As a student, it is easy to get caught up in your local bubble and forget the most important issues. And even then, it’s easy to feel powerless to do anything about them because we are poor, busy, and underqualified.
During my first few years at university, I felt like this too. But taking a pragmatic approach to doing good has showed me just how much of an impact you can have as a student.
On 15th May 2017, I decided to make a change in my life that will have a small impact on me but a large impact on some people I have never met. I am really excited about this opportunity and want to share it with you.
The ongoing struggle of the poorest people in the world rarely gets a mention on the news or in national political decisions, even though it outweighs the suffering in many of the more publicised stories. Yet there is no moral difference between the value of a child in Burundi and a stranger you meet in the UK.
If you could save a stranger's life in the street but it meant you had to ruin your new shoes or break your phone, you would still do it, because we put moral value on strangers' lives. So if we would sacrifice a small amount to save someone whose life was in jeopardy before our very eyes, shouldn't we save someone's life 10,000 miles away if we could at a similar cost? Of course we should. The reality is that we have the opportunity to do this everyday! We have a wonderful opportunity to make a huge difference to the lives of hundreds of people who are most in need.
Charities are certainly not all equal. We've seen what makes a charity effective or not - if you missed this, check it out here. But is there really a big difference between them? Is it worth the money/time/effort required to determine the more effective charities, when we could just give that to any old charity? The answer to both of these is, without doubt, YES!
We find that the difference between the most effective charities and typical charities is around a factor of 1000. That is, donating £1 to the most effective charities is equivalent to donating £1000 to a typical one. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we take into account the effectiveness of the charities we donate to, something that very few people do. I certainly want the impact of my donations to be the largest it can be, especially now I know that the most effective charities can have such a large impact with each donation. To understand what types of charities are the most and least effective, here is the good, the bad, and the ugly of altruism. Or, rather, the ugly, the bad, and the good - everyone loves a happy ending!
The debate concerning the use of animals in scientific research is a conflicting one. On the one hand, animals in testing suffer acutely and in large numbers. However, it can be argued that large part of our current position in science and medicine today can be attributed to these tests.
If you buy a luxury car, you are contributing to the wages of all those people whose job it is to design, source raw materials for, and manufacture it, thus feeding them and their family. Surely this a good way to improve the wellbeing of others? In this post, I will discuss why it is probably not.
In a previous post, I have written about the importance of using an evidence-based approach to determine the most good we can do. One aspect of this is assessing the effectiveness of charities.
When buying a new phone, most people spend some time researching the best phone for their requirements and the best phone they can get for their budget. This is clearly a good thing to do. However, very few people consider how to make the most impact with their donations to charity. We are so careful with the money we spend on ourselves, but don't seem to take that same care over the money we use to do good. Isn't that odd? If we were to buy a phone without looking to buy the best one, we risk being stuck with a clunky phone that cost us too much. However, if we don't research how to make our donations go furthest, people whose lives could have been saved will die. That is how it is. It is not just a matter of getting more for your money, it is literally a matter of life or death*. It is imperative that we start to research how to make the most difference with our donations. In this post, I will discuss how we can determine the most effective charities.
Interested in science and pubs? Come and enjoy an evening (or 3) of public science talks, demonstrations, and experiments in a pub in Sheffield next month!
- What? I will be giving an outreach talk about my research in solar physics in a pub in Sheffield as part of Pint of Science.
- Where? My talk is at The Holt Cafe, 156 Arundel St, Sheffield S1 4RE. Other events are spread out at pubs throughout Sheffield.
- When? My talk is on 17th May, 7:30-9:45pm. Other events take place on the evenings of the 15th, 16th, and 17th May.
Pint of Science is an international festival that brings together local scientists to talk to the public about their latest research in an informal setting. This year, I will be giving a talk as part of the Death of Stars: A Dark Matter session alongside fascinating talks given by Dr. Susan Cartwright and Dr. Callum Macdonald as well as some interactive science demonstrations.
Effective altruism is an area of practical moral philosophy that extends the ideas of altruism, i.e. selflessly doing good things for other people, to determine, through evidence and reason, the most good you can do for other people. It combines both philosophy and the scientific method to determine the most effective way for an individual to improve the world and gives compelling reasoning to incorporate this into their lifestyle.
Charity ain’t giving people what you wants to give, It’s giving people what they need to get.
- An understanding of solar physics and magnetohydrodynamics. Recommended reference: Priest, E., 2014: Magentohydrodynamics of the Sun.
- An understanding of linear wave theory. Recommended reference: Knobel, R., 1999: An Introduction to the Mathematical Theory of Waves.
In our latest paper, Robertus Erdelyi and I give a complete account of the transverse magnetoacoustic waves that can propagate along an asymmetric isolated magnetic slab.