Effective altruism

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 and thoughts on 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 meetup; although I didn’t contribute much to the discussion, my interest in EA increased. Part of the reason I attended 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.

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 didn’t get much traction, and as of August 2016, it had only had one meetup in November 2014. During the 2016–2017 school year, Rohin Shah and Ethan Bashkansky restarted the group, with meetings taking place throughout the school year. I have attended multiple meetings but have played only a minor role in this revival.

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

From March 2016 or so to May 2017, I did more concentrated work in global health, working with Vipul Naik. As part of this work, I made several Wikipedia pages related to global health.

Starting in May 2017, I’ve been working (again with Vipul) on broader topics including infrastructure and economic growth.

Beliefs

Although I think effective altruism is pretty cool, I’ve only been consistently impressed with a few people associated with the movement. Indeed, I often find that the most impressive people hang out in the periphery of the movement without necessarily calling themselves “effective altruists”. 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 (although now I don’t think EA is as new as I used to).

I’m highly uncertain about what the best causes are, which is part of the reason I’m interested in cause prioritization.

Overall, I’m not comfortable considering myself part of the “EA movement”. However, I’m happy to interact and collaborate with people who do consider themselves part of the movement.

See also