David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

The awkward truth about choosing charities

Philosopher Peter Singer broaches an uncomfortable truth about the Make-A-Wish Foundation and GoFundMe pages.

PETER SINGER: I think there clearly are objective criteria for saying that some causes are better than others. One example that I give in the book, there's a charity called the Make-A-Wish Foundation which asks parents of very ill, often dying children to write in if their child has a wish that they would like to have fulfilled. Obviously, you know, it's a short-term wish. The foundation can't save their lives. And they write in and they do something—one example that I read about was a child who wanted to be Batkid for a day so he dressed up in a Batkid costume. The Make-A-Wish Foundation got a car rigged up to look like the Batmobile and somebody to look like Batman and they went out and captured the villain and all of that. The kid had a great day, undoubtedly. But the average cost of fulfilling a child's wish is $7,500. Now, if given to an effective organization, that could save two, three, four, maybe more children's lives. If you compare saving a child's life with giving a child one great day then anybody—the child, the parents—anybody would say oh, so much better to save the child's life of course. And you can save not just one child's life but more than one.

So I think we ought to think about that before we respond emotionally to what seems like a great idea: Give a dying kid a great day. We ought to think about: What else can you do with that? And that's the same for all the giving opportunities that we have on the internet now. If there's a GoFundMe appeal to save somebody's pet tortoise, something of that sort well, yeah, that's nice, but you need to think what else you could do with that money and possibly there are things that you would agree are really more important. As none of us have infinite bank accounts we do always have to think how much am I able to spare for really trying to help people or animals—obviously, I'm not against helping animals—but how much can I really spare to try to reduce suffering in the world? And then if I have that amount, what's the best way to spend it? How do I get the best value for what I'm donating?

  • None of us have infinite bank accounts so when we make charitable donations we have to weigh up how to do it most effectively. What is the most suffering you can reduce for the amount of money you have?
  • Philosopher Peter Singer uses the Make-A-Wish Foundation as an example. It's a much loved charity for the joy it gives to dying children. Yet the cost of the average wish is $7,500—an amount that, if spent effectively, can save one, two, three, four, or more children's lives, says Peter Singer.
  • "We ought to think about that before we respond emotionally to what seems like a great idea," says Singer. "If you compare saving a child's life with giving a child one great day then anybody—the child, the parents—anybody would say 'Oh, so much better to save the child's life, of course.' And you can save not just one child's life but more than one."
A free download of the 10th anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty is available here.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

    Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

    Credit: Neom
    Technology & Innovation
    • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
    • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
    • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
    Keep reading Show less

    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

    Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

    • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
    • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
    • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.