That makes a lot of sense. Maybe one way of framing scale + cost-effectiveness could be “how long will a particular cost-effectiveness be applicable in the real world?“, and then two ways of describing that cost-effectiveness are either incorporating costs to raise these limits or not.
In either case, I definitely agree that these should be considered. One other thought—it seems like in certain ways, a donation to a charity will account for their efforts to raise limits, to some extent. I don’t know enough about how ACE does cost-effectiveness analysis (and obviously the degree to which this information is incorporated would definitely depend on that), but I could imagine that if you make a statement like “a donation of $100 to The Humane League will help reduce the suffering of X animals”, in a complete assessment of that donation, some of that funding would be going to their development department (raising the amount of funding available), some might be going to volunteer cultivation (maybe volunteer capacity is another limiting factor).
So the issue is more that while the outcome per dollar we are looking at is based on historical performance, over time that outcome per dollar is actually worse because some of that funding was going towards raising limits, and actually would need to be applied to animals not yet helped, if that makes sense.
Either way, I’m really interested in this—since reading it, I’ve been thinking of how I can incorporate this kind of thinking about cost-effectiveness into my organization—it seems tricky, but definitely worth doing a lot more of. Thanks for posting it!
This is cool! There are definitely limiting factors on working on an issue, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on that cause, but that part of the cost-effectiveness calculation will be how much it costs to raise those limits. In the 1970′s and 80′s, the talent pool for working on farmed animal advocacy, for example, was much smaller. But if we hadn’t worked on it, and built up a better talent pool, brought in more donors, etc., we’d still be in that position today, and wouldn’t have the capacity we have now. The scale of a problem is important because it is something true independent of the state of the movement. Limiting factors are not that—Wild Animal Initiative (where I work), for example, is pursuing academic outreach on wild animal welfare because it will help us in the long run to address these limits, by growing the talent pool etc. AI alignment research probably had a talent pool of basically 0 only a few years ago. Does that mean that no one should have started working on it at that point?
Regardless, you can just update your cost-effectiveness estimates but factoring in the costs to raise these limits.
E.g. it currently costs X dollars to help Y wild animals, up to 1000*Y, at which point some limiting factor stops us from helping more wild animals.
We can increase that limit at a cost of Z per Y more animals (perhaps through advocacy to bring in new talent or donors, or to improve the logistical limit).
The real cost-effectiveness is not X/Y dollars per animal, it is:
Given this, it is still possible that working on wild animals is really cost-effective. Look at the sheer number of invertebrates negatively impacted by insecticides, for example. If we can develop a tractable intervention in ~2 years to help them, it is possible that in that time, we can spend a little more to improve some of these limits as well, and over the whole period, have a really cost-effective intervention overall.
Similarly, in your surgery example, when you hit a limit on surgeries you can provide due to the number of surgeons, you can pay more to train more surgeons (or address the limit however you’re able too). Obviously this lowers the cost-effectiveness, but for many interventions, it still might be a good option at the higher cost.
I guess my thought is, the problem scale definitely is super important. Limiting factors matter because they change the cost-effectiveness. But since they are mutable, they shouldn’t be viewed as hard barriers to working on an issue. And it seems that regardless of what the limits are, or what the scale is, what we actually should be looking at is the cost-effectiveness of improving the issue, and given the above, limiting factors are a consideration within that, as is scale (given that scale is a limit on a certain cost-effectiveness being applicable—e.g. including costs to increase limits, say in the future we can help farmed animals at $Z per animal and wild animals at $Z/3 per animal, so we might want to help wild animals until we run out of wild animals to help, and then focus on the next best thing, which might be farmed animals (obviously an oversimplified example)).
To clarify one thing—when we refer to academic outreach, we mean outreach to academics in the hard sciences, specifically working on building welfare biology as an academic field. UF and WASR both had at least one staff dedicated to this throughout the last year. UF has a writeup on their efforts here—https://www.utility.farm/words/academic-outreach, and WASR’s approach included doing a request for grant proposals etc. for academics.
I don’t think there will be significant overlap—we are trying a new approach targeting early career academics, and offering them funding to work on the outreach themselves instead of us. From what I understand of AE’s program this is pretty different. We are also primarily operating in the US, while AE has less of a presence here, and seems to me to have generally worked with European academics. Regardless, we plan on working to coordinate with them to the greatest extent possible to limit overlap.
Thanks for this—we definitely agree that there needs to be more work in the field. However, I think it’s unlikely that we are best positioned to do that work. This is the reason that academic field building is such a major part of our focus. Both WASR and UF tried this for the last year (UF has a write up on this here—https://www.utility.farm/words/academic-outreach. Neither had much success with this, both through offering funding for research directly and trying to shift values.
We are taking a new approach to this now, working with early career academics who are less likely to have their reputation staked on certain approaches, etc. Hopefully, this will be a lot more fruitful for generating novel and relevant lab and field research. Also, this research would likely be funded outside EA / animal advocacy, which adds additional value. Lab research is significantly more expensive than literature reviews / things within our capabilities. Since we don’t have a strong sense of what the most important questions are to answer first, shifting those costs to external organizations reduces risk in some ways for us, while allowing us to still help shape the direction of the research to some extent.
This is neat! It seems like there is a possibility that the cost-effectiveness is even higher, especially on the realization of actions to help animals side, since EAAL is providing a community for people to stay engaged through, which might decrease volunteer recidivism in the long run.
I have a few questions -
Can you elaborate on what difference species makes for the wild bug, wild fish, etc reports? I could imagine that a spider has a pretty different welfare on average than an ant, for example, so it seems hard to know what kind of animal these particular scores represent when they cover big categories.
Also, it seems like some of the welfare considerations for factory farmed animals don’t account fully for regional laws, etc. (e.g. a country where debeaking is banned probably would have a different score for laying hens in battery cages than in ones where it isn’t). Do you think that the average life tends to be close enough to some minimum that these sorts of differences don’t end up mattering?
Also, as a small side note—you note in the broiler report that broilers are debeaked—that isn’t accurate generally, except for breeding stock, since broilers are killed at a pretty young age now, before pecking negatively impacts the flock.