Introduction

This post is part of a series on common myths and misconceptions about charity. Taking time to learn the facts will help prevent the spread of misinformation and inspire more people to use their resources effectively to improve the world.

Do effective altruists only value short-term, measurable outcomes?

People in the effective altruism movement often support organisations doing direct work with easily measurable outcomes. After all, effective altruists try to make evidence-based decisions whenever possible, and it's difficult to find evidence supporting interventions with very indirect, long-term, and/or abstract consequences. This has led to the misconception that people in the effective altruism movement only care about short-term, measurable change. In fact, many effective altruists care about outcomes that are harder to measure and are supportive of working towards systemic change.

myth graphic measurability

Critics of effective altruism have pointed out that effective altruists are particularly susceptible to a bias towards measurable outcomes. Because effective altruists rely on evidence to figure out how to best help others, they are often drawn towards interventions that produce a quantifiable or measurable impact.

However, while it may be easiest to study and promote measurable change, effective altruists value other kinds of change as well. On the 80,000 Hours blog, Rob Wiblin argues that effective altruists love systemic change.

Organisations within the effective altruism movement work across a range of cause areas and rely on a wide variety of evidence — both quantitative and qualitative — to make inferences about the potential impact of interventions. There are many highly effective charities working towards systemic change. For instance:

  • The Future of Humanity Institute studies global catastrophic risks, like human-caused climate change and threats from artificial intelligence. These risks and the impact of potential interventions can't be measured through randomised controlled trials, so FHI relies on a range of other methodologies to assess future risk.

  • The Clean Air Task Force engages in legal and legislative advocacy to support climate-friendly policy change.

  • The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security works with policymakers to prepare for threats to public health.

  • The Nuclear Threat Initiative works with political leaders across the world to improve global nuclear policy.

  • Animal Charity Evaluators distributes "Movement Grants" to support organisations doing more speculative or long-term work.

  • The Good Food Institute, in addition to developing and promoting alternatives to animal products, is working to secure fair policy and public funding for research to develop a more sustainable global food system.
    You can help support systemic, long-term change by donating to one of these or many other effective charities. Consider making a giving pledge and joining our worldwide community of like-minded people who are working to make the world a better place.

This post is part of an update of our "Myths About Charity" page. Multiple authors contributed.