Part 1: The idea of Effective Altruism (EA)

*The original article is extracted from the main Effective Altruism website © Centre For Effective Altruism and 80,000 Hours

Introduction

Most of us want to make a difference. We see suffering, injustice and death, and are moved to do something about them. But working out what that ‘something’ is, let alone doing it, is a difficult problem.

 A woman walking across dry parched agricultural land caused by extreme drought in India.    Photo courtesy:   Sam Panthaky /AFP/Getty Images

A woman walking across dry parched agricultural land caused by extreme drought in India. 

Photo courtesy: Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

Which cause should you support if you really want to make a difference? What career choices will help you make a significant contribution? Which charities will use your donation effectively?

If you don’t choose well, you risk wasting your time and money. But if you choose wisely, you have a tremendous chance to improve the world.

The EA Principles

We recognize people's motivation to do good and we care about honing and harnessing it to be more effective in our actions.

The following framework is helpful to consider how we can do the most good: 

  1. Scalability
  2. Neglectedness
  3. Tractibility

If we solved this problem as much as it can be solved, by how much would the world become a better place?

This means scale can be increased by either

(i) affecting a larger number of people

(ii) affecting the same number of people in a bigger way.

The effect could involve improving any aspect of wellbeing – happiness, health, meaning and so on.


How many resources are already being dedicated to tackling this problem?

 

After a large amount of resources have been dedicated to a problem, you’ll hit diminishing returns. This is because people take the best opportunities for impact first, so as more and more resources get invested (saturated space), it becomes harder and harder to make a difference.

It’s therefore generally better to focus on problems that have been neglected by others.


The long-run average of people’s ability to turn resources into progress toward solving the problem.

It’s also valuable to explore new problems because this can help us figure out which problems are in fact most pressing (geek aside: likely to gain value of information).

If no-one has worked on a problem before, then it could easily turn out to be more solvable than is currently thought.


  Photo courtesy: Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)   AMF is considered a highly effective charity, based on GiveWell's  evaluation . 

Photo courtesy: Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)

AMF is considered a highly effective charity, based on GiveWell's evaluation

This series of articles is an introduction to effective altruism — the use of high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.

Its purpose is to help you figure out how you can do the most good. It will help you think about which cause to focus on and how to use your money or your time to start making a difference, right away.

 

Wanyi Zeng