2018 list of half-baked volunteer research ideas

[Beta con­tent for the new EA Fo­rum]

I’ve heard from some EAs re­cently that they would like to do re­search in a part-time/​vol­un­teer ca­pac­ity, but their bot­tle­neck is re­search ideas that could be done by a non-ex­pert with­out much sup­port from a pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tion, e.g. Saulius Šimčikas’ re­cent post on “Fish used as live bait by recre­ational fish­er­men.” In this post, I’ll share some ideas for such pro­jects.

I tend to pri­ori­tize move­ment-build­ing, farmed an­i­mal is­sues, and im­prov­ing the qual­ity of the far fu­ture, but I’d en­courage other peo­ple to con­tribute any other EA re­search ideas in the com­ments sec­tion.

And these are definitely half-baked ideas, and I’m not pre­pared to defend them in much de­tail. I’ve tried to add cita­tions for con­text when I had some read­ily available.

I also don’t ex­pect so many peo­ple to work on these ideas with suffi­cient rigor that du­pli­cat­ing effort is a huge con­cern, though of course co­or­di­na­tion is helpful. I’ve seen a lot of re­search that was never done be­cause of du­pli­ca­tion con­cerns, but very lit­tle harm from du­pli­ca­tion of effort in this con­text.

Some of these are also in­cluded in Sen­tience In­sti­tute’s re­search agenda, though many of those (e.g. RCTs) aren’t as promis­ing for this con­text.

The list is in very rough or­der of the value of a de­cent-qual­ity im­ple­men­ta­tion of the idea.

Re­search Ideas

  • De­tailed anal­y­sis of how much would it cost (money, land, en­ergy, etc.) to ac­tu­ally have large-scale “hu­mane” an­i­mal farm­ing (i.e. net pos­i­tive lives to the av­er­age well-in­formed per­son)

  • Ag­gre­ga­tion of pre­dic­tions made for new tech­nolo­gies. E.g. when did peo­ple think we would get per­sonal com­put­ers af­ter the first su­per­com­put­ers came out? (con­text: AI timelines, pre­dic­tions of the year 2000)

  • What can be done with graz­ing/​non-arable land in an an­i­mal-free food sys­tem: E.g. What plants (e.g. switch­grass for biofuels) can we grow on how much of it? Can we put clean meat brew­eries on it? Hous­ing? Rewil­d­ing?

  • Ag­gre­ga­tion of at­tempts at cer­tifi­ca­tion pro­grams (analo­gous to “hu­mane meat”) across differ­ent in­dus­tries. Namely, how and how of­ten do they lead to in­dus­try-wide re­form?

  • Ag­gre­ga­tion of the health ev­i­dence for and against an­i­mal prod­ucts (prob­a­bly best to start by ag­gre­gat­ing pro-ve­gan and anti-ve­gan lists of stud­ies and ar­gu­ments; I cur­rently don’t know of any even-handed lists)

  • Timeline of how pub­lic per­cep­tions of veg­e­tar­i­anism have changed over the past two cen­turies (e.g. old me­dia ar­ti­cles)

  • Sum­maries of Cochrane and similar re­views on mass me­dia in­ter­ven­tions for pub­lic health (e.g. “Mass me­dia in­ter­ven­tions for smok­ing ces­sa­tion in adults” [1]). Namely, what, if any, some­what-ro­bust con­clu­sions have been found that might ap­ply to the ad­vo­cacy of plant-based eat­ing?

  • Sum­maries of so­cial move­ment strat­egy books (e.g. Power in Move­ment, Rules for Rad­i­cals, From Dic­ta­tor­ship to Democ­racy)

  • Var­i­ous other liter­a­ture re­views (e.g. voter turnout, anti-sub­stance abuse, en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy, healthy eat­ing, ex­er­cise, anti-vi­o­lence, anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion/​bias)

  • Var­i­ous so­cial move­ment case stud­ies (e.g. en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism (e.g. cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, wildlife preser­va­tion), chil­dren’s rights, early US an­ti­s­lav­ery, men­tal dis­abil­ities, prison re­form, anti-abor­tion, an­i­mal rights (e.g. lab, en­ter­tain­ment, food, shelters), anti-smok­ing, healthy eat­ing)

  • Sum­mary/​refer­ences for farmed an­i­mal welfare laws in each coun­try (similar to WAP’s API), es­pe­cially Switzer­land, Aus­tria, Aus­tralia, China, and In­dia. In­clud­ing a timeline for each coun­try if pos­si­ble.

  • How use­ful is re­duc­ing an­i­mal farm­ing for re­duc­ing pan­demic risk?

  • More de­tailed anal­y­sis of how much an­i­mal farm­ing sub­sidies af­fect an­i­mal product prices (see Lewis’ brief in­ves­ti­ga­tion here)

  • Anal­y­sis of the im­pact of an­i­mal ag on global food prices

[1] (see com­ment)