80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

#4 - Howie Lempel on pandemics that kill hundreds of millions and how to stop them

80,000 Hours Podcast with Rob Wiblin

What disaster is most likely to kill more than 10 million human beings in the next 20 years? Terrorism? Famine? An asteroid?

Actually it’s probably a pandemic: a deadly new disease that spreads out of control. We’ve recently seen the risks with Ebola and swine flu, but they pale in comparison to the Spanish flu which killed 3% of the world’s population in 1918 to 1920. A pandemic of that scale today would kill 200 million.

In this in-depth interview I speak to Howie Lempel, who spent years studying pandemic preparedness for the Open Philanthropy Project. We spend the first 20 minutes covering his work at the foundation, then discuss how bad the pandemic problem is, why it’s probably getting worse, and what can be done about it.

Full transcript, apply for personalised coaching to help you work on pandemic preparedness, see what questions are asked when, and read extra resources to learn more.

In the second half we go through where you personally could study and work to tackle one of the worst threats facing humanity.

Want to help ensure we have no severe pandemics in the 21st century? We want to help.

We’ve helped dozens of people formulate their plans, and put them in touch with academic mentors. If you want to work on pandemic preparedness safety, apply for our free coaching service.


2m - What does the Open Philanthropy Project do? What’s it like to work there?
16m27s - What grants did OpenPhil make in pandemic preparedness? Did they work out?
22m56s - Why is pandemic preparedness such an important thing to work on?
31m23s - How many people could die in a global pandemic? Is Contagion a realistic movie?
37m05s - Why the risk is getting worse due to scientific discoveries
40m10s - How would dangerous pathogens get released?
45m27s - Would society collapse if a billion people die in a pandemic?
49m25s - The plague, Spanish flu, smallpox, and other historical pandemics
58m30s - How are risks affected by sloppy research security or the existence of factory farming?
1h7m30s - What's already being done? Why institutions for dealing with pandemics are really insufficient.
1h14m30s - What the World Health Organisation should do but can’t.
1h21m51s - What charities do about pandemics and why they aren’t able to fix things
1h25m50s - How long would it take to make vaccines?
1h30m40s - What does the US government do to protect Americans? It’s a mess.
1h37m20s - What kind of people do you know work on this problem and what are they doing?
1h46m30s - Are there things that we ought to be banning or technologies that we should be trying not to develop because we're just better off not having them?
1h49m35s - What kind of reforms are needed at the international level?
1h54m40s - Where should people who want to tackle this problem go to work?
1h59m50s - Are there any technologies we need to urgently develop?
2h04m20s - What about trying to stop humans from having contact with wild animals?
2h08m5s - What should people study if they're young and choosing their major; what should they do a PhD in? Where should they study, and with who?

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