This post overviews the work that Rethink Priorities has done and is doing on risks from nuclear weapons, as well as the theory of change for this work. This is intended to help readers understand how our posts on this topic fit together and what impact we ultimately intend them to have. Note that this post isn’t a summary of our work on nuclear risk; we plan to produce such summaries later. This is cross-posted from the EA Forum.
In 2019, Rethink Priorities (RP) began investigating risks from nuclear weapons in order to determine:
This project was led by Luisa Rodriguez until early 2020, was paused when Luisa left Rethink Priorities, and was resumed by me when I joined Rethink Priorities at the end of 2020. New posts related to this project will be published over the coming months.
Our work on nuclear risk is centred on investigating the likelihood of various nuclear conflict scenarios, how harmful those scenarios would be (particularly for the long-term future), what interventions are available for reducing those likelihoods and/or harms, and how cost-effective those interventions are. This research can mostly be divided into three categories:
All published posts related to this project are collected in the sequence Risks from Nuclear Weapons.
We will also be partnering with Metaculus to run a nuclear risk forecasting tournament. Next week, we’ll publish a post announcing that tournament, discussing how it’ll work, and explaining what we hope to achieve with it.
In a nutshell, the main paths to impact for our nuclear risk research involve improving decisions about (i) how much to prioritize reducing nuclear risk, and (ii) what specific actions to take to reduce nuclear risk. We are focused on improving decisions by the following types of actors:
We expect to mostly (i) influence the decisions of actors with some connection to the effective altruism (EA) community, or (ii) via such actors, indirectly influence actors with no connection to the EA community. For example, we have strong relationships with some EA-aligned people and organisations who in turn have relationships with policymakers or politicians who likely have not heard of effective altruism, and those EA-aligned people or organisations may be able to convey key findings from our work to those policymakers or politicians. That said, we also plan to try to more directly influence some actors with no connection to the EA community.
We expect our work to improve decisions through a mixture of:
We also expect our nuclear risk research to have indirect benefits such as allowing us to build knowledge, skills, connections, and credibility that will be useful for future work (particularly on longtermism-relevant politics, policy, and security topics).
In addition to that high-level theory of change, we internally have more detailed theories of change and target outcomes, and break them down by different parts of our overall nuclear risk work. For discussion of Rethink Priorities’ theory of change, impact assessment, and plans beyond just this nuclear work, see Rethink Priorities 2020 Impact and 2021 Strategy.
We would welcome questions or feedback on any of the above.
This research is a project of Rethink Priorities. It was written by Michael Aird. Thanks to Janique Behman, Neil Dullaghan, and Peter Wildeford for helpful feedback. If you like our work, please consider subscribing to our newsletter. You can see more of our work here.
Luisa is now working with Will MacAskill at the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research, will soon join 80,000 Hours, and is a member of Rethink Priorities’ board. ↩︎
There are also some additional lines of work we may do that wouldn’t neatly fit within those three categories. ↩︎
I’ll soon publish a post on “Why EAs researching mainstream topics can be useful”, which will elaborate on similar points. ↩︎