Measuring Charity

Effective altruists are using scientific methods to do the most good with their charitable dollars.

By Benjamin Hayward.

So, you want to make the world a better place, but you quickly come up against the unpalatable question charity cannot avoid: what can one person do? A lot, it turns out—something we know thanks to the science of effective altruism, a science that provides remarkably precise answers to the question.

For instance, a donation of precisely $2,838 to the Against Malaria foundation has been proven, on average, to prevent one death due to the disease. This has been confirmed by over 20 randomized, controlled trials conducted on the effects of the charity. That money distributes 535 insecticide-treated mosquito nets to Sub-Saharan Africa, which, over the lifetime of the nets, saves one person from dying and prevents many more from becoming non-fatally infected with malaria.

Effective altruism is “the application of cost-effectiveness to charity and other altruistic pursuits,” according to Stuart Armstrong of the Future of Humanity Institute, in interview with Gizmodo. “Just as some engineering approaches can be thousands of times more effective at solving problems than others, some charities are thousands of time more effective than others.”

Effective altruism is a growing movement that tackles charitable giving from a scientist’s perspective. It got its impetus from Australian philosopher and Princeton University professor, Peter Singer, who, in a 1972 essay titled “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, asked whether it was morally justifiable to save just one life by donating locally when the same amount of money could save ten lives in a developing nation. The cause was later championed by two young Oxford philosophers, Toby Ord and William MacAskill, the latter of whom wrote Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference. It has spread rapidly, and there is even an organization, Giving What We Can, whose members pledge to give 10 percent of their income to “whichever organisations can most effectively use it to improve the lives of others”.

Giving Effectively

The goal of effective altruists, to make the world a better place, is an old one; what’s new is …

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Targeting Algeria

Europe needs Algerian natural gas, and Algeria needs European investment, but Islamist militants stand in their way.

By Ola Wam.

Shortly before sunrise on March 18 of this year, the In Salah gas plant—a joint venture between BP, Statoil, and Algerian Sonatrach, situated in Algeria’s desert expanse—was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades. The attack did not cause significant damage, but was a startling reminder of the 2013 attacks on the In Amenas gas plant that killed 39 workers.

Algeria is one of the most significant suppliers of natural gas to Europe and provides a viable alternative to Russian gas, but in order to fulfill potential demand, the country’s natural gas sector needs significant development. Algeria is trying its best to entice European companies, but businesses are wary of expanding into the Saharan territory of Islamist militants.

Europe Needs Gas

Even as nations discuss a future free from hydrocarbons in order to prevent climate change, the European Union still relies heavily on gas, most of it imported. With Russia now on a political collision course with Europe over Ukraine, Algeria is becoming an even more important supplier.

Of the 16.55 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of gas consumed by E.U. countries in 2013, 88 percent of it was imported from outside the union. Russia was the largest supplier, supplying 39 percent of imports; Norway, which is not in the E.U., was second with 33 percent; and Algeria was not far behind, with close to 22 percent.

In its 2014 Energy Security Strategy, the E.U. set clear ambitions for reducing its dependence on Russian gas, but Norway is not able to make up the slack on its own. Norway has an annual production of 3.9 Tcf of gas and proven reserves of 72 Tcf. Its production is expected to remain relatively stable in the coming five years, but according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), investments in exploration and development of new gas fields have declined dramatically and will likely …

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Leak of ‘Panama Papers’ Reveals Widespread Tax Evasion

This spring, a massive leak of financial papers revealed the inner-workings of off-shore shell companies and possible tax evasion by thousands of companies and individuals.

Mossack Fonseca, the company whose files were leaked, is a Panama-based seller of shell firms. Its clients purchase premade, anonymous companies with fake directors designed to hide the true shareholders of the company.

The leaked data includes financial information of twelve current and former heads of state—such as Sigmundur Davíð, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister of Iceland as a result of the leaks—and countless links to other leaders through their families and advisers—including the father of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and the lawyer of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The leaks include information on over 200 other politicians and up to 214,000 corporations that purchased shell companies.

Not all individuals connected to the shell companies engaged in illegal tax evasion in their respective countries, but the exposure of so much income sheltering has raised questions as to whether such forms of tax avoidance should remain legal.

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U.N. Secretary General Admits Extortion by Saudi Arabia

Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, publicly admitted in June that he removed Saudi Arabia, which is currently bombing Yemen, from a blacklist of “parties that kill or maim children” due to a financial threat to defund United Nations programs.

The Saudi Ambassador to the U.N., Abdallah al-Mouallimi, said at a press conference that, “Such listing will obviously have an impact on our relations with the U.N.”

Saudi Arabia is the third-largest donor to the U.N.’s relief agency in Palestine, and, in 2014, Saudi Arabia gave the largest single humanitarian donation to help Iraqis displaced by ISIS.

Ban said the decision was “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” he has had to make as Secretary General of the U.N.

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All Scientific Articles from Europe to be Available Free by 2020

All scientific research supported in any part by public funds in Europe will soon be made freely available under a new initiative, according to one of the conclusions of a Competitiveness Council in Brussels this May.

Currently, institutions and businesses have to pay prohibitively high subscription fees to access scientific publications; these fees support only the subscription service and do little to fund the research to which it grants access.

One of the goals of the Council was to make Europe “as attractive as possible for researches and start-ups”, and that calls for knowledge to be freely shared, said the Netherlands State Secretary for Education, Culture, and Science, Sander Dekker.

The Competitiveness Council also concluded that all new European legislation must take into account its impact on innovation.

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G7 Leaders Meet in Japan

In May, the leaders of the seven G7 member states as well as the Presidents of the European Commission and Council met for two days in Japan for the 42nd G7 summit. The Leaders of Indonesia, Bangladesh, and five other developing nations were also invited as guests.

Economy and trade were on the agenda, particularly the current slowdown in developing markets. The leaders looked at ways to kickstart the global economy. Germany favors structural reforms while Japan is pushing for a coordinated stimulus package.

Foreign policy and counter-terrorism were also discussed, including the Ukrainian crisis, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, North Korea’s nuclear program, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The 42nd summit was the first for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the last for U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Adidas to Return Shoe Production to Germany using Robots

After moving sportsware production facilities from Germany to Asia more than 20 years ago, Adidas has announced it is building its first fully-automated production facility in Germany. The factory will deliver a test set of 500 pairs of shoes in late 2016, and large-scale production will begin in 2017.

The robot-manufactured line of shoes will have a similar cost to those sewn by hand in Asia, but they will be able to be produced more quickly and closer to consumer markets.

Herbert Hainer, chief executive of Adidas, unveiled the prototype “speed factory” in Ansbach, southern Germany. He said Adidas is planning to build a second automated factory in the United States in 2017.

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Further CIA Torture Details Declassified

In response to a Freedom of Information Request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the CIA has made more information available about the torture and interrogation techniques it used on terrorist suspects following the 9/11 attacks. In addition to commentary on the interrogation methods, the documents include instructional guides for techniques such as sleep deprivation, limiting the caloric intake of detainee food, and waterboarding.

One detainee, Abu Zubayda, spent a total of 266 hours confined in a box just large enough for his body, according to the report, even though it was considered not “particularly effective” as an interrogation technique. An email included in the documents reveals that one CIA official thought the interrogation program a “train wreck waiting to happen”.

“These newly declassified documents add new detail to the public record of the CIA’s torture program and underscore the cruelty of the methods the agency used in its secret, overseas black sites,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU.

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Summer 2016