Extremely neglected causes

General considerations

There is a good case to be made for investigating extremely neglected causes, or causes with very little recognition or support. Here “very little recognition or support”, means causes like Romance (no one seems to take it very seriously) or Lawn disruption (not very many people have heard of this). Here are some reasons one can come up with for focusing on these causes:

  • Given that the set of things one can do to help the world is enormous, there are potentially many causes people haven’t thought much about, so trying to enumerate all these causes, and verbalizing them as potential areas of focus (or coming up with explicit rejections), might have value.

  • These causes by definition score highly on neglectedness, so as long as they do decently well on some other metrics (like overall importance and tractability), they have a shot at being great causes. On the other hand, the fact that others haven’t focused much on them so far points to their low importance/tractability.

  • There may be inherent value in making discourse on a topic more serious. By making discussion serious and high-quality, one could catalyze even more clarified thinking in this regard. (I think the work Nick Bostrom does is an example of this.)

  • It would be possible to clarify why people haven’t focused on these causes so far. Do they just do so poorly in importance/tractability that people have given up on them after deliberation? Do they just seem “silly”? Knowing why people don’t care about something is useful information.

Considerations specific to the Cause Prioritization Wiki

  • Since not many people have thought much about these causes, there is likely low-hanging fruit in this area, meaning it doesn’t take much domain-specific knowledge or experience in order to produce useful results. Therefore this seems more amenable (relative to more established causes) to volunteer work of the sort the Cause Prioritization Wiki is looking for. In other words, an organization like GiveWell that tries to hire experienced researchers might not want to “waste” their time looking at potentially frivolous causes.

  • Doing this sort of investigation would help build up the Cause Prioritization Wiki as a more complete resource.

  • Volunteers are more numerous than researchers at an organization, so it’s possible to brainstorm more causes to investigate.

See also


This was originally posted to the Cause Prioritization Discussion Group.