Coronavirus Research Ideas for EAs

by habryka3 min read27th Mar 2020No comments



Peter Hurford wrote a large, very comprehensive, research agenda over on the EA Forum. Here are all the questions: 


1.) Just how bad are things right now? How bad might we expect it to get? What is the current state of play and what are various plausible scenarios forward? [PRIORITY]

2.) What paths to impact are available to us with regard to coronavirus related work? What is our rough guess of how this impact might compare to typical EA work?

3.) An insane amount of research is being produced at a rapid pace. How can we best consolidate and synthesize this information and get people up to speed quickly? [PRIORITY]

4.) An insane number of people are working hard on this, both inside and outside the EA movement. How should we best coordinate? [PRIORITY]

5.) What else could and should EAs do, other than these research questions?

6.) Are there places EAs should donate that focus on coronavirus response that are particularly promising to donate to, relative to existing charities EAs like?

7.) Does EA need a rapid response task force to coordinate inevitable future catastrophes? How can we be better prepared to respond to the next one?

8.) What do our biosecurity and pandemic prevention specialists think the rest of us should be doing right now?

Policy Response

9.) What, more precisely, is the “endgame scenario” for getting out of the coronavirus situation with minimal deaths? What kind of timeline might we be looking at?

10.) Will there be some situations or risks that could arise that make some of the desired endgames impossible or much more difficult to implement?

11.) How have various countries, states, counties, cities, private companies, non-profits, civil societies, etc. successfully or unsuccessfully handled the coronavirus policy response so far?

12.) How might we expect COVID to change policy advocacy over 2020-2022?

13.) What, if anything, can be done to change coronavirus response policy for the better? What about for future pandemics / crises?

14.) Low- and middle-income countries seem at particular risk of not being able to handle the coronavirus problem. How bad will this situation be? What should be done to mitigate it? Do we have any viable paths to impact?

15.) What is the actual cost-benefit of various pandemic responses? [PRIORITY]

16.) What opportunities does this give for us to improve institutions and policies more broadly?

17.) Are there any ballot initiatives we should consider for 2022 and 2024?

18.) Polling could be very valuable right now. What questions should we be asking the general public and how can we leverage their responses to effect change?

EA Community Health

19.) Does coronavirus pose a risk to the cohesion and stability of effective altruism movement? If so, how should we mitigate this? [PRIORITY]

20.) Are local groups still able to operate ok? What implications does this have for EA local groups strategy? Are any local groups at risk of collapse?

21.) A recession is something EA has never faced before. Could an associated fundraising shortfall lead to the collapse of any EA orgs? What can we do to mitigate this? [PRIORITY]

22.) Much EA-aligned “direct work” is severely disrupted or cannot happen. How does that affect these orgs? What should these orgs do differently? [PRIORITY]

23.) Many EAs and EA orgs are now suddenly working remotely for the first time. Do they have the resources they need to be effective?

24.) Are there other risks EAs should be preparing for that we aren’t?

25.) Could the EA movement use the existing groundswell of altruistic action to form better partnerships with non-EAs?

Existential Risk Implications

26.) Is this pandemic a catastrophic risk threat multiplier? How should this change EA’s approach to risk mitigation?

27.) How does this pandemic affect the balance of great powers? What implications does this have? Is this important to look into right now?

28.) What are the implications of widespread expansion of surveillance? Are there ways we can mitigate any risks?

29.) Could massive expansion of largely unrestricted funding to biolabs and other research produce any “dual-use” concerns?

30.) It seems like the world is now aware, perhaps for the first time in modern history, that catastrophic risks can happen. How should we seize this moment?

31.) What biosecurity policies should we try to implement?

32.) What does the COVID outbreak teach us retrospectively about how we should’ve handled this risk? Were the right systems in place?

Animal Welfare Implications

33.) It seems like the world is now aware, perhaps for the first time, that factory farming might pose severe health risks. This could be the biggest opportunity for a pro-animal campaign in modern history. However, mistiming this campaign could risk the biggest backlash to the animal welfare movement in modern history. Given this, how should we respond to this moment? [PRIORITY]

34.) How do we shift animal welfare work to the new online-only world and keep the animal movement from being curtailed?

35.) COVID has had implications for animal welfare. Does this create any new sources of animal suffering that we should take action on? Does it threaten to create any new risks that we can try to get ahead of?

36.) What will be the medium-term effect of COVID-19 and associated economic consequences on the demand for and growth of plant-based products?

Other Implications

37.) Does having widespread lockdowns change the balance of cause areas or create a “Cause X”?