Quantifying the probability of existential catastrophe: A reply to Beard et al.

Going further down the rabbit-hole, Simon Beard, Thomas Rowe, and James Fox replied to Seth's reply!



  • Seth Baum’s reply to our paper “An analysis and evaluation of methods currently used to quantify the likelihood of existential hazards” makes a very valuable contribution to this literature.
  • We raise some concerns about the definitions of terms like ‘existential catastrophe’ and how they can be both normative and non-normative.
  • While accepting Baum’s contention that there is a trade-off between rigour and accessibility of methods, we show how the community of existential risk studies could easily improve in relation to both these desiderata.
  • Finally we discuss the importance of context within which quantification of the likelihood of existential hazards takes place, and how this impacts on the appropriateness of different kinds of claim.


We welcome Seth Baum's reply to our paper. While we are in broad agreement with him on the range of topics covered, this particular field of research remains very young and undeveloped and we think that there are many points on which further reflection is needed. We briefly discuss three: the normative aspects of terms like 'existential catastrophe,' the opportunities for low hanging fruit in method selection and application and the importance of context when making probability claims.

EA Meta Fund Grants – July 2020

I really appreciate your recognition of this - really positive!

"it's hard to publish critiques of organizations or the work of particular people without harming someone's reputation or otherwise posing a risk to the careers of the people involved. I also agree with you that it's useful to find ways to talk about risks and reservations. One potential solution is to talk about the issues in an anonymized, aggregate manner."

Gordon Irlam: an effective altruist ahead of his time

Completely agree! I'd also emphasise some really important early donations to Giving What We Can and GCRI. From https://www.gricf.org/annual-report.html

"Summarizing the funding provided by the foundation for 2000-2019:

RESULTS Educational Fund - $682,603 (39%)

Global Catastrophic Risk Institute (c/o Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs) - $326,043 (19%)

Keep Antibiotics Working (c/o Food Animal Concerns Trust) - $135,000 (8%)

Institute for One World Health - $123,100 (7%)

Future of Humanity Institute (c/o Americans for Oxford Inc) - $120,000 (7%)

Knowledge Ecology International - $100,000 (6%)

Health GAP - $66,000 (4%)

Machine Intelligence Research Institute - $55,000 (3%)

Giving What We Can (c/o Centre for Effective Altruism USA Inc) - $50,000 (3%)

Kids International Dental Services - $24,000 (1%)

Total - $1,735,558.04 (100%) "

The Labour leadership election: a high leverage, time-limited opportunity for impact (*1 week left to register for a vote*)

Have included a paragraph up at the top that hopefully adresses (some of?) your concerns. As it says in the paragraph, thanks for your comments!

"Edit: This argument applies across the political spectrum. One of the best arguments for political party participation is similar to voting i.e. getting a say in the handful of leading political figures. We recommend that effective altruists consider this as a reason to join the party they are politically sympathetic towards in expectation of voting in future leadership contests. We're involved in the Labour Party - and Labour currently has a leadership election with only a week left to register to participate. So this post focuses on that as an example, and with a hope that if you're Labour-sympathetic you consider registering to participate. We definitely do not suggest registering to participate if you're not Labour-sympathetic. Don't be a 'hit and run entryist' (Thanks Greg for the comments!)."

The Labour leadership election: a high leverage, time-limited opportunity for impact (*1 week left to register for a vote*)

For the avoidance of any doubt: don't be a "hit and run entryist", this post is not suggesting such a "scheme". If you're "indifferent or hostile to Labour Party politics" then I don't really know why you'd want to be part of the selection, and don't recommend you try and join as a member.

The post says "You can always cancel your membership (though of course I'd rather you'd stay a member)." That's not advocating joining just to cancel - it's saying you're not bound in if you change your mind.

EA Organization Updates: November 2019

Thanks for this. "Haydn Belfield published a report on global catastrophic risk (GCR) preparedness on CSER's GCR policy blog." - don't want to claim credit.

Should be "CSER published a report on how governments can better understand global catastrophic risk (GCR)."

Are comment "disclaimers" necessary?

Oh Greg your words bounce like sunbeams and drip like honey

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