Effective altruism

Last substantive revision: 2016-06-15

Effective altruism (EA) is “a philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world”. On this page I describe my personal involvement with EA.

Personal involvement

I’ve been involved with the effective altruism community for some time. I first heard about EA through LessWrong (I think it was a post about GiveWell). I remember reading Holden Karnofsky’s critique of the Singularity Institute (now MIRI) right when it came out (May 2012), and I remember it reaching the status of “most upvoted LW post ever”. Although I was intellectually in agreement with effective altruism, I didn’t actually do anything about it, thinking that working hard in school would be a form of altruism (i.e. that in the long term, working hard in school and having more opportunities would allow me to best contribute to the world).

In January 2014, I contacted Cognito Mentoring for the first time. Although I myself didn’t seem to ask directly about EA (looking back at our correspondence), a friend contacted them regarding effective career choice, and this roused my interested in effective altruism as well.

In July 2014, I attended a Seattle Effective Altruists meetup1; although I didn’t contribute much to the discussion, my interest in EA increased.

Following my first meetup was a period of several months where I frequently attended Seattle EA meetups. I also became more involved in online discussions of EA, and eventually in November 2014 started the Cause Prioritization Wiki as a place to store my research on cause prioritization. Also around this time, I tried to start an effective altruism group at the University of Washington. The group hasn’t gotten much traction, so as of August 2015, the group has only had one meetup in November 2014.

I continue to be involved in online discussions of EA, but have since become less involved in Seattle EA meetups.

As of March 2016 or so, I’ve been doing more concentrated work in global health. As part of this work, I’ve been making several Wikipedia pages related to global health.


Although I think effective altruism is pretty cool, I’ve only been consistently impressed with a few people associated with the movement. I think EA uses a clever definition to make it irrefutable in some sense, which makes discussion and criticism of it difficult. However if nothing else, I think effective altruism still does to philanthropy what Bastiat does to economics.

I’m highly uncertain about what the best causes are, which is part of the reason I’m interested in cause prioritization (but again, I’m not even sure if cause prioritization is very valuable—it just seems like a promising thing to try out for a while).

See also

  1. Part of this was due to my interest, but part of it too was that I was working on a research project at the University of Washington over the summer, and the July meetup was conveniently situated next to campus—so the activation energy had been considerably lowered. The topic of the meetup was also “Donating vs. Working directly for impact”, which was a topic of particular interest to me going into college.

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