I recently learned that many universities require a certain percentage of all grants go to institutional overhead unless the grant maker has a policy against it. So grant-makers can save a lot of money by publicly posting a policy limiting the portion of a grant that can go to overhead.
I believe the most cost-effective use of basic science funds right now is in welfare biology.I’m the deputy director of Wild Animal Initiative, an EA nonprofit dedicated to understanding and improving the lives of wild animals.The number of animals in the wild is mind-boggling. Estimates put it at around ten trillion vertebrates (most or all of whom are probably sentient) and 10^18 arthropods (at least some of whom are probably sentient).And there’s reason to believe many of those animals lead incredibly difficult lives. Survival can be a constant struggle. This is especially true for the most numerous species, which tend to give birth to dozens or hundreds of young that die early—and presumably very painful—deaths.Despite the tremendous scale of wild animal suffering, it remains exceptionally neglected. We don’t even know the answers to the most foundational questions: Which animals can experience suffering or happiness? What are their lives like in the wild? What, if anything, can we do to help them?The good news for science supporters is there’s no shortage of low-hanging fruit. In the nascent field of welfare biology, every project breaks entirely new ground. And because we need so many types of expertise—neuroscience, physiology, genetics, behavioral ecology, population ecology, etc. - there’s lots of flexibility to find projects that fit each funder’s goals.We are in the process of establishing a research fund to jumpstart the growth of this field, and your relative could play a critical role in making that happen. We could also connect you directly with promising researchers in Australia.If there’s any chance this would be of interest, let’s schedule a quick chat to see if it’s a good fit: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d also love to hear Scott’s perspective on this, but in the meantime, I wanted to point out that this is one of the ways The Good Food Institute aims to help potential founders. For starters, I’d recommend these essential resources.
Most plant-based meats get their form and texture through high-moisture extrusion, in which textured vegetable protein is forced through a die like Play-Doh through a spaghetti maker (see Wikipedia for a more technical overview).
Extruders are big, expensive, and sensitive machines. Most startups can’t buy their own, so they normally contract with a manufacturer. However, there is a limited number of manufacturers that currently do high-moisture extrusion of textured vegetable protein.
I believe the authors’ concern is that because demand for extruders currently exceeds supply, their project wouldn’t necessarily add to the total amount of plant-based meat produced. Instead, it might take up space that another plant-based meat startup would otherwise use. (Scott et al., please correct me if I’m misrepresenting your view.)
I like this way of thinking. It’s important to consider whether our direct impact is actually different than the counterfactual.
But fortunately for prospective plant-based meat entrepreneurs, there are several reasons why my colleagues at The Good Food Institute think displacement may not be as big of an issue here (and I agree):
1. A new plant-based meat company creates new demand for extrusion capacity. Consistently increasing demand for extrusion capacity signals to manufacturers that they should invest in capital expenditure.
2. Alternative manufacturing processes are being developed that do not require high-moisture extrusion (e.g., sheer cell technology). A new plant-based meat company could either directly contribute to developing these technologies or indirectly contribute by demonstrating demand for the technology.
3. Extrusion capacity tends to go to the producer with the highest willingness to pay. In general, this will favor companies that are more mature, have higher sales, or have more investment. Although imperfect, these factors correlate with product quality, decreasing the likelihood that a worse product will displace a better one.
Great points, Trammell! Thank you for this post.
Your example comparing the peaceful-psychology hypothesis and the violent-psychology hypothesis is effective, and it stands on its own. However, I don’t think it’s the best way to represent Steven Pinker’s argument, and I think representing that argument more accurately leads in some interesting new directions.
As I understand him, Pinker does not argue humans have a peaceful psychology. Rather, he acknowledges that there are many aspects of our psychology that predispose us to violence, and he attributes the historical decline in violence primarily to social developments, e.g., establishing trade networks, accumulating social norms, elevating women’s power in society, etc. These changes in society have built stronger and stronger defenses against our violent instincts, which have remained relatively unchanged over the course of human history.
Stating the hypothesis this way raises the question of how far we expect this trend to continue. We would be much more interested in saving a world (“World 1”) where society continues to grow increasingly less violent and more compassionate, and substantially less interested in saving a world (“World 2″) where that trend stops, or where it doesn’t go far enough fast enough to prevent huge new sources of suffering.
Moral circle expansion is a strategy to make our world more like the first one and less like the second one. Unlike the strategies discussed in this post, it doesn’t deal with affecting the likelihood of extinction scenarios. Rather, it tries to directly influence the speed and direction of the trends that determine the expected value of the long-term future (a.k.a. it tries to shift us to a world more worth saving). For what it’s worth, I think Sentience Institute is doing some really valuable research on this topic.