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It’s been a no good, very bad year for Effective Altruism, or “EA” for short, the cultural movement that aims to use “evidence and reason” to figure out the best ways to do the “most good.”

One year ago, the EA community was flying high. Its poster boy, a philosopher named William MacAskill, had just published his book “What We Owe the Future,” which makes the case that we should be far more concerned about humanity’s long-term future — thousands, millions, even billions of years from now — than we ordinarily are. Effective Altruists call this “longtermism,” an idea built around a vision of the future in which we reengineer humanity, colonize space, plunder the vast resources of the cosmos, and ultimately maximize the total amount of “value” in the universe by creating huge numbers of “digital people” living “happy” lives in giant computer simulations.

If this sounds bizarre and potentially dangerous, that’s because it is. Yet MacAskill’s book, longtermism and the EA movement that he co-founded received mostly favorable coverage from...