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80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

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A show about the world's most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them.

Subscribe by searching for '80,000 Hours' wherever you get podcasts.

Hosted by Rob Wiblin, Director of Research at 80,000 Hours.
126 Episodes
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I suspect today's guest, Lewis Bollard, might be the single best person in the world to interview to get an overview of all the methods that might be effective for putting an end to factory farming and what broader lessons we can learn from the experiences of people working to end cruelty in animal agriculture. That's why I interviewed him back in 2017, and it's why I've come back for an updated second dose four years later. That conversation became a touchstone resource for anyone wanting to understand why people might decide to focus their altruism on farmed animal welfare, what those people are up to, and why. Lewis leads Open Philanthropy’s strategy for farm animal welfare, and since he joined in 2015 they’ve disbursed about $130 million in grants to nonprofits as part of this program. This episode certainly isn't only for vegetarians or people whose primary focus is animal welfare. The farmed animal welfare movement has had a lot of big wins over the last five years, and many of the lessons animal activists and plant-based meat entrepreneurs have learned are of much broader interest. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Some of those include: • Between 2019 and 2020, Beyond Meat's cost of goods sold fell from about $4.50 a pound to $3.50 a pound. Will plant-based meat or clean meat displace animal meat, and if so when? How quickly can it reach price parity? • One study reported that philosophy students reduced their meat consumption by 13% after going through a course on the ethics of factory farming. But do studies like this replicate? And what happens several months later? • One survey showed that 33% of people supported a ban on animal farming. Should we take such findings seriously? Or is it as informative as the study which showed that 38% of Americans believe that Ted Cruz might be the Zodiac killer? • Costco, the second largest retailer in the U.S., is now over 95% cage-free. Why have they done that years before they had to? And can ethical individuals within these companies make a real difference? We also cover: • Switzerland’s ballot measure on eliminating factory farming • What a Biden administration could mean for reducing animal suffering • How chicken is cheaper than peanuts • The biggest recent wins for farmed animals • Things that haven’t gone to plan in animal advocacy • Political opportunities for farmed animal advocates in Europe • How the US is behind Brazil and Israel on animal welfare standards • The value of increasing media coverage of factory farming • The state of the animal welfare movement • And much more If you’d like an introduction to the nature of the problem and why Lewis is working on it, in addition to our 2017 interview with Lewis, you could check out this 2013 cause report from Open Philanthropy. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Sofia Davis-Fogel.
This is a crosspost of an episode of the Eureka Podcast. The interviewer is Misha Saul, a childhood friend of Rob's, who he has known for over 20 years. While it's not an episode of our own show, we decided to share it with subscribers because it's fun, and because it touches on personal topics that we don't usually cover on the show. Rob and Misha cover: • How Rob's parents shaped who he is (if indeed they did) • Their shared teenage obsession with philosophy, which eventually led to Rob working at 80,000 Hours • How their politics were shaped by growing up in the 90s • How talking to Rob helped Misha develop his own very different worldview • Why The Lord of the Rings movies have held up so well • What was it like being an exchange student in Spain, and was learning Spanish a mistake? • Marriage and kids • Institutional decline and historical analogies for the US in 2021 • Making fun of teachers • Should we stop eating animals? Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell.
You wake up in a mysterious box, and hear the booming voice of God: “I just flipped a coin. If it came up heads, I made ten boxes, labeled 1 through 10 — each of which has a human in it. If it came up tails, I made ten billion boxes, labeled 1 through 10 billion — also with one human in each box. To get into heaven, you have to answer this correctly: Which way did the coin land?” You think briefly, and decide you should bet your eternal soul on tails. The fact that you woke up at all seems like pretty good evidence that you’re in the big world — if the coin landed tails, way more people should be having an experience just like yours. But then you get up, walk outside, and look at the number on your box. ‘3’. Huh. Now you don’t know what to believe. If God made 10 billion boxes, surely it's much more likely that you would have seen a number like 7,346,678,928? In today's interview, Ajeya Cotra — a senior research analyst at Open Philanthropy — explains why this thought experiment from the niche of philosophy known as 'anthropic reasoning' could be relevant for figuring out where we should direct our charitable giving. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Some thinkers both inside and outside Open Philanthropy believe that philanthropic giving should be guided by 'longtermism' — the idea that we can do the most good if we focus primarily on the impact our actions will have on the long-term future. Ajeya thinks that for that notion to make sense, there needs to be a good chance we can settle other planets and solar systems and build a society that's both very large relative to what's possible on Earth and, by virtue of being so spread out, able to protect itself from extinction for a very long time. But imagine that humanity has two possible futures ahead of it: Either we’re going to have a huge future like that, in which trillions of people ultimately exist, or we’re going to wipe ourselves out quite soon, thereby ensuring that only around 100 billion people ever get to live. If there are eventually going to be 1,000 trillion humans, what should we think of the fact that we seemingly find ourselves so early in history? Being among the first 100 billion humans, as we are, is equivalent to walking outside and seeing a three on your box. Suspicious! If the future will have many trillions of people, the odds of us appearing so strangely early are very low indeed. If we accept the analogy, maybe we can be confident that humanity is at a high risk of extinction based on this so-called 'doomsday argument' alone. If that’s true, maybe we should put more of our resources into avoiding apparent extinction threats like nuclear war and pandemics. But on the other hand, maybe the argument shows we're incredibly unlikely to achieve a long and stable future no matter what we do, and we should forget the long term and just focus on the here and now instead. There are many critics of this theoretical ‘doomsday argument’, and it may be the case that it logically doesn't work. This is why Ajeya spent time investigating it, with the goal of ultimately making better philanthropic grants. In this conversation, Ajeya and Rob discuss both the doomsday argument and the challenge Open Phil faces striking a balance between taking big ideas seriously, and not going all in on philosophical arguments that may turn out to be barking up the wrong tree entirely. They also discuss: • Which worldviews Open Phil finds most plausible, and how it balances them • How hard it is to get to other solar systems • The 'simulation argument' • When transformative AI might actually arrive • And much more Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Sofia Davis-Fogel.
This is a crosspost of an episode of the Clearer Thinking Podcast: 022: Self-Improvement and Research Ethics with Rob Wiblin. Rob chats with Spencer Greenberg, who has been an audience favourite in episodes 11 and 39 of the 80,000 Hours Podcast, and has now created this show of his own. Among other things they cover: • Is trying to become a better person a good strategy for self-improvement • Why Rob thinks many people could achieve much more by finding themselves a line manager • Why interviews on this show are so damn long • Is it complicated to figure out what human beings value, or actually simpler than it seems • Why Rob thinks research ethics and institutional review boards are causing immense harm • Where prediction markets might be failing today and how to tell If you like this go ahead and subscribe to Spencer's show by searching for Clearer Thinking in your podcasting app. In particular, you might want to check out Spencer’s conversation with another 80,000 Hours researcher: 008: Life Experiments and Philosophical Thinking with Arden Koehler. The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.
Rebroadcast: this episode was originally released in March 2020. To do good, most of us look to use our time and money to affect the world around us today. But perhaps that's all wrong. If you took $1,000 you were going to donate and instead put it in the stock market — where it grew on average 5% a year — in 100 years you'd have $125,000 to give away instead. And in 200 years you'd have $17 million. This astonishing fact has driven today's guest, economics researcher Philip Trammell at Oxford's Global Priorities Institute, to investigate the case for and against so-called 'patient philanthropy' in depth. If the case for patient philanthropy is as strong as Phil believes, many of us should be trying to improve the world in a very different way than we are now. He points out that on top of being able to dispense vastly more, whenever your trustees decide to use your gift to improve the world, they'll also be able to rely on the much broader knowledge available to future generations. A donor two hundred years ago couldn't have known distributing anti-malarial bed nets was a good idea. Not only did bed nets not exist — we didn't even know about germs, and almost nothing in medicine was justified by science. Does the COVID-19 emergency mean we should actually use resources right now? See Phil's first thoughts on this question here. • Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. • Latest version of Phil’s paper on the topic. What similar leaps will our descendants have made in 200 years, allowing your now vast foundation to benefit more people in even greater ways? And there's a third reason to wait as well. What are the odds that we today live at the most critical point in history, when resources happen to have the greatest ability to do good? It's possible. But the future may be very long, so there has to be a good chance that some moment in the future will be both more pivotal and more malleable than our own. Of course, there are many objections to this proposal. If you start a foundation you hope will wait around for centuries, might it not be destroyed in a war, revolution, or financial collapse? Or might it not drift from its original goals, eventually just serving the interest of its distant future trustees, rather than the noble pursuits you originally intended? Or perhaps it could fail for the reverse reason, by staying true to your original vision — if that vision turns out to be as deeply morally mistaken as the Rhodes' Scholarships initial charter, which limited it to 'white Christian men'. Alternatively, maybe the world will change in the meantime, making your gift useless. At one end, humanity might destroy itself before your trust tries to do anything with the money. Or perhaps everyone in the future will be so fabulously wealthy, or the problems of the world already so overcome, that your philanthropy will no longer be able to do much good. Are these concerns, all of them legitimate, enough to overcome the case in favour of patient philanthropy? In today's conversation with researcher Phil Trammell and my colleague Howie Lempel, we try to answer that, and also discuss: • Historical attempts at patient philanthropy • Should we have a mixed strategy, where some altruists are patient and others impatient? • Which causes most need money now? • What is the research frontier here? • What does this all mean for what listeners should do differently? Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the transcript linked above. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcripts: Zakee Ulhaq.
Rebroadcast: this episode was originally released in April 2020. Since it was founded, 80,000 Hours has done one-on-one calls to supplement our online content and offer more personalised advice. We try to help people get clear on their most plausible paths, the key uncertainties they face in choosing between them, and provide resources, pointers, and introductions to help them in those paths. I (Michelle Hutchinson) joined the team a couple of years ago after working at Oxford's Global Priorities Institute, and these days I'm 80,000 Hours' Head of Advising. Since then, chatting to hundreds of people about their career plans has given me some idea of the kinds of things it’s useful for people to hear about when thinking through their careers. So we thought it would be useful to discuss some on the show for everyone to hear. • Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. • See over 500 vacancies on our job board. • Apply for one-on-one career advising. Among other common topics, we cover: • Why traditional careers advice involves thinking through what types of roles you enjoy followed by which of those are impactful, while we recommend going the other way: ranking roles on impact, and then going down the list to find the one you think you’d most flourish in. • That if you’re pitching your job search at the right level of role, you’ll need to apply to a large number of different jobs. So it's wise to broaden your options, by applying for both stretch and backup roles, and not over-emphasising a small number of organisations. • Our suggested process for writing a longer term career plan: 1. shortlist your best medium to long-term career options, then 2. figure out the key uncertainties in choosing between them, and 3. map out concrete next steps to resolve those uncertainties. • Why many listeners aren't spending enough time finding out about what the day-to-day work is like in paths they're considering, or reaching out to people for advice or opportunities. • The difficulty of maintaining the ambition to increase your social impact, while also being proud of and motivated by what you're already accomplishing. I also thought it might be useful to give people a sense of what I do and don’t do in advising calls, to help them figure out if they should sign up for it. If you’re wondering whether you’ll benefit from advising, bear in mind that it tends to be more useful to people: 1. With similar views to 80,000 Hours on what the world’s most pressing problems are, because we’ve done most research on the problems we think it’s most important to address. 2. Who don’t yet have close connections with people working at effective altruist organisations. 3. Who aren’t strongly locationally constrained. If you’re unsure, it doesn’t take long to apply, and a lot of people say they find the application form itself helps them reflect on their plans. We’re particularly keen to hear from people from under-represented backgrounds. Also in this episode: • I describe mistakes I’ve made in advising, and career changes made by people I’ve spoken with. • Rob and I argue about what risks to take with your career, like when it’s sensible to take a study break, or start from the bottom in a new career path. • I try to forecast how I’ll change after I have a baby, Rob speculates wildly on what motherhood is like, and Arden and I mercilessly mock Rob. Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
From one point of view academia forms one big 'epistemic' system — a process which directs attention, generates ideas, and judges which are good. Traditional print media is another such system, and we can think of society as a whole as a huge epistemic system, made up of these and many other subsystems. How these systems absorb, process, combine and organise information will have a big impact on what humanity as a whole ends up doing with itself — in fact, at a broad level it basically entirely determines the direction of the future. With that in mind, today’s guest Owen Cotton-Barratt has founded the Research Scholars Programme (RSP) at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, which gives early-stage researchers leeway to try to understand how the world works. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Instead of you having to pay for a masters degree, the RSP pays *you* to spend significant amounts of time thinking about high-level questions, like "What is important to do?” and “How can I usefully contribute?" Participants get to practice their research skills, while also thinking about research as a process and how research communities can function as epistemic systems that plug into the rest of society as productively as possible. The programme attracts people with several years of experience who are looking to take their existing knowledge — whether that’s in physics, medicine, policy work, or something else — and apply it to what they determine to be the most important topics. It also attracts people without much experience, but who have a lot of ideas. If you went directly into a PhD programme, you might have to narrow your focus quickly. But the RSP gives you time to explore the possibilities, and to figure out the answer to the question “What’s the topic that really matters, and that I’d be happy to spend several years of my life on?” Owen thinks one of the most useful things about the two-year programme is being around other people — other RSP participants, as well as other researchers at the Future of Humanity Institute — who are trying to think seriously about where our civilisation is headed and how to have a positive impact on this trajectory. Instead of being isolated in a PhD, you’re surrounded by folks with similar goals who can push back on your ideas and point out where you’re making mistakes. Saving years not pursuing an unproductive path could mean that you will ultimately have a much bigger impact with your career. RSP applications are set to open in the Spring of 2021 — but Owen thinks it’s helpful for people to think about it in advance. In today’s episode, Arden and Owen mostly talk about Owen’s own research. They cover: • Extinction risk classification and reduction strategies • Preventing small disasters from becoming large disasters • How likely we are to go from being in a collapsed state to going extinct • What most people should do if longtermism is true • Advice for mathematically-minded people • And much more Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris Audio mastering: Ben Cordell Transcript: Zakee Ulhaq
In its first 28 days on Netflix, the documentary The Social Dilemma — about the possible harms being caused by social media and other technology products — was seen by 38 million households in about 190 countries and in 30 languages. Over the last ten years, the idea that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are degrading political discourse and grabbing and monetizing our attention in an alarming way has gone mainstream to such an extent that it's hard to remember how recently it was a fringe view. It feels intuitively true that our attention spans are shortening, we’re spending more time alone, we’re less productive, there’s more polarization and radicalization, and that we have less trust in our fellow citizens, due to having less of a shared basis of reality. But while it all feels plausible, how strong is the evidence that it's true? In the past, people have worried about every new technological development — often in ways that seem foolish in retrospect. Socrates famously feared that being able to write things down would ruin our memory. At the same time, historians think that the printing press probably generated religious wars across Europe, and that the radio helped Hitler and Stalin maintain power by giving them and them alone the ability to spread propaganda across the whole of Germany and the USSR. Fears about new technologies aren't always misguided. Tristan Harris, leader of the Center for Humane Technology, and co-host of the Your Undivided Attention podcast, is arguably the most prominent person working on reducing the harms of social media, and he was happy to engage with Rob’s good-faith critiques. • Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. • FYI, the 2020 Effective Altruism Survey is closing soon: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EAS80K2 Tristan and Rob provide a thorough exploration of the merits of possible concrete solutions – something The Social Dilemma didn’t really address. Given that these companies are mostly trying to design their products in the way that makes them the most money, how can we get that incentive to align with what's in our interests as users and citizens? One way is to encourage a shift to a subscription model. One claim in The Social Dilemma is that the machine learning algorithms on these sites try to shift what you believe and what you enjoy in order to make it easier to predict what content recommendations will keep you on the site. But if you paid a yearly fee to Facebook in lieu of seeing ads, their incentive would shift towards making you as satisfied as possible with their service — even if that meant using it for five minutes a day rather than 50. Despite all the negatives, Tristan doesn’t want us to abandon the technologies he's concerned about. He asks us to imagine a social media environment designed to regularly bring our attention back to what each of us can do to improve our lives and the world. Just as we can focus on the positives of nuclear power while remaining vigilant about the threat of nuclear weapons, we could embrace social media and recommendation algorithms as the largest mass-coordination engine we've ever had — tools that could educate and organise people better than anything that has come before. The tricky and open question is how to get there. Rob and Tristan also discuss: • Justified concerns vs. moral panics • The effect of social media on politics in the US and developing countries • Tips for individuals Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Sofia Davis-Fogel.
In the last '80k team chat' with Ben Todd and Arden Koehler, we discussed what effective altruism is and isn't, and how to argue for it. In this episode we turn now to what the effective altruism community most needs. • Links to learn more, summary and full transcript • The 2020 Effective Altruism Survey just opened. If you're involved with the effective altruism community, or sympathetic to its ideas, it's would be wonderful if you could fill it out: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/EAS80K2 According to Ben, we can think of the effective altruism movement as having gone through several stages, categorised by what kind of resource has been most able to unlock more progress on important issues (i.e. by what's the 'bottleneck'). Plausibly, these stages are common for other social movements as well. • Needing money: In the first stage, when effective altruism was just getting going, more money (to do things like pay staff and put on events) was the main bottleneck to making progress. • Needing talent: In the second stage, we especially needed more talented people being willing to work on whatever seemed most pressing. • Needing specific skills and capacity: In the third stage, which Ben thinks we're in now, the main bottlenecks are organizational capacity, infrastructure, and management to help train people up, as well as specialist skills that people can put to work now. What's next? Perhaps needing coordination -- the ability to make sure people keep working efficiently and effectively together as the community grows. Ben and I also cover the career implications of those stages, as well as the ability to save money and the possibility that someone else would do your job in your absence. If you’d like to learn more about these topics, you should check out a couple of articles on our site: • Think twice before talking about ‘talent gaps’ – clarifying nine misconceptions • How replaceable are the top candidates in large hiring rounds? Why the answer flips depending on the distribution of applicant ability Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
If you want to make the world a better place, would it be better to help your niece with her SATs, or try to join the State Department to lower the risk that the US and China go to war? People involved in 80,000 Hours or the effective altruism community would be comfortable recommending the latter. This week's guest — Russ Roberts, host of the long-running podcast EconTalk, and author of a forthcoming book on decision-making under uncertainty and the limited ability of data to help — worries that might be a mistake. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. I've been a big fan of Russ' show EconTalk for 12 years — in fact I have a list of my top 100 recommended episodes — so I invited him to talk about his concerns with how the effective altruism community tries to improve the world. These include: • Being too focused on the measurable • Being too confident we've figured out 'the best thing' • Being too credulous about the results of social science or medical experiments • Undermining people's altruism by encouraging them to focus on strangers, who it's naturally harder to care for • Thinking it's possible to predictably help strangers, who you don't understand well enough to know what will truly help • Adding levels of wellbeing across people when this is inappropriate • Encouraging people to pursue careers they won't enjoy These worries are partly informed by Russ' 'classical liberal' worldview, which involves a preference for free market solutions to problems, and nervousness about the big plans that sometimes come out of consequentialist thinking. While we do disagree on a range of things — such as whether it's possible to add up wellbeing across different people, and whether it's more effective to help strangers than people you know — I make the case that some of these worries are founded on common misunderstandings about effective altruism, or at least misunderstandings of what we believe here at 80,000 Hours. We primarily care about making the world a better place over thousands or even millions of years — and we wouldn’t dream of claiming that we could accurately measure the effects of our actions on that timescale. I'm more skeptical of medicine and empirical social science than most people, though not quite as skeptical as Russ (check out this quiz I made where you can guess which academic findings will replicate, and which won't). And while I do think that people should occasionally take jobs they dislike in order to have a social impact, those situations seem pretty few and far between. But Russ and I disagree about how much we really disagree. In addition to all the above we also discuss: • How to decide whether to have kids • Was the case for deworming children oversold? • Whether it would be better for countries around the world to be better coordinated Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
Today’s release is the latest in our series of audio versions of our articles.In this one — How much does a vote matter? — I investigate the two key things that determine the impact of your vote: • The chances of your vote changing an election’s outcome • How much better some candidates are for the world as a whole, compared to others I then discuss what I think are the best arguments against voting in important elections: • If an election is competitive, that means other people disagree about which option is better, and you’re at some risk of voting for the worse candidate by mistake. • While voting itself doesn’t take long, knowing enough to accurately pick which candidate is better for the world actually does take substantial effort — effort that could be better allocated elsewhere. Finally, I look into the impact of donating to campaigns or working to ‘get out the vote’, which can be effective ways to generate additional votes for your preferred candidate. If you want to check out the links, footnotes and figures in today’s article, you can find those here. Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris.
Had World War 1 never happened, you might never have existed. It’s very unlikely that the exact chain of events that led to your conception would have happened otherwise — so perhaps you wouldn't have been born. Would that mean that it's better for you that World War 1 happened (regardless of whether it was better for the world overall)? On the one hand, if you're living a pretty good life, you might think the answer is yes – you get to live rather than not. On the other hand, it sounds strange to say that it's better for you to be alive, because if you'd never existed there'd be no you to be worse off. But if you wouldn't be worse off if you hadn't existed, can you be better off because you do? In this episode, philosophy professor Hilary Greaves – Director of Oxford University’s Global Priorities Institute – helps untangle this puzzle for us and walks me and Rob through the space of possible answers. She argues that philosophers have been too quick to conclude what she calls existence non-comparativism – i.e, that it can't be better for someone to exist vs. not. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Where we come down on this issue matters. If people are not made better off by existing and having good lives, you might conclude that bringing more people into existence isn't better for them, and thus, perhaps, that it's not better at all. This would imply that bringing about a world in which more people live happy lives might not actually be a good thing (if the people wouldn't otherwise have existed) — which would affect how we try to make the world a better place. Those wanting to have children in order to give them the pleasure of a good life would in some sense be mistaken. And if humanity stopped bothering to have kids and just gradually died out we would have no particular reason to be concerned. Furthermore it might mean we should deprioritise issues that primarily affect future generations, like climate change or the risk of humanity accidentally wiping itself out. This is our second episode with Professor Greaves. The first one was a big hit, so we thought we'd come back and dive into even more complex ethical issues. We discuss: • The case for different types of ‘strong longtermism’ — the idea that we ought morally to try to make the very long run future go as well as possible • What it means for us to be 'clueless' about the consequences of our actions • Moral uncertainty -- what we should do when we don't know which moral theory is correct • Whether we should take a bet on a really small probability of a really great outcome • The field of global priorities research at the Global Priorities Institute and beyond Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
Today’s episode is the latest conversation between Arden Koehler, and our CEO, Ben Todd. Ben’s been thinking a lot about effective altruism recently, including what it really is, how it's framed, and how people misunderstand it. We recently released an article on misconceptions about effective altruism – based on Will MacAskill’s recent paper The Definition of Effective Altruism – and this episode can act as a companion piece. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Arden and Ben cover a bunch of topics related to effective altruism: • How it isn’t just about donating money to fight poverty • Whether it includes a moral obligation to give • The rigorous argument for its importance • Objections to that argument • How to talk about effective altruism for people who aren't already familiar with it Given that we’re in the same office, it’s relatively easy to record conversations between two 80k team members — so if you enjoy these types of bonus episodes, let us know at podcast@80000hours.org, and we might make them a more regular feature. Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
Today’s release is the latest in our series of audio versions of our articles. In this one, we go through some more career options beyond our priority paths that seem promising to us for positively influencing the long-term future. Some of these are likely to be written up as priority paths in the future, or wrapped into existing ones, but we haven’t written full profiles for them yet—for example policy careers outside AI and biosecurity policy that seem promising from a longtermist perspective. Others, like information security, we think might be as promising for many people as our priority paths, but because we haven’t investigated them much we’re still unsure. Still others seem like they’ll typically be less impactful than our priority paths for people who can succeed equally in either, but still seem high-impact to us and like they could be top options for a substantial number of people, depending on personal fit—for example research management. Finally some—like becoming a public intellectual—clearly have the potential for a lot of impact, but we can’t recommend them widely because they don’t have the capacity to absorb a large number of people, are particularly risky, or both. If you want to check out the links in today’s article, you can find those here. Our annual user survey is also now open for submissions. Once a year for two weeks we ask all of you, our podcast listeners, article readers, advice receivers, and so on, so let us know how we've helped or hurt you. 80,000 Hours now offers many different services, and your feedback helps us figure out which programs to keep, which to cut, and which to expand. This year we have a new section covering the podcast, asking what kinds of episodes you liked the most and want to see more of, what extra resources you use, and some other questions too. We're always especially interested to hear ways that our work has influenced what you plan to do with your life or career, whether that impact was positive, neutral, or negative. That might be a different focus in your existing job, or a decision to study something different or look for a new job. Alternatively, maybe you're now planning to volunteer somewhere, or donate more, or donate to a different organisation. Your responses to the survey will be carefully read as part of our upcoming annual review, and we'll use them to help decide what 80,000 Hours should do differently next year. So please do take a moment to fill out the user survey before it closes on Sunday (13th of September). You can find it at 80000hours.org/survey Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
Today’s bonus episode is a conversation between Arden Koehler, and our CEO, Ben Todd. Ben’s been doing a bunch of research recently, and we thought it’d be interesting to hear about how he’s currently thinking about a couple of different topics – including different types of longtermism, and things 80,000 Hours might be getting wrong. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. This is very off-the-cut compared to our regular episodes, and just 54 minutes long. In the first half, Arden and Ben talk about varieties of longtermism: • Patient longtermism • Broad urgent longtermism • Targeted urgent longtermism focused on existential risks • Targeted urgent longtermism focused on other trajectory changes • And their distinctive implications for people trying to do good with their careers. In the second half, they move on to: • How to trade-off transferable versus specialist career capital • How much weight to put on personal fit • Whether we might be highlighting the wrong problems and career paths. Given that we’re in the same office, it’s relatively easy to record conversations between two 80k team members — so if you enjoy these types of bonus episodes, let us know at podcast@80000hours.org, and we might make them a more regular feature. Our annual user survey is also now open for submissions. Once a year for two weeks we ask all of you, our podcast listeners, article readers, advice receivers, and so on, so let us know how we've helped or hurt you. 80,000 Hours now offers many different services, and your feedback helps us figure out which programs to keep, which to cut, and which to expand. This year we have a new section covering the podcast, asking what kinds of episodes you liked the most and want to see more of, what extra resources you use, and some other questions too. We're always especially interested to hear ways that our work has influenced what you plan to do with your life or career, whether that impact was positive, neutral, or negative. That might be a different focus in your existing job, or a decision to study something different or look for a new job. Alternatively, maybe you're now planning to volunteer somewhere, or donate more, or donate to a different organisation. Your responses to the survey will be carefully read as part of our upcoming annual review, and we'll use them to help decide what 80,000 Hours should do differently next year. So please do take a moment to fill out the user survey. You can find it at 80000hours.org/survey Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
Today’s release is the latest in our series of audio versions of our articles. In this one, we go through 30 global issues beyond the ones we usually prioritize most highly in our work, and that you might consider focusing your career on tackling. Although we spend the majority of our time at 80,000 Hours on our highest priority problem areas, and we recommend working on them to many of our readers, these are just the most promising issues among those we’ve spent time investigating. There are many other global issues that we haven’t properly investigated, and which might be very promising for more people to work on. In fact, we think working on some of the issues in this article could be as high-impact for some people as working on our priority problem areas — though we haven’t looked into them enough to be confident. If you want to check out the links in today’s article, you can find those here. Our annual user survey is also now open for submissions. Once a year for two weeks we ask all of you, our podcast listeners, article readers, advice receivers, and so on, so let us know how we've helped or hurt you. 80,000 Hours now offers many different services, and your feedback helps us figure out which programs to keep, which to cut, and which to expand. This year we have a new section covering the podcast, asking what kinds of episodes you liked the most and want to see more of, what extra resources you use, and some other questions too. We're always especially interested to hear ways that our work has influenced what you plan to do with your life or career, whether that impact was positive, neutral, or negative. That might be a different focus in your existing job, or a decision to study something different or look for a new job. Alternatively, maybe you're now planning to volunteer somewhere, or donate more, or donate to a different organisation. Your responses to the survey will be carefully read as part of our upcoming annual review, and we'll use them to help decide what 80,000 Hours should do differently next year. So please do take a moment to fill out the user survey. You can find it at 80000hours.org/survey Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
A golf-ball sized lump of uranium can deliver more than enough power to cover all of your lifetime energy use. To get the same energy from coal, you’d need 3,200 tonnes of black rock — a mass equivalent to 800 adult elephants, which would produce more than 11,000 tonnes of CO2. That’s about 11,000 tonnes more than the uranium. Many people aren’t comfortable with the danger posed by nuclear power. But given the climatic stakes, it’s worth asking: Just how much more dangerous is it compared to fossil fuels? According to today’s guest, Mark Lynas — author of Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (winner of the prestigious Royal Society Prizes for Science Books) and Nuclear 2.0 — it’s actually much, much safer. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. Climatologists James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha calculated that the use of nuclear power between 1971 and 2009 avoided the premature deaths of 1.84 million people by avoiding air pollution from burning coal. What about radiation or nuclear disasters? According to Our World In Data, in generating a given amount of electricity, nuclear, wind, and solar all cause about the same number of deaths — and it's a tiny number. So what’s going on? Why isn’t everyone demanding a massive scale-up of nuclear energy to save lives and stop climate change? Mark and many other activists believe that unchecked climate change will result in the collapse of human civilization, so the stakes could not be higher. Mark says that many environmentalists — including him — simply grew up with anti-nuclear attitudes all around them (possibly stemming from a conflation of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy) and haven't thought to question them. But he thinks that once you believe in the climate emergency, you have to rethink your opposition to nuclear energy. At 80,000 Hours we haven’t analysed the merits and flaws of the case for nuclear energy — especially compared to wind and solar paired with gas, hydro, or battery power to handle intermittency — but Mark is convinced. He says it comes down to physics: Nuclear power is just so much denser. We need to find an energy source that provides carbon-free power to ~10 billion people, and we need to do it while humanity is doubling or tripling (or more) its energy demand. How do you do that without destroying the world's ecology? Mark thinks that nuclear is the only way. Read a more in-depth version of the case for nuclear energy in the full blog post. For Mark, the only argument against nuclear power is a political one -- that people won't want or accept it. He says that he knows people in all kinds of mainstream environmental groups — such as Greenpeace — who agree that nuclear must be a vital part of any plan to solve climate change. But, because they think they'll be ostracized if they speak up, they keep their mouths shut. Mark thinks this willingness to indulge beliefs that contradict scientific evidence stands in the way of actually fully addressing climate change, and so he’s helping to build a movement of folks who are out and proud about their support for nuclear energy. This is only one topic of many in today’s interview. Arden, Rob, and Mark also discuss: • At what degrees of warming does societal collapse become likely • Whether climate change could lead to human extinction • What environmentalists are getting wrong about climate change • And much more. Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
When COVID-19 struck the US, everyone was told that hand sanitizer needed to be saved for healthcare professionals, so they should just wash their hands instead. But in India, many homes lack reliable piped water, so they had to do the opposite: distribute hand sanitizer as widely as possible. American advocates for banning single-use plastic straws might be outraged at the widespread adoption of single-use hand sanitizer sachets in India. But the US and India are very different places, and it might be the only way out when you're facing a pandemic without running water. According to today’s guest, Shruti Rajagopalan, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, that's typical and context is key to policy-making. This prompted Shruti to propose a set of policy responses designed for India specifically back in April. Unfortunately she thinks it's surprisingly hard to know what one should and shouldn't imitate from overseas. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. For instance, some places in India installed shared handwashing stations in bus stops and train stations, which is something no developed country would advise. But in India, you can't necessarily wash your hands at home — so shared faucets might be the lesser of two evils. (Though note scientists have downgraded the importance of hand hygiene lately.) Stay-at-home orders offer a more serious example. Developing countries find themselves in a serious bind that rich countries do not. With nearly no slack in healthcare capacity, India lacks equipment to treat even a small number of COVID-19 patients. That suggests strict controls on movement and economic activity might be necessary to control the pandemic. But many people in India and elsewhere can't afford to shelter in place for weeks, let alone months. And governments in poorer countries may not be able to afford to send everyone money — even where they have the infrastructure to do so fast enough. India ultimately did impose strict lockdowns, lasting almost 70 days, but the human toll has been larger than in rich countries, with vast numbers of migrant workers stranded far from home with limited if any income support. There were no trains or buses, and the government made no provision to deal with the situation. Unable to afford rent where they were, many people had to walk hundreds of kilometers to reach home, carrying children and belongings with them. But in some other ways the context of developing countries is more promising. In the US many people melted down when asked to wear facemasks. But in South Asia, people just wore them. Shruti isn’t sure whether that's because of existing challenges with high pollution, past experiences with pandemics, or because intergenerational living makes the wellbeing of others more salient, but the end result is that masks weren’t politicised in the way they were in the US. In addition, despite the suffering caused by India's policy response to COVID-19, public support for the measures and the government remains high — and India's population is much younger and so less affected by the virus. In this episode, Howie and Shruti explore the unique policy challenges facing India in its battle with COVID-19, what they've tried to do, and how it has gone. They also cover: • What an economist can bring to the table during a pandemic • The mystery of India’s surprisingly low mortality rate • Policies that should be implemented today • What makes a good constitution Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
The killing of George Floyd has prompted a great deal of debate over whether the US should reduce the size of its police departments. The research literature suggests that the presence of police officers does reduce crime, though they're expensive and as is increasingly recognised, impose substantial harms on the populations they are meant to be protecting, especially communities of colour. So maybe we ought to shift our focus to effective but unconventional approaches to crime prevention, approaches that don't require police or prisons and the human toll they bring with them. Today’s guest, Jennifer Doleac — Associate Professor of Economics at Texas A&M University, and Director of the Justice Tech Lab — is an expert on empirical research into policing, law and incarceration. In this extensive interview, she highlights three alternative ways to effectively prevent crime: better street lighting, cognitive behavioral therapy, and lead reduction. One of Jennifer’s papers used switches into and out of daylight saving time as a 'natural experiment' to measure the effect of light levels on crime. One day the sun sets at 5pm; the next day it sets at 6pm. When that evening hour is dark instead of light, robberies during it roughly double. Links to sources for the claims in these show notes, other resources to learn more, and a full transcript. The idea here is that if you try to rob someone in broad daylight, they might see you coming, and witnesses might later be able to identify you. You're just more likely to get caught. You might think: "Well, people will just commit crime in the morning instead". But it looks like criminals aren’t early risers, and that doesn’t happen. On her unusually rigorous podcast Probable Causation, Jennifer spoke to one of the authors of a related study, in which very bright streetlights were randomly added to some public housing complexes but not others. They found the lights reduced outdoor night-time crime by 36%, at little cost. The next best thing to sun-light is human-light, so just installing more streetlights might be one of the easiest ways to cut crime, without having to hassle or punish anyone. The second approach is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in which you're taught to slow down your decision-making, and think through your assumptions before acting. There was a randomised controlled trial done in schools, as well as juvenile detention facilities in Chicago, where the kids assigned to get CBT were followed over time and compared with those who were not assigned to receive CBT. They found the CBT course reduced rearrest rates by a third, and lowered the likelihood of a child returning to a juvenile detention facility by 20%. Jennifer says that the program isn’t that expensive, and the benefits are massive. Everyone would probably benefit from being able to talk through their problems but the gains are especially large for people who've grown up with the trauma of violence in their lives. Finally, Jennifer thinks that lead reduction might be the best buy of all in crime prevention… Blog post truncated due to length limits. Finish reading the full post here. In today’s conversation, Rob and Jennifer also cover, among many other things: • Misconduct, hiring practices and accountability among US police • Procedural justice training • Overrated policy ideas • Policies to try to reduce racial discrimination • The effects of DNA databases • Diversity in economics • The quality of social science research Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
No democracy has ever incarcerated as many people as the United States. To get its incarceration rate down to the global average, the US would have to release 3 in 4 people in its prisons today. The effects on Black Americans have been especially severe — Black people make up 12% of the US population but 33% of its prison population. In the early 2000's when incarceration reached its peak, the US government estimated that 32% of Black boys would go to prison at some point in their lives, 5.5 times the figure for whites. Contrary to popular understanding, nonviolent drug offenders make up less than a fifth of the incarcerated population. The only way to get its incarceration rate near the global average will be to shorten prison sentences for so-called 'violent criminals' — a politically toxic idea. But could we change that? According to today’s guest, Professor James Forman Jr — a former public defender in Washington DC, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, and now a professor at Yale Law School — there are two things we have to do to make that happen. Links to learn more, summary and full transcript. First, he thinks we should lose the term 'violent offender', and maybe even 'violent crime'. When you say 'violent crime', most people immediately think of murder and rape — but they're only a small fraction of the crimes that the law deems as violent. In reality, the crime that puts the most people in prison in the US is robbery. And the law says that robbery is a violent crime whether a weapon is involved or not. By moving away from the catch-all category of 'violent criminals' we can judge the risk posed by individual people more sensibly. Second, he thinks we should embrace the restorative justice movement. Instead of asking "What was the law? Who broke it? What should the punishment be", restorative justice asks "Who was harmed? Who harmed them? And what can we as a society, including the person who committed the harm, do to try to remedy that harm?" Instead of being narrowly focused on how many years people should spend in prison as retribution, it starts a different conversation. You might think this apparently softer approach would be unsatisfying to victims of crime. But James has discovered that a lot of victims of crime find that the current system doesn't help them in any meaningful way. What they primarily want to know is: why did this happen to me? The best way to find that out is to actually talk to the person who harmed them, and in doing so gain a better understanding of the underlying factors behind the crime. The restorative justice approach facilitates these conversations in a way the current system doesn't allow, and can include restitution, apologies, and face-to-face reconciliation. That’s just one topic of many covered in today’s episode, with much of the conversation focusing on Professor Forman’s 2018 book Locking Up Our Own — an examination of the historical roots of contemporary criminal justice practices in the US, and his experience setting up a charter school for at-risk youth in DC. Rob and James also discuss: • How racism shaped the US criminal legal system • How Black America viewed policing through the 20th century • How class divisions fostered a 'tough on crime' approach • How you can have a positive impact as a public prosecutor Get this episode by subscribing: type 80,000 Hours into your podcasting app. Or read the linked transcript. Producer: Keiran Harris. Audio mastering: Ben Cordell. Transcriptions: Zakee Ulhaq.
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Comments (4)

ncooty

I'm sure Dr Ord is well-intentioned, but I find his arguments here exceptionally weak and thin. (Also, the uhs and ums are rather annoying after a while.)

Nov 12th
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ncooty

So much vocal fry

Nov 12th
Reply

Ina Iśka

Thank you, that was very inspirational!

Jul 18th
Reply

Sam McMahon

A thought provoking, refreshing podcast

Oct 26th
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