Our progress in the first five days

By Tom Sittler

I’m excited to report that the Oxford Prioritisation Project is underway, with a fantastic team that’s already blowing me away with its competence and drive. It includes a senior research fellow in development economics, students in the natural sciences, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and political theory, doctoral researchers in computer science and neurosurgery, and a software engineer.

We have had our first two full-team meetings. In the inaugural meeting, which Max Dalton and Dr. Owen Cotton-Barratt sat in on, I framed the work of the team around our central task: global prioritisation for a £10,000 donation. I also used the opportunity to set some team norms: it’s much better to be wrong than not even wrong, explicit quantitative arguments, even with large error bars, are often better than relying on heuristics, and we should waste no time to start working hard, while strategically prioritising work on the questions which are most likely to actually affect our final decision. Next, we each wrote down a consideration that satisfies two criteria: it is important to our current view about where to donate; and we are uncertain about it. Then the team members developed individual plans for finding out more about this consideration, iterated on their plans based on feedback from the others, and implemented some version of their plan before the second meeting.

Below I want to share a preview of what the research some individual team members have been doing over the past five days.

Lovisa Tengberg, “Are Mental Health interventions a possible target for the Oxford Prioritisation Project?”

Read more here.

Grace Gliva: “Gifts of livestock: Probably bad, possibly OK, but certainly not great”

Read more here.

Sindy Li: “Should we simply defer to GiveWell within the area of global health and development?”

Read more here.

Laurie Pycroft: “Gaining an overview of Biorisk”

Read more here.

Qays Langan-Dathi: “Should we cover global catastrophic risks at all? If we do, what are the main risks to consider?”

Read more here.

Konstantin Sietzy and Tom Sittler: “Are there lego bricks, how big are they, and can we find them?”


Dominik Peters: “How risky is CRISPR gene-editing technology?”

Read more here.


Finally, as a team we have together been learning about concepts from the field of global prioritisation, using a list of concepts I collated, partly inspired by a related resource. For each meeting, each fellow learns about a concept they had not heard of before, and explains it to the rest of the team. At our second meeting:

     Sindy presented on Altruistic risk aversion

     Lovisa presented on Bikeshedding

     Qays presented on Superintelligence

     Grace presented on Goodhart's Law

     Dominik presented on Value of information

     Daniel presented on Moral trade