Rethink Priorities

About Us

Rethink Priorities, a project of Rethink Charity, is dedicated to doing foundational research on neglected causes in a highly empirical and transparent manner.

In doing this research, we focus on the following principles:

  • Generating new insight and knowledge in addition to synthesizing existing research. We’re focused more on producing cutting-edge content rather than summarizing existing content.

  • Publishing shorter and more digestible information more frequently, rather than publishing sprawling research less frequently. By taking the same amount of information and breaking it down into “minimal publishing units,” we make it easier for ourselves and others to understand and build upon, and get quicker feedback loops.

  • Emphasizing quick feedback loops trying to go from initial research to an initial publication in about a month.

  • Seeking tractability in research by looking for questions that we may be able to make meaningful progress on. We’ll hack away on the edges, so to speak.

  • Keeping all research in touch with the bigger picture, building upon individual publications to try to answer key questions.

  • Finding new opportunities over creating more ranked lists of existing opportunities. We predict improving on existing uncertain ranking methods is less effective than finding directions that have been previously neglected in EA. We’re unlikely to convince people of the number one cause, but we might find something others have not thought about.

  • Tracking the impact of our research to help us make key decisions. We have plans to do follow-up reviews on all our research, including surveys to determine the influence of the research.

  • Shutting the project down if it doesn’t generate impact to avoid wasting our time and effort. We are pre-committing to an initial six month test phase and pivoting as necessary. We will completely shut down if there’s no discernable impact within the first year. If our work isn’t helping others make better decisions, we should try something else.

This work is currently led by Marcus A. Davis and Peter Hurford, with Marcus working full-time and Peter working part-time. For more information about their backgrounds, see our team page.

Right now, our research agenda is focused on:

  • trying to learn how to apply cost-effectiveness frameworks to uncertain domains. (As an example, see our first post on vaccine research and development
  • prioritization and research work within interventions aimed at nonhuman animals (as research progress here looks uniquely tractable compared to other cause areas)
  • assisting LEAN and SHIC in gathering evidence about EA movement building (as research here looks tractable and neglected)

Our research agenda and approach are still in the very early stages and may change significantly as we grow and learn.

Announcing PriorityWiki: A Cause Prioritization Wiki

A Cause Prioritization Wiki which anyone can edit

2 minute read

This essay was jointly written by Peter Hurford and Marcus A. Davis.

Locating and keeping up to date on all of the information in all every cause worthy of attention is time-consuming work, and a task we think is likely to be duplicated many times over by individuals and organizations. It’s very useful when deciding what interventions to spend your time or money on to know what work has already been done in the area.

However, much research is done and then lost to the sands of time, buried on some webpage somewhere. It takes significant effort to remember where all the relevant research lives. It would be nice to synthesize all of this research into one place.

This is why we’ve created PriorityWiki, a cause prioritization wiki anyone can edit which categorizes particular interventions within broader causes. For each of these interventions and causes, we link out to high-level summaries on the topic that have been done within (and outside of) the broadly defined effective altruism community. From there, you hopefully have a good launching pad to all the relevant research in any topic.

We’ve seeded this wiki with intervention specific links to work from Open Philanthropy, GiveWell, 80,000 Hours, Animal Charity Evaluators, and others on a wide range of topics. For example, within the the high-level of cause of “Developed World Health”, we’ve further subdivided the page into the type of intervention and link out to specific reviews into anti-malarial interventions, vaccinations, smoking interventions.

While we have seeded the wiki with initial content, it is not currently comprehensive in any cause area and doesn’t include all plausible interventions. We would like for this wiki will serve as a resource to quickly locate and investigate what work has been done on all causes. We would hope that it will at least significantly reduce some of the time-consuming work of trying to gather what research has been done on intervention ideas.

The wiki is editable by anyone without logging in but also supports accounts, and signing in with Google. All of the changes are logged publicly on GitHub with the site itself hosted here and specific pages here.

If you’re interested in expanding this, you are free to add content. Just get started at the PriorityWiki.