These monthly posts originated as the "Updates" section of the EA Newsletter.
This month, Arden Koehler spoke to 80,000 Hours CEO Ben Todd about the core of effective altruism and how to argue for it.
Ben also wrote an accompanying EA Forum post on the actual arguments for effective altruism.
More broadly, the team has been busy analysing the results of this year's user survey and planning what to do in 2021.
- The Polish Sejm voted to ban fur farming in a historic session last month. Just two hours after the publication of fur farm footage released by Otwarte Klatki, the ruling party announced the “Five for Animals” bill, which contains the proposed fur ban. A majority of members of Parliament supported the bill, which still has to pass through the Senate and be approved by the president before it can become law.
- In the UK, Open Cages published investigation footage exposing conditions on farms supplying Tesco. The footage was covered in the BBC, the Times, and the Daily Mirror. The campaign has since gained support from celebrities Chris Packham and John Bishop, and we believe that thousands of people have contacted Tesco to raise their concerns.
- In Estonia, Nähtamatud Loomad took part in Parliament's Environment Committee session on the bill to ban fur production throughout the country. Our staff answered questions from the committee and ministry representatives before the vote later this month.
- In France, Assiettes Végétales arranged a meeting with members of Parliament and the CNOUS (Centre National des Oeuvres Universitaires et Scolaires), the administration responsible for managing university canteen meals for the whole country, encouraging them to change the future of food in France on a large scale.
- Following discussions with Otwarte Klatki and other animal organisations, the seventh-biggest retail chain in Poland — Carrefour — publicly committed to stop selling live carps.
Animal Advocacy Careers
Animal Advocacy Careers (AAC) published a literature review on recruitment and retention research. The review outlines current research and proposes interventions or actions that seem worth considering. In addition, AAC posted a spot check of online locations that publicise job postings.
The application for Animal Advocacy Careers’ online workshop and course will be closing on 25 October, so anyone wanting to participate should apply soon.
Animal Charity Evaluators
Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) published a blog post about the value of building alliances between social movements, in which the authors discuss the potential for the animal advocacy and environmental movements to work concurrently toward their shared goals. ACE is also excited to announce that Season 3 of Vox’s Future Perfect podcast — a partnership between ACE, Vox, and an anonymous donor — launched on 16 September.
The Animal Ethics website is now available in Hindi. This new milestone complements the outreach in India that the organization began earlier this year with a series of talks at universities about speciesism, the moral consideration of animals, and concern for wild animal suffering. Animal Ethics has also begun distributing educational materials specifically for Indian audiences and is building a country-wide network of people concerned about wild animal suffering.
Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative
BERI received a $150,000 grant from Open Philanthropy to support projects done in collaboration with the Future of Humanity Institute. This grant will allow BERI to continue to hire researchers, purchase equipment and software, and provide support in other ways as needed.
The Cellular Agriculture Society
CAS has published four new and revised webpages on their website:
Describes their collaboration with the United Nations, including their work with the UN Volunteer Program to facilitate CAS fellows and volunteers.
Describes their collaboration with Stanford, including the development of the first course on cellular agriculture.
Contains new sections on (1) the history and development of the project, as well as (2) a step-by-step guide for the simulated cellular agriculture production process.
Contains new sections on (1) the history and development of the 90 Reasons project, as well as (2) the drawbacks of cellular agriculture, generally.
They also added a new CAS fellow to their team (Sawyer Hall) as well as two new advisors, Shai Dromi (Harvard sociologist) and Ryan Bethencourt (IndieBio founder).
Centre for Effective Altruism
Applications for the EA Student Summit are due today, 21 October, at 11:59 pm PST.
Applications for EAGxAsia-Pacific are due 18 November, at 11:59 pm PST.
If you want to keep up with discussion on the EA Forum (without having to visit every day), consider subscribing to the Forum’s new weekly email digest.
Center for Human-Compatible AI
CHAI Research Scientist Andrew Critch discussed the paper “AI Research Considerations for Human Existential Safety,” coauthored with David Krueger, on the AI Alignment Podcast. The episode explores how the mainstream computer science community views AI existential risk, the concept of prepotent AI systems, and Andrew’s opinion on the most likely source of existential risk.
Brian Christian, UC Berkeley visiting scholar and longstanding CHAI affiliate, has published The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values. Christian’s previous books include the bestsellers Algorithms to Live By (with Tom Griffiths) and The Most Human Human, which have been translated into nineteen languages. The Alignment Problem chronicles the growth and progress of the field of technical AI safety, highlighting its recent milestones and open problems. It also showcases the work of a number of CHAI researchers.
Professor Stuart Russell’s book Human Compatible was published in Chinese. The paperback edition was also released. In addition, Professor Russell gave the annual Turing Lecture, sponsored by the Alan Turing Institute in London, on the topic of provably beneficial artificial intelligence. Over 700 people attended, making it the most highly attended Turing Lecture so far.
Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
Cambridge University will divest from all direct and indirect fossil fuel investments by 2030. Its £3.5 billion Endowment Fund (the biggest in Europe) will ramp up investments in renewables. CSER researcher Dr. Ellen Quigley has worked with the CFO since May 2019, and is lead author of the University’s report exploring divestment across moral, social, political, reputational, and financial dimensions.
Nick Bostrom, Haydn Belfield, and CSER Research Affiliate Sam Hilton submitted evidence to the UK Parliament Science and Technology Committee.
Here are two new papers on tracking progress in AI:
- “The Scientometrics of AI Benchmarks: Unveiling the Underlying Mechanics of AI Research”
- “Canaries in Technology Mines: Warning Signs of Transformative Progress in AI”
Dr. Alex McLaughlin had two climate justice papers published:
- “The limit of climate justice: Unfair sacrifice and aggregate harm”
- “Justifying subsistence emissions, past and present”
CSER has started a “Meet the Researcher” series of short videos:
Charity Entrepreneurship has just announced five new EA charities with high potential for impact. Hundreds of ideas researched, thousands of applications considered, and a two-month intensive Incubation Program culminated in these charities’ founding:
- Lead Exposure Elimination Project (LEEP) – advocating for lead paint regulation to reduce lead poisoning and improve the health, well-being, and potential of children worldwide
- Animal Ask – maximizing farmed animal asks through dedicated research
- Family Empowerment Media (FEM) – enabling informed family planning and birth spacing decisions through clear, compelling, and accurate radio-based communication
- Giving Green (started before the program, incubated by CE) – directing dollars toward evidence-backed projects that combat the climate crisis
- Canopie – bridging the mental health care gap for pre- and postpartum women through cost-effective, scalable, and evidence-based solutions
All charities have received grants from the Charity Entrepreneurship Fund. You can support their further development with your advice, time, or donations.
Faunalytics published their Animal Product Impact Scales, which reveal how many days of animal suffering and how many deaths go into an average day of animal product consumption in the United States. Their new infographics outline the ten food products that could have the greatest impact for animals if they were replaced with plant-based or cultivated alternatives.
They've also released their new Social Norms Fact Sheet to guide animal advocacy messaging, and added several new study summaries to their research library on topics including how humans perceive different species and how consumer values influence companies to improve animal welfare.
Fish Welfare Initiative
FWI is transitioning into what will be their primary focus for 2021: securing institutional welfare commitments for farmed fish in India. They have begun this process by completing a scoping report on fish welfare in India, and recently hired Karthik Pulugurtha, their first staff member in India, who will lead that work. They will release more details on their upcoming plans soon.
GiveWell allocated $15.3 million to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF), including donations to its Maximum Impact Fund (formerly “Grants to recommended charities at GiveWell's discretion”) in the first half of the year. GiveWell estimates this support for AMF will collectively save over 3,000 lives, mostly of young children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Guinea.
Giving What We Can
Five thousand people have now taken the Pledge to give 10% of their lifetime incomes to effective charities. To celebrate, members held 15 events around the world (online and in-person) and some also submitted video messages. GWWC was also in the news this month with “The global financial elite? You are that!” in the German Perspective Daily and “What worms can teach us about the AI apocalypse” in the British Unherd. Additionally, “The Giving What We Can Pledge encourages you to donate 10% of your income’” featured GWWC’s member Tom Bry-Chevalier in the French Carenews, and Fundraising UK published “Over 5,000 people commit to Giving What We Can pledge.”
Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
GCRI Executive Director Seth Baum is editing a new special issue of the journal Information on the governance of artificial intelligence. Researchers are invited to submit manuscripts on any aspect of this topic. The deadline for submissions is 30 June 2021.
Seth Baum also has a new paper, “Accounting for Violent Conflict Risk in Planetary Defense Decisions,” in Acta Astronautica. The paper argues that planetary defense decisions should account for other risks, and builds on GCRI's prior work on cross-risk analysis.
The Good Food Institute
- GFI published their first-ever State of the Industry Report on Fermentation, which positions fermentation as a core pillar of the alternative protein industry. The full report is also available in Chinese.
- The National Science Foundation awarded a $3.55 million grant to UC Davis for cultivated meat research, which marks the first-ever US government grant to a university rather than a company for cultivated meat research. GFI’s blog serves up the details about this historic announcement.
The Humane League
THL UK also released an investigative report which found white striping disease — an ailment common in birds raised on factory farms — in 85% of supermarket chicken across the country.
THL Labs published “Is Animal Cruelty or Abolitionist Messaging More Effective?”, which reexamined data from a study published by THL Labs in 2015. The study compared the effect of messages about animal cruelty, environmental impacts, and ethics on participants' self-reported intention to change their animal product consumption. While the reanalysis found the animal cruelty message to be more effective than appeals to ethics, issues in the design of the original study significantly limit THL Labs’ confidence in this result.
Open Philanthropy announced grants including $2 million to VST Bio to support the development of a novel treatment for stroke and traumatic brain disease, $1.5 million to the Movement Voter Project to support work on criminal justice reform, and $444,000 to the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research to support research on optimizing plant protein for use in plant-based meat. They also published a new page about working at Open Phil, as well as a blog post investigating how much computational power it takes to match the human brain’s capabilities.
- This month, Rethink Priorities welcomed two new staff researchers, Dr. Holly Elmore and Linchuan Zhang. Holly will begin her role researching topics in the wild animal welfare space, while Linch is starting by conducting research on forecasting and existential risk.
- In November, David Rhys Bernard will join the team, initiating a research project on aspects of the long-term future that we can make quantitative estimates about.
Suvita graduated from The/Nudge Foundation's nonprofit incubator in India and received a $20,000 D-Prize grant to support their launched pilot of "immunisation ambassadors" in Bihar state. They are also currently acting as implementation partner for an adaptive randomised controlled trial in Bihar funded by J-PAL, testing the effectiveness of SMS messages for encouraging COVID-safe behaviours.
WANBAM is pleased to announce their second series of career profile events:
- Adriana Lowe, Head of Research Advisory at Founders Pledge, and Danielle Gram, Managing Director at Founders Pledge, on 26 October at 11:00 (EST).
- Alexandria Beck, Director of the Open Wing Alliance, on 30 October at 15:00 (EST).
- Amy Huang, University Innovation Specialist at The Good Food Institute, on 16 November at 14:00 (EST).
- Daniela Amodei, VP of Safety and Policy at OpenAI, on 2 December at 14:00 (EST).
To join live, please see WANBAM's Facebook Events page. Recordings will be available on WANBAM's Career Profiles page. WANBAM would additionally like to encourage EAs and people from EA-aligned organizations who are hiring, and who are interested in recommendations for candidates from diverse backgrounds, to contact them.
Wild Animal Initiative
- WAI Researchers Jane Capozzelli and Simon Eckerström Liedholm are designing a field trial to assess the effectiveness and welfare impacts of pigeon contraception.
- Simon and Biotechnology Legal Fellow Suzanne Van Arsdale are analyzing the effects US genetic engineering regulations could have on the welfare of wild animals.
- Jane and WAI Researcher Luke Hecht both published blog posts: an introduction to a series on the relationship between welfare and cause of death, and a research note on a promising area for collaboration to reduce the burden of disease for wild animals.
- WAI continued to develop their Grant Assistance Program, which will connect academics with funding for wild animal welfare research.
Add your own update
If your organization isn't represented on this list, you're welcome to provide an update in a comment.
You can also email me if you'd like to be included on the list of organizations I ask for updates each month; I can then add any updates you submit to future posts. (I may not accept all such requests; whether I include an org depends on its size, age, focus, track record, etc.)