How can population historians/historical demographers contribute to a more sustainable future?

Hi! This is my first post in this forum :slight_smile: So, I posted the following question on Twitter yesterday, but it hasn’t been very successful so far: How can population historians/historical demographers contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals?

I am a historical demographer, finishing a PhD…and with a lot of ‘existential’ questions about how to be relevant and useful while studying the past…I am really looking forward to hearing your ideas!


Hi Catalina! How to be relevant as an academic is a really interesting question, I also started thinking about such existential questions at the end of my postdoc, although more from the perspective of doing basic invertebrate neuroscience research.

For academics, I think a lot of being relevant and useful comes down to choosing what you’ll work on so that it is likely to have a practical impact. For this, I found the prioritisation framework used in effective altruism to be useful, which suggest choosing to work on things that are large in scale, neglected and solvable. These leads EAs to a fairly short list of priority areas and historians could probably contribute to a few of them (a few suggestions). Even outside of those areas I think their prioritization framework can be quite useful, and I’ve found looking for unfairly neglected research areas to be particularly useful in selecting my own research projects.


Interesting! And now I finally understand what @Gavin means with effective altruism: I’ve been very interested in this through e.g. 80000 hours that Hannah Metzler (@Hannah; psychology researcher at IGDORE) told me about a while ago.

I wonder if effective altruism is something IGDORE could get involved with / explicitly promote somehow? I would guess that the majority of IGDORE’s researchers genuinely care about doing good to the world through their work, e.g. by engaging in current best research practices (open & replicable science). Could we take this even further somehow as an institution and community? I know that the other global board members (@dbernt & @Enrico.Fucci) also feel strongly for this topic, so it would be very easy to do something if we only have ideas on what to do.


It would be amazing if IGDORE explicitly prometed effective altruism, including 80000 hours. As you say, the motivation of most researchers at IGDORE is going to be well-aligned with the objectives of effective altruism. They have even investigated the cause of open science in 2014, but came to the conclusion that the topic was not neglected (it does fullfil the criteria of being a large and solvable problem, though). So it’s not one of their priority causes, although they suggest it is important. The resources below are from 2014, so they might not reflect their current position on this. For a summary, see the section " Research policy and infrastructure" here: For their complete investatigation, see here:


@Catalina: Definitely check out 80000 hours, their information might point you in a relevant direction.

Their podcast has some great episodes as well, choose the ones most relevant for you!


Hello Catalina!

I think now all historians can help us battle the flow of fake information. As we can see many people try to confuse us in some way for different reasons and as humans we often fall for those ugly ideas. You can help us detect that information on some aspects was faked.

Now technology changes every aspect of our lives at a breathtaking pace, and I firmly believe that population historians are a very important part of a decision making process. When we try to build sophisticated hospitals, smart cities we always have to look at the past just to know that we don’t invent something that could harm locals or simply be a waste of resources as it happened many times in the past.


@rebecca, yes it would be great if there were ties between IGDORE and EA. The latest discussions in the EA community usually occur at the EA Forum if anybody wants to see whats going on. When you mentioned creating a closed/open section of the IGDORE forum for academic discussions I cross-posted it to EA Forum, but unfortunately, there wasn’t any interest. Still, I think the values of both groups are quite well aligned and there could be scope for closer connections. For instance, I think quite a few EAs take ‘non-conventional’ academic paths (being fully independent or starting small research organisations) and would face similar logistical problems to many IGDORE researchers and, as you mentioned, the EA community also generally seems to value openness and transparency.

@Hannah, some of the people moved from GiveWell to the Open Philanthropy Project which has a broader scope and has started to support scientific research and also considered scientific policy reform directly. Some of the grants they’ve made in the later area are:


Regarding effective altruism and academic history or other social sciences, some relevant links and discussions might occasionally pop up in the EA Academia Facebook Group, such as this post and this post. See also the article why “AI Safety Needs Social Scientists” (you’ll have to google it, I’m at my 2 link limit) which was widely promoted in EA online circles.


Nice to see you here @mikemc!

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Oooh, there shouldn’t be such a limit, sorry! Will try to fix it asap! // admin

UPDATED: Now fixed! There was a restriction of 2 links for new users. I have increased it to 5. Once a few posts have been made on the forum, the restriction will completely disappear. // admin

It is so nice to see so many replies! Thank you all very much for sharing your ideas on this topic; I am considering them carefully. I have been looking at the material in the websites of 80000 hours and Effective Altruism, and I think there are various important points discussed there, relevant for researchers in all areas.


Hi all,

very interesting discussion. One small thought/update: last week I attended a workshop where we were trying to define trajectories for the future of research on contemplative practices (and derived clinical/social applications). The topic of meta-research and embedding certain ethics (kindness, generosity, equanimity, compassion) in research practices was discussed in depth. In this context, the concept of “compassionate” or “constructive open science” arised: this stems from the idea that promoting open science should not lead to hunt, expose and punish those who do not conform to it or engage in questionable research practices, but rather push for the creation of a supportive environment for those (somehow all of us) who struggle to keep integrity in a challenging and pressured research environment.

If anything, I believe IGDORE could (and does) embrace this concept and develop it further.


I fully agree with this (@Enrico.Fucci). But we should show ‘no mercy’ to the elites (government bureaucrats, multinational publishers) who are hell bent on enslaving us all to the metric tyranny! :frowning:

@CataTorres it’s been six months. Any updates on this? :slight_smile:

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Time goes by so quickly! 6 months already? @surya, with all this coronavirus situation, I think that population historians can play an important role in analyzing previous responses to crises similar to this one, examine what did work and what didn’t in certain contexts for example… At some point towards the beginning of the pandemic, there was some discussion that some populations were better prepared to face the situation than others, as they had previous experiences with similar viral outbreaks. With all the different responses from the governments and the people around the world, I think a lot of lessons are being learned, and maybe population historians could contribute to this kind of discussion.

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thanks. i just found this… :slight_smile: