Pete Rowlett

President @ Effective Altruism at Georgia Tech
254 karmaJoined Pursuing an undergraduate degreeGeorgia Tech, Atlanta, GA, USA


I do community building with Effective Altruism at Georgia Tech. My primary focus areas are animal welfare and artificial intelligence.


Moral Trade: Theory and Applications


These are interesting ideas.  It seems like there's still a lack of clarity about the magnitude of the effects of each issue on the nonhuman animal side, and therefore their relative cost-effectiveness.  But as more research is done, say on ITNs in later stages of their lifecycle and the effects of tapeworms on pigs, maybe trades could be made based on these issues!

Wow, this is amazing!  Thank you for putting in the time and effort to write it.  I just ordered a copy for the Effective Altruism at Georgia Tech library.  Can’t wait to read it!

I think it would be really useful for someone with a mathematical background to develop this further. The flexibility/dedication tradeoff seems about the same as the explore/exploit tradeoff, which I understand to have been studied a fair amount.  I'd imagine there's a lot of theory that could be applied and would allow us to make better decisions as a community, especially now that lots of people are thinking about specializing or funding specialization.  I bet we could avoid significant mistakes at a low cost by quantifying investments in each area and comparing them to theoretical ideals.

Congratulations on your first post!  I think this is a really cool and interesting idea.  The team at Basefund has started doing something similar, so you may want to reach out to them if you're interested in working on it!

I quite like how you distinguish approaches at the individual level!  I think focusing on which area they support makes sense.  One lingering question I have is the relative value a donor's donations vs. the value of their contribution toward building a culture of effective giving.  I also think it's at least somewhat common for people to get into other areas of EA after starting out in effective giving.

Agreed on the intro fellowship point as well!  Long-term it supports field-building since plenty of participants filter through, but it's more directly movement support.

I'm a little less sure on the networking point.  I notice that because I'm exploring lots of EA-related areas in relatively low depth, I haven't hit diminishing returns from talking to people in the community.  I do imagine that people who have committed more strongly to an area would get more value from exploring more.  I do agree that lots of people outside the traditional EA geographical areas could do fantastic work.  Enabling this doesn't seem very resource-intensive though.  I would guess that EA Virtual Programs is relatively cheap, and it allows anyone to get started in EA.  Maybe you'd like to see more traditional local groups, though, which would be more costly but could make sense.

I think the uptake of practices category can be separated into two areas.  Area one would be promoting the uptake of EA-style thinking in existing foundations and the other work you list under "How I would describe EA’s current approach to social change".  Area two would be pushing for the implementation of policies that have come out of EA research in existing organizations, which is what LEEP and lots of animal welfare orgs do (and I suppose more biosecurity and AI people are getting into the regulatory space as well now).  I only question the tractability of area one work, area two work seems to be going quite well!  The main challenge in that domain is making sure the policy recommendations are good.

Thank you for the detailed response!

It's great that you're doing what you can on this front, despite all the challenges!  I don't have specific nutritional advice, though maybe the writer of the first post you linked would.

You may have already considered this (some of your ideas hinted in this direction), but I think it's important to focus on suffering intensity, which you could measure in terms of suffering per calorie or suffering per pound of food.  Doing so will minimize your overall suffering footprint.  My understanding is that the differences in capacity for suffering between large and small animals (such as cows and shrimp) aren't large enough to outweigh the difference in the number of animals you have to eat to get the same number of calories.  Additionally, cows seem to be kept in some of the least awful conditions of any factory-farmed animal.

This website,, shows this difference in a useful graphic.  It also lets you weight the importance you place on welfare vs. climate impacts (though I would set climate to 0%, it may be helpful for you if you prioritize differently).

Brian Tomasic's How Much Direct Suffering Is Caused by Various Animal Foods? could also be a useful guide, and Meghan Barrett's work on insect sentience is worth a read if you want to decide whether it's better to eat insects or other animals.

Great post, thanks for writing it!  Healthy and active vegans sharing their stories helps change the narrative, bit by bit.

Destroying viruses in at-risk labs

Thanks to Garrett Ehinger for feedback and for writing the last paragraph.

Military conflict around or in the vicinity of biological research laboratories could substantially increase the risk of releasing a dangerous pathogen into the environment. The fighting and mass movement of refugees combine with other risk factors to magnify the potential ramifications of this risk.  Garrett Ehinger elaborates on this issue in his excellent Chicago Tribune piece, and proposes the creation of nonaggression treaties for biological labs in war zones as additional pillars to shore up biosecurity norms. 

This seems like a great option, but I think there may be a more prompt technical solution as well.  Viruses, bacteria, and other dangerous materials in at-risk labs could be stored in containers that have built-in methods to destroy their contents. A strong heating element could be integrated into the storage compartment of each virus and activated by scientists at the lab if a threat seems imminent.  Vibration sensors could also automatically activate the system in case of a bombing or an earthquake.  This solution would require funding and engineering expertise.  I don’t know how much convincing labs would need to integrate it into their existing setups.

If labs might consider the purchase and implementation of entirely new heating elements with their existing containers to be too tall of an order, there are other alternatives.  For example, “autoclaves” (the chemist's equivalent of a ceramic kiln or furnace) are already commonplace in many biological laboratories for purposes such as medium synthesis or equipment sterilization.  There could be value for these labs in developing SOPs and recommendations for the safe disposal of risky pathogens via autoclaves.  This solution would be quicker and easier to implement, but in an emergency situation, could require slightly more time to safely destroy all the lab’s pathogens.

Load more