Henry Howard

I'm a doctor in Australia interested in doing the most good that I can.


Proponent of Earning to Give. Skeptical of longtermism.

Topic Contributions


Why should I care about insects?

Your suggestions are vague.

"stop using ... insecticides" and do what instead?

"get a sense of the suffering of individual insects" how?

"stop or slow down the human factory farming of insects" but with what consequences?

"changes in ag policy" of what sort and with what consequences?

There's no clear suggestion here that would reduce harm to insects without also significantly harming humans or other animals. You then have to balance human/animal and insect welfare, which is impractical to estimate (as Singer suggests), and which leads to absurd conclusions (don't stop locust plagues, let termites eat your house, sweep ants from your path,exterminate anteaters).

I agree that reducing suffering is good by itself, but you haven't suggested any ways to reduce insect suffering without some insect-human utility calculus.

Why should I care about insects?

And what is the alternative to insecticides? Your suggestions are vague and seem naive.

I take insects outside instead of killing them when I can, but I think you're getting lost in the weeds and heading towards absurd conclusions.

The question of whether insects suffer is probably unanswerable. Because the conclusions would be absurd if we do consider their suffering significant, we need to treat it as mostly insignificant. The same goes for plants, fungus, diatoms, bacteria.

I suggest you look at what others have written re. insects. For example, Peter Singer wrote on insects: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/are-insects-conscious-by-peter-singer-2016-05

Why should I care about insects?

This post is well-intentioned and the bee story is sweet but beyond avoiding pulling wings off flies I don't see what more we can do.

Assigning anything above the tiniest value to the welfare of insects leads to absurd conclusions because of their sheer number .eg.:

  • Should we stop using pesticides and increase food prices/slow development because of insect welfare?

  • Should we start killing whales, birds, fish because the number of krill/insects they eat?

  • Do we need more rather than fewer locust plagues?

  • Should I let termites eat my house actually?

Widening our moral circle out this far is impractical.

What should one do when someone insists on actively making life worse for many other people?

You need to consider the broader context. In this situation you were polite and gently offered help. I think that's the right thing to do. You could have been more forceful, which might (or might not) have sped things along but at the cost of making the world a less polite place. You could have ripped the phone out of their hands, which could have really sped things along while being even more rude. 

In this case the degree of "suffering" you're talking about is a few people waiting in line for 2 minutes, so going "Karen" on the person is likely to do more harm than good.

More generally, utilitarian calculations often neglect broader context. One utilitarian might argue that murdering an innocent person for their organs to save 5 organ recipients is good for the world. A better utilitarian would point out that in a world where we could each be murdered for our organs at any time, the increased fear and anxiety probably makes that world worse.

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

The increasing focus on Longtermism and X-risk has made us look cultish and unrelatable.

It was much harder for people to criticise EA as cultish when we were mainly about helping poor people from starving or dying of preventable disease because everyone can see immediately that those are worthy goals. X-risk and Longtermism don't make the same intuitive sense to people, so people dismiss the movement as weird and wrong.

We should lean back towards focusing on global development

EA and the current funding situation

That's great. Cause discovery should be top priority while we're running out of causes

Blueprint for billionaires?

No but we should aim to because there are many billions in government and private funds that could be redirected to more effective causes.

EA and the current funding situation

Great post

What are we going to spend this on? There seems to be a shortage of evidence-based global development causes. Current GiveWell charities are growing as fast as they can but the funding pool is growing faster (which is great! But it is already making me hesitant to give or encourage others to)

Should we not be working with and giving to orgs like Innovations for Poverty Action and JPAL to help us find new causes? Our cause discovery rate seems very slow as it is. The only new GiveWell cause in the last few years has been New Incentives, which is already fully-funded.

Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids

The economic risks of depopulation are overstated. Most value is generated by machines and a small group of people that invent those machines.

While "fewer people means fewer new ideas" is theoretically true, in the current world a very small fraction of the population are given the opportunities to be at the forefront of new idea generation because of inadequate nurturing, resources, education. If the population halved and we tripled the proportion of people who were able to attain the levels of education and training necessary to innovate, we would have more total innovation.

Concern about fertility is a red herring if the next Einstein can't go to school because she has a neglected tropical disease.

Recommendation for a charity focusing efforts on Germany?

It takes a lot of effort to find and evaluate effective charities. GiveWell and OpenPhilanthropy focus their charity evaluation efforts on charities that work in developing areas where there is greatest need for improvements in health, education, economic growth. You won't find a lot of detailed EA analysis of charities that only work in developed countries like Germany or Australia because it's unlikely that we can have close to the same impact in these well-developed countries with good living standards.

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