Over the past 2 months, staff at the Centre for Effective Altruism have updated the introduction to effective altruism programs. We now have a unified Effective Altruism Handbook (the fourth edition), which we will use as our suggested introductory fellowship curriculum for virtual programs and EA groups.
We are excited about the improvements that have been made, and think that this version will provide a better experience for people new to EA ideas and principles. But it’s still not perfect, and we’re eager to hear your input and feedback in order to help us to improve it.
Here is the updated version.
The main changes we made were:
- To focus more on core EA concepts and thinking tools: We added reasoning on these topics, and also highlighted these tools in the introduction to each chapter, because we think that core concepts and thinking tools are the most important thing we want to leave people with as we introduce them to EA. We still do have a lot of content on specific cause areas, but it is relatively de-emphasized.
- To update readings with content published in the last two years
- rearranged the sections on longtermism and X-risk;
- added criticism sections to each session in the ‘More to Explore’ posts;
- turned section 7 into an opportunity for people to reflect on specific uncertainties and concerns about EA ideas and practices;
- made section 8 more clearly focused on next steps (by shifting some reflection back to week 7);
- expanded the introduction to give more context on goals;
- updated the UX/UI and added the handbook to the forum.
Max Dalton and Lizka Vaintrob did an initial review of the old curriculum, made quick changes, got feedback from group organizers and EA Virtual Program facilitators and integrated these comments.
After this, we shared the updated handbook with about 15 stakeholders in the EA community (including people from all major cause areas, and critics of previous editions of the handbook). Max Dalton and Jesse Rothman integrated their comments into the updated handbook. We then posted the handbook on the forum in order to improve the UX/UI, and integrated the handbook into broader EA conversations on the Forum.
We then did another set of user interviews with experienced facilitators and continued to make edits to the handbook based on their input.
Our approach to cause area selection
Our primary goal with this version of the handbook was to share certain core principles or tools of EA (things like “making tradeoffs”, “truth seeking”, “scope sensitivity”). These concepts are now highlighted in the curriculum. I am personally excited to share and focus on these ideas, and CEA as an organization is focused on sharing these principles and helping people to work through their implications (rather than on promoting any particular cause area).
However, we also wanted to share the arguments for some of the key things that people in effective altruism are working on, and give examples of that work - we think that this is important because it’s a lot of what the community is about, and it also makes the introduction much more concrete (rather than being really philosophy-heavy, which we think would not give a good sense of what most people in effective altruism work on).
When talking about specific areas, our core goal was to share the arguments for some of the main areas, highlight that there are other areas that one could work on, make clear that there is disagreement in the community about what the right split between areas is, and encourage people to make up their own mind (which is the focus of the seventh chapter).
In terms of process, we emphasize in our introduction that we had to make these judgement calls and others would likely disagree with the calls we’ve made. We also consulted experts from all corners of the community, including previous critics of the curriculum and several people who focus on global health and wellbeing. Feedback from these groups was generally positive.
The overall split of the content is (very) roughly 50% on core principles, 30% on longtermism/x-risk, 10% on animal welfare, and 10% on global health and wellbeing.
When deciding on this split we balanced a few different factors:
- Main thing: wanting to give a high-quality explanation of each area. (This pushes somewhat to giving more space to harder-to-explain areas like AI relative to bednets.)
- Wanting to be roughly representative of the views of people who have been involved in EA for a long while (placing some weight on “EA founders”, highly engaged community members, and cause prioritization experts, and not too much weight on the full sample of people who filled out the EA survey).
- My current impression from rough research is that all of these groups currently would on average assign >60% of EA’s future resources to longtermist-related causes, though of course there is much disagreement.
- Not wanting to emphasize any one area so much that people could “read the room”, and think “OK, they’re not saying it, but I’m meant to believe X”.
- While the pure split still leans relatively longtermist (influenced by the other points) and risks this happening, we tried to mitigate this by having the 7th chapter be focused on encouraging people to develop their own views, by providing criticism for each cause area, and by trying to present a variety of framings in the final “what to do” chapter.
Overall the split that we decided on is roughly in line with the average views of the most engaged community members. I think that people will disagree about both the correct split and the correct process for deciding on the split, but ultimately we could only include so many articles and had to make a call.
Going Forward and Feedback
We are excited about the new version of the EA Handbook and think there are a bunch of ways it represents improvements from the previous one. Still, it’s clear that this is not the perfect version and we intend to continue to make edits and improvements.
Going forward, we intend to make small (and occasionally larger) revisions to the program based on (1) feedback from facilitators and participants running online and in-person sessions; (2) feedback from EA stakeholders; and (3) CEA staff judgement.
We are very eager for your feedback on the content, design, and usability of this new version. Please share your experience, thoughts, and ideas in the comments or through this dedicated feedback form.