Factory farming, human health, and the new WHO Director General

Last week, over 200 experts called on the next Director General of the World Health Organization to prioritize factory farming in an open letter. Announced in articles in the New York Times and The Lancet, the letter argues that factory farming is a major barrier to better global health. The letter does not make this argument on animal rights grounds – although this argument is certainly strong – but instead focuses on factory farming’s contribution to antibiotic resistance, climate change, and the rise of chronic diseases. These three issues formed the core of the last Director General’s agenda, although limited attention was paid to factory farming, which the authors argue, “connects the dots among them.”

One of the authors is Scott Weathers, a Global Health and Population MSc student at the Harvard T.H. Chan SPH. The other is Sophie Hermans, a doctoral student from Cambridge U. Their letter received overwhelming response. On twitter, their announcement of the letter was the #1 trending tweet on all relevant hashtags for the recent World Health Assembly.

Congratulations, Scott and Sophie!

(I am among the letter signatories.)

Harvard U Effective Altruism presents: Derek Parfit discusses altruistic giving

PArfitFacebook RSVP

When: Tuesday, April 21, 6:00pm Where: Harvard campus, Science Center E

Oxford and Harvard philosopher Derek Parfit is described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as “the most important moral philosopher of the 20th and early 21st centuries”.  The New Yorker called his books “the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century.”  He will be discussing personal identity, future generations, ethics  and Effective Altruism in a fireside chat moderated by ethicist Nir Eyal, Associate Professor of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This event is co-sponsored by Harvard University Effective Altruism (HUEA) and Harvard College Effective Altruism (HCEA), and is open to the public.

Harvard Undergraduate Bioethics Society event: Big Brother Is Watching–Paternalism and Bioethics

 You are invited to the Harvard Undergraduate Bioethics Society 2015 Conference:

“Big Brother Is Watching: Paternalism and Bioethics”

Saturday, March 28th, 3.30-6.30pm, Harvard Hall 104


Coffee and desserts will be served

A panel discussion and talks by

David Buchanan, PhD

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Promotion & Policy, and Director of the Institute for Global Health

Sarah Conly, PhD

Bowdoin College

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Wendy Mariner, JD MPH LLM

Edward R. Utley Professor of Health Law at Boston University School of Public Health

Professor of Law at Boston University School of Law

Professor of Socio-Medical Sciences at Boston University School of Medicine

Steven Ralston, MD

Harvard Medical School

Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology


BOOK LAUNCH (3/11): Identified versus Statistical Lives: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Book Launch: Identified versus Statistical Lives: An Interdisciplinary Approach

March 11, 2015 12:00 PM

Wasserstein Hall, Room 2012 Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Identified versus Statistical Lives: An Interdisciplinary Approach is an edited volume that grew out of the 2012 conference “Identified versus Statistical Lives: Ethics and Public Policy,” cosponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and the Harvard Global Health Institute. The essays address the identified lives effect, which describes the fact that people demonstrate a stronger inclination to assist persons and groups identified as at high risk of great harm than those who will or already suffer similar harm, but endure unidentified. As a result of this effect, we allocate resources reactively rather than proactively, prioritizing treatment over prevention. Such bias raises practical and ethical questions that extend to almost every aspect of human life and politics.

The book talk and discussion will feature:

  • I. Glenn Cohen, co-editor, Petrie-Flom Faculty Director, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School
  • Norman Daniels, co-editor, Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health, Harvard School of Public Health
  • Nir Eyal, co-editor, Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine (Medical Ethics), Harvard Medical School

Co-sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library, with support from the Harvard Global Health Institute.

From Harvard Effective Altruism: Upcoming (Nov. 17): Steven Pinker on “The Past, Present, and Future of Violence”

Harvard College Effective Altruism presents:

The Past, Present, and Future of Violence
with Steven Pinker

Monday, November 17th, 7 PM
Science Center D
RSVP here.


Contact Harvard College Effective Altruism at harvardea@gmail.com.

Harvard Effective Altruism: George Church this Monday

From Harvard College Effective Altruism:

The Risks of Biotechnology, with George Church
Monday, Oct. 20, 5.30pm, Sever 102

Genetic manipulations can reintroduce extinct viruses or create viruses much deadlier than ever before. What are the dangers associated with biotechnology? Can a mistake in a lab lead to a global pandemic? Can this technology be used by terrorists? What would be the implications? And is humanity doing enough to avoid these threats?

George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and the world’s leading expert on synthetic biology and security will share his insights on these issues.

George Church event_Harvard Effective Altruism

Inaugural SG Global Chat: Harvard Effective Altruism Expanding to HSPH

SG Global Chat
Harvard Effective Altruism — Using Evidence and Reason to Maximize the Impact of Efforts to Make the World Better

October 8, 2014 12:30-1:20pm, Kresge G-2

Harvard Effective Altruism (HEA) is a student group at Harvard College and Harvard Business School. The group is dedicated to spreading the ideas of effective altruism to better the global community. Previous HEA speakers include Peter Singer, Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark and Thomas Pogge. This year, HEA plans to became a Harvard University-wide student organization. Come to the first SG Global Chat of the year to hear more about HEA, the events the group has planned, and ways to get involved. Presented by Anders Huitfeldt (ScD Candidate in Epidemiology) and Eric Gastfriend (Student at Harvard Business School).

Light lunch provided. Any questions email studentgov at hsph.harvard.edu.

Research Assistant III: Work with Professors Eyal, Hammitt, Freedberg, Kuritzkes, and collaborators on HIV cure studies’ risks, risk perceptions, and ethics

The research assistant will work with the principal investigator Nir Eyal and collaborators from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Duke University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as the ACTG HIV trial site network. The multidisciplinary team uses methods of clinical epidemiology, economics, simulation modeling, and normative theory to predict risks in early-phase HIV cure studies, assess how much likely candidates for participation understand those risks, and make ethical recommendations on the conduct of HIV cure studies.

The research assistant will help prepare, conduct and analyze a pilot survey expected to take place in a US site of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG). The survey will assess perceptions of HIV cure and of cure study risks. The research assistant will also promote other research and grant-related activities, through literature reviews and assistance in the preparation of abstract, poster, and manuscripts for publication, grant applications, a simple project website (using Harvard’s user-friendly OpenScholar platform), and slides for lectures and seminars. The research assistant will be in touch with top researchers in HIV cure, medical decision making, and ethics from around the country, to facilitate our meetings, a workshop, and regular conversations to plan the research and debate ethical issues around early-phase HIV cure studies.

For the full job ad:

Harvard Effective Altruism: an event today, Michael Kremer on Sept. 10, and a fellowship opportunity

A message from Harvard Effective Altruism:

On Saturday, Sept. 6 at 3pm in Sever 111, we are holding a giving game / donation discussion and an information session for Harvard students interested in our organization. We’ll explain what effective altruism is and what HCEA does here on campus. If you’re new to HCEA, you should definitely check it out!

Wednesday, Sept. 10 at 4:30pm in Science Center Hall A: Prof. Michael Kremer – a development economist at Harvard – will give a talk entitled “How can individuals reduce global poverty?” He’ll discuss the ways that individuals can use both their money and their careers to contribute to poverty reduction and international development.

All semester long! HCEA is hosting its third Philanthropy Fellowship program for Harvard undergrads and graduate students. Fellows will attend talks from speakers like Harvard professor Steven Pinker, Rob Mather of the Against Malaria Foundation, and Center for Applied Rationality president Julia Galef; learn about effective altruism at weekly dinners with other fellows and speakers; get to know likeminded students at discussions and social events; and fundraise for effective charities! You can find more information and apply on our website before 11:59pm on Sunday, Sept. 14th.

We hope to see soon! Altruistically yours,
Ales and John

Harvard Effective Altruism: Nick Bostrom, September 4 at 8 PM

[This message is from the students at Harvard Effective Altruism.]

Welcome back to school, altruists! I’m happy to announce our first talk of the semester – from philosopher Nick Bostrom. See you there!

Harvard College Effective Altruism presents:
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
with Nick Bostrom
Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University

What happens when machines surpass humans in general intelligence? Will artificial agents save or destroy us? Professor Bostrom will explore these questions, laying the foundation for understanding the future of humanity and intelligent life. Q&A will follow the talk. Copies of Bostrom’s new book – Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies – will be available for purchase. RSVP on Facebook.

Thursday, September 4
8 pm
Emerson 105

Is it ethical to hire sherpas when climbing Mount Everest?

By Emily Largent

In “Is it ethical to hire sherpas when climbing Mount Everest?,” a short piece out today in the British Medical Journal, I suggest that the question of whether it is ethical to pay sherpas to assume risks for the benefit of relatively affluent Western climbers is a variant of cases–common in medical ethics–where compensation and assumption of risk coincide.  Consider offers of payment to research subjects, organ sales, and paid surrogacy.  As a result, medical ethics can offer helpful frameworks for evaluating the acceptability of payment and, perhaps, suggest protections for sherpas as we look forward to the next climbing season on Everest.

I owe particular thanks to Nir Eyal, Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics and Harvard School of Public Health Department of Global Health and Population; Richard Salisbury, University of Michigan (retired); and Paul Firth, Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital.

Take a look and let me know what you think.

Good news for many South African HIV patients—with a big glitch

On Wednesday, South African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that, as of January 2015, HIV-positive patients in the country would start receiving free antiretroviral treatment once their CD4 count fell below 500, instead of current threshold of less than 350. Some patient groups would start receiving antiretrovirals immediately upon being diagnosed with HIV infection, regardless of their clinical stage.

Last month, Till Bärnighausen, Dan Wikler and I predicted in PLoS Medicine that sub-Saharan nations would move in the direction that South Africa is now moving, and pointed out a big complication. This policy change might make several gigantic trials of so-called treatment-as-prevention in sub-Saharan Africa impossible to complete successfully. As we explained, these trials remain important for assessing the potential of treatment-as-prevention to curb the spread of HIV in general populations (with many different relationship types and different levels of care delivery and support).

In treatment-as-prevention, antiretrovirals are offered to patients immediately upon their diagnosis with HIV. The hope is that very early treatment would be better for these patients and prevent them from infecting others. We also offered some ways out of this mess, but they involve untraditional approaches to research conduct and to policy. Our piece was featured in the June issue of UNAIDS’ HIV This Month.

#BELHP2014 Panel 1, The Ethics of Nudges in Health Care

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is the first installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

The panel on the Ethics of Nudges in Health Care was comprised of:

  • Yashar Saghai, Post-Doctoral Fellow and Director of Global Food Ethics, John Hopkins University
  • Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine, presenting with Zainab Shipchandler and Julika Kaplan, Rice University
  • Nir Eyal, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School
  • Jonathan Gingerich, Ph.D. student, Department of Philosophy, UCLA

Yashar Saghai’s presentation, titled Public Health Nudges and the Principle of the Least Restrictive Alternative, argued against the notion that policies or interventions that impose fewer restrictions on individual choice should always be preferred over more restrictive options. More on this topic in Saghai’s 2012 BMJ article “Salvaging the Concept of Nudge.”

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby and student collaborators Zainab Shipchandler and Julika Kaplan asked whether incentives in global health studies should be viewed as nudges and what are the potential ethical implications. In their presentation, titled Incentives as Nudges for Childhood Vaccination in Rural India, they showed evidence that suggests food incentives to participate in vaccine programs could function as nudges that influence individual’s behavior in a wider range of healthcare related ways, beyond simply increasing participation in the vaccine program.

Nir Eyal explored potential arguments for When nudging is just fine, and why? Eyal started with the observation that nudges can cause large modifications in individual behavior despite being very easily resistible, and canvassed several related ideas about the appeal of nudges, finding problematic counterarguments to most of these prima facie claims. He concluded by suggesting that nudges could be viewed as morally acceptable ways of manipulating people into behaving in ways that are better for them without transgressing on any fundamental liberties.

Jonathan Gingerich argued that the ethical acceptability of nudges should be put into question when they prevent democratic deliberation on important issues. In his presentation, The Political Morality of Nudges, Gingerich presented several examples of how interventions that claim to improve social welfare through nudges could in fact prevent broader substantive deliberation over important political issues for which we generally require democratic decision making.

Harvard Effective Altruism (HEA): Thursday, April 17th: Critch on Aversion Factoring & Career Choice

A communication from Harvard Effective Altruism:

Aversion Factoring & Career Choice

with Dr. Andrew Critch

Thursday, April 17th 7-8:30 PM

Emerson 305

We often limit ourselves by avoiding things we find bothersome or scary.  But for almost anything you find bothersome, there’s someone out there who doesn’t!  How does that work?  Can you copy their enjoyment-powers?  If so, you have many more options for growth, career choice, and general do-gooding.  This presentation is based around a technique Dr. Critch teaches at the Center for Applied Rationality for using aversions as a source of creativity, and then getting over them.

Dr. Critch’s interest in rationality began as a teenager growing up in Newfoundland, Canada, where he says he “just had a lot of time to think about it”. When he was 14, he made his first attempt to extrapolate his instinctive preferences into a function whose expected integral he wanted to maximize. (In college he found out that some economists had been crazy enough to think humans worked this way automatically). He also won numerous national awards in mathematics and public-speaking competitions.


Saturday, April 5th: Aid Grade! (from Harvard Effective Altruism)

A communication from Harvard Effective Altruism:


Hi altruists,

Saturday, April 5th is a big day for EA at Harvard: we have three different awesome events for you! Our guest for the day, flying up from DC for the occasion, will be Dr. Eva Vivalt, the founder of AidGrade. AidGrade helps figure out what works in international development by doing rigorous and engaging analyses of different interventions to find out their effects. They’re also looking for interns and full-time hires for this work, so please visit if you’re interested!

We’ll be having a talk on AidGrade’s research from 1-2pm, followed by a research-a-thon from 2-6 where we help AidGrade do some meta-analysis. The day will be topped off by a Boston-area effective altruism meetup at Clover–with another special guest, Jacob Trefethen of 80,000 Hours Cambridge UK, and many awesome local effective altruists.

Continue reading

Call for applications: Brocher Summer Academy 2014: Ethical Choices for DALYs and the Measurement of the Global Burden of Disease

Confirmed speakers: Christopher Murray (IHME)—Keynote, Matt Adler (Duke), Greg Bognar (La Trobe U), John Broome (Oxford), Dan Brock (Harvard), Richard Cookson (York U), Owen Cotton-Barratt (Oxford), David Evans (WHO), Marc Fleurbaey (Princeton U), Ned Hall (Harvard), Dan Hausman (U of Wisconsin, Madison), Elselijn Kingma (U of Eindhoven), Jeremy Lauer (WHO), Colin Mathers (WHO), Erik Nord (Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Oslo), Ole Norheim (U of Bergen), Andreas Reis (WHO), Joshua Salomon (Harvard and IHME), Abha Saxena (WHO), Erik Schokkaert (KU Leuven), Drew Schroeder (Claremont McKenna), Alex Voorhoeve (LSE), James Woodward (U of Pittsburgh).

Organizers: Daniel Wikler (Harvard), Nir Eyal (Harvard), Samia Hurst (U of Geneva)

The biennial Summer Academy in the Ethics of Global Population Health is hosted by the Brocher Foundation on the shores of Lake Geneva June 9-13 2014, introducing faculty and advanced graduate students to population‐level bioethics. This fast‐developing academic field addresses ethical questions in population‐ and global health rather than ones in individual patient care.

The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) project is a systematic, scientific effort to quantify the comparative magnitude of health loss due to diseases, injuries, and risk factors. From its inception in the early 1990s, scientists and philosophers recognized that ethical and philosophical questions arise at every turn. For example, it must be decided whether each year in the lifespan is to count alike, and whether future deaths and disabilities should be given the same weight as those in the present. These choices and decisions matter: the share of disease burden due to myocardial infarction could vary as much as 400% depending on what position is adopted on two of the ethical choices described in the GBD 2010 report.  Continue reading

Harvard Effective Altruism: Josh Greene this Tuesday

Emotion, Reason and Altruism
with Professor Joshua Greene

Tuesday, March 11th, 7 PM,
Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall
Why do people have radically different opinions as to who to help and how? How can we get along with people who seem to fundamentally disagree with us about what to want? Professor Josh Greene addresses this and more in Emotion, Reason, and Altruism.
Joshua Greene direct Harvard’s Moral Cognition Lab, which uses cutting edge cognitive neuroscience techniques to study how people actually make moral decisions, integrating thinking from philosophy, social science, and social psychology to address questions of why people disagree as much as they do, and what we can do about it.