selected nonexpert referees, can be frustrating. The same is true for trying to improve pages already getting a lot of attention. Even minor improvements to the Monkeypox page during the epidemic were the subject of heated debate and accusations on the talk page. When a new page is created, it doesn’t have egos invested in it yet, so you don’t really have to argue with anybody very much.

I’d be interested in learning more about your experiences that leads you to say it’s harder to create than improve pages. I’m not that novice but you seem like you have a lot more experience than me.

Epistemic status: ~150 Wikipedia edits, of which 0 are genuine article creations (apart from redirects). I've mostly done slight improvements on non-controversial articles. Dunno about being a novice, but looking at your contributions on WP you've done more than me :-)

I was thinking mostly of the fact that you need to be autoconfirmed, i.e. more than 4 days old and ≥10 edits. I also have the intuition that creating an article is more likely to be wasted effort than an improvement to an existing article, because of widespread deletionism. An example for the deletionism is the Harberger tax article, which was nearly removed, much to my dismay.

Perhaps this is more true for the kind of article I'm interested in, which is relatively obscure concepts from science (with less heated debate), and less about current events (where edits might be more difficult due to controversy & edit wars).

I have also encountered deletionism. When I was improving the aptamer article for a good article nomination, the reviewer recommended splitting a section on peptide aptamers into a separate article. After some thinking, I did so. Then some random editor who I’d never interacted with before deleted the whole peptide aptamer article and accused me of plagiarism/copying it from someplace else on the internet, and never responded to my messages trying to figure out what he was doing or why.

It’s odd to me because the Foreign Dredge Act is a political issue, while peptide aptamers are an extremely niche topic. And the peptide aptamer article contained nothing but info that had been on Wikipedia for years, while I wrote the Dredge Act article from scratch. Hard to see rhyme or reason, and very frustrating that there’s no apparent process for dealing with a vandal who thinks of themselves as an “editor.”

Here are a couple of social science papers on the evidence that (well-written) Wikipedia articles have an impact on real world outcomes:

I think the main caveat (also mentioned in other comments) is that these papers are predicated on high quality edits or page creations that align with Wikipedia standards.


I honestly never thought that I would read a post on this forum about Wikipedia. To my happiness there is talk about Wikipedia in here as I found out today! :)


Thank you! :) Have a good day!

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