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Last Updated

January 2022

Context and Purpose

I compiled these questions for my EA x Law University Group. To graduate, every student has to write a term paper. I figured, why not post a collection of highly impactful questions law students can choose from? 

Worst case, students who pick one of these questions would have a high impact by writing their papers. Best case, students encourage other students to research questions like these, use the resources offered, and find an interest in tackling the world’s most pressing problems. 


These theses are mainly from Effective Thesis’ recommended research directions and the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda. All of them are copy-pasted or reworded into questions. I claim none of the intellectual ideas as my own. 

Some of the questions (especially those from the Legal Priorities Project) came with citations. While I stripped all the citations to make skimming the article easier, please cross-check all theses you’re interested in with their original source in the research agenda to know where they came from. 

Some things to note (as MichaelA’s post does):

  • It may be best to just engage with the set of questions that are relevant to your skills, interests, or plans, and ignore the rest.
  • It’s possible that some of these questions are no longer “open”.
  • This list is not comprehensive. It is meant to be used as a starting point more than anything else. Notably, it’s missing a nuclear-specific section that I would have loved to have featured. 

Useful General Links

This first: a central directory for open research questions.

My favourite general research resources for law students: 

A Note on Funding and Mentorship

Many organizations offer funding to work part-time or full-time on these questions. Check out this list of EA-aligned research training programs from this list of nuclear research ideas. It’s also worth keeping tabs on the Forum’s research training programs topic. 

Some organizations offer occasional prizes for working on these questions too (see also the “Contests” filter on the EA Opportunities Board):

Then some offer tools and networking opportunities to work on these questions: 


AI Sentience, Moral Status, and Rights

An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • What are the most effective ways to protect sentience and design institutions accordingly? 
    • Is a “Universal Declaration of Sentient Rights” feasible, and what would it look like?
    • Is the traditional legal bifurcation between “persons” and “things” capable of protecting all sentient beings? 
    • How might institutions resolve tradeoffs between very different kinds of interests on behalf of very different kinds of sentient beings? 
    • How should legal institutions deal with uncertainty regarding what constitutes consciousness, and what entities can be considered as sentient? 
    • What can we learn from the field of animal law, where definitions and attributions of sentience have occasionally been incorporated within laws?
  • What are the most effective ways to expand the judicial moral circle to include all sentient beings for the long-term future?

Farm Animal Welfare

From the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda. See the section on animal law in their agenda for more ideas and further reading.

  • What legal mechanisms, including regulations by government agencies, statutes, constitutional provisions, and treaties, have the biggest positive impact on animals and why? 
    • How can successes in these areas in certain countries be replicated in other countries, and how can shortcomings be overcome?
  • Which animal cruelty laws, if passed or better enforced, would most effectively reduce animal suffering? (reworded)
  • How can we increase representation for nonhuman animals in human-administered political systems? 

From Effective Thesis’ Farm Animal Welfare page:

  • What legal basis substantiates a right to rescue farm animals from extreme suffering?
  • Which legislation can you contribute to? (e.g. for the Netherlands’ Party for the Animals).
  • What attitudes have the courts shown towards animal agriculture?
    • How have those attitudes evolved?
    • How has false advertising or public sentiment influenced courts’ attitudes? 

From the Tiny Beam Fund’s list of Burning Questions:

Industries and Multinational Corporations

  • How are industrial food systems being introduced into low to middle-income countries? Is it through subsidies offered by these countries' governments to large corporations or negotiations with these corporations? 
  • For a global meat processing company, what economic factors, trade policies, and local regulations cause it to use animals raised in country X (e.g. U.S.) for export/supply to country Y (e.g. a LMIC), or use animals raised in the country where the meat is sold/consumed?

Governments; International Bodies

  • How do ongoing and completed negotiations on free trade agreements (FTAs) expand global transnational meat processing corporations, and how can policies in LMICs prevent or reverse global consolidation through FTAs?
  • In major livestock-producing LMICs, what are the government policies and financial support that favor global meat processors and retailers' production and consolidation?
  • What is the track record of civil society's efforts to oppose such official measures?

Global development policy

Effective Thesis suggests exploring these global development policy topics more in-depth but offers no example questions. The links below let me better understand the topics, but did not offer research questions. Comments and future posts will one day fill the gaps: 

Governance of artificial intelligence

The EA Community has developed probably the most time and energy exploring this cause area. I couldn’t fit all the questions into this post and make it concise. I include lists of research agendas on the topic and a few research questions.

Effective Thesis’ list of research agendas:

See another list of research agendas in MichaelA’s central directory for open research questions - AI policy/strategy/governance section.

An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • Will EU regulation diffuse globally via the so-called “Brussels effect”, or will there be a global race to the bottom with regards to minimum safety standards?
  • How should the scope of AI safety regulations be defined? 
    • Do we need new regulatory instruments? 
    • How can compliance be monitored and enforced? 
    • Is there a need for stronger forms of supervision? 
    • If so, would they violate civil rights and liberties?
  • Is there a need to legally restrict certain types of scientific knowledge to prevent malevolent actors from gaining control over potentially dangerous AI technologies? 
    • If so, how could this be done most effectively? 
    • To what extent is restricting scientific knowledge consistent with the relevant provisions of constitutional law?

Great Power Coordination

An abbreviated list of questions from AI Governance Agenda by Allan Dafoe:

  • How great are the dangers from [an AI race (between the US & China)], how can those dangers be communicated and understood, and what factors could reduce or exacerbate them?
  • What routes exist for avoiding or escaping the [AI] race, such as norms, agreements, or institutions regarding standards, verification, enforcement, or international control? 
  • How much does it matter to the world whether the leader has a large lead-margin, is (based in) a particular country (e.g. the US or China), or is governed in a particular way (e.g. transparently, by scientists)?

An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • What laws and regulations exist in different countries to minimize accident risks [related to biosafety governance]? 
    • To what extent have they been implemented in practice? 
    • How might their effectiveness be measured, and what uncertainties exist in such an analysis? 
    • What do they reflect about biosafety norms?
  • What is the viability of potential solutions to prevent an arms race in outer space?
    • Potential solutions: confidence-building and security-building measures, politically binding codes of conduct, and international prohibitions of weapons in space, exploring how projects such as the Woomera Manual and MILAMOS project can best contribute to the long-term peace of space exploration.

Improving aquatic animal welfare

From Effective Thesis:

  • How do different countries protect, or fail to protect, aquatic animals?
    • What might help country-specific advocacy strategies?
  • How can endangered species laws and other laws could be used to promote fish welfare or protect fish, to provide extra leverage for impactful lawsuits? 
  • How can environmental law be used to promote fish welfare and protect fish?
  • How many of these labels - such as “sustainable,” “natural,” and  “humanely raised” - actually hold what they promise? 
    • How can consumer protection law/false advertising law be used to advance fish welfare?
  • Which countries include aquatic animals in their welfare laws? 
    • Do these laws also apply to farmed aquatic animals?


An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • What framework allows us to identify whether a specific risk should be tackled by the means of national, international, or comparative law?
  • Is it better to focus on improving, for example, the decision-making of legal actors in the judicial branch than in the executive branch?
    • What are the relevant variables to consider when deciding to target different kinds of legal actors?
    • Under what circumstances should we favor research projects and interventions that target many different kinds of legal actors and multiple branches of government?
  • How do laws leave long-lasting effects on individual attitudes according to current theories of law and social change?

Preventing release of dangerous pathogens

An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • What could be learned from accident reporting in other industries, such as aviation, or high-reliability organizations?
  • Do existing criminal law provisions penalize the (concrete or abstract) increase of existential accident risks? 
    • What other legal mechanisms are conceivable to reduce accident risks, such as deterrence via civil liability?
  • What laws and regulations exist in different countries to minimize accident risks? 
    • To what extent have they been implemented in practice? 
    • How might their effectiveness be measured, and what uncertainties exist in such an analysis? 
    • What do they reflect about biosafety norms?

Space governance

An abbreviated list of questions from the Legal Priority Project’s Research Agenda:

  • What should be the legal status of space resources, how should ownership rights be applied to extra-terrestrial resources, and how can the benefits of resources be shared?

An abbreviated list of questions from the Space Futures Initiative:

  • How could monopolies lead to catastrophic risks associated with power asymmetries? 
  • To what extent should there be antitrust laws and other measures to prevent monopolies in outer space?
  • How should the right to use valuable locations on the surface of celestial bodies, such as the Lunar south pole, be decided?






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