“Both WASR and UF spent a significant amount of time on academic outreach in 2018”
I hadn’t realised this; I thought that Animal Ethics focused more on this, while WASR focused more directly on foundational research. Do you think there will be overloaded between WAI and Animal Ethics or do the organisations have different approaches?
Yes, I had thought about this. There was a question in the survey intending to check if people thought this was the case so far, and I didn’t see much evidence for it. But Id guess that those sorts of effects might be less obviously noticeable, or might take longer to become noticeable.
Just a note that there was a useful post for discussing some of the potential gaps and issues around EA career advice a few months ago (subsequent to our discussion) here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ej2v2wkExivqNghJ4/towards-better-ea-career-advice#YKQxGfmcxAMhYPboY
Note that an EA for Christians group exists, although I’m not sure if they’ve conducted active outreach much
“For example, the difference between assigning a 5% probability and a 50% probability is epistemically vast but arguably practically insignificant. It merely affects the amount of expected value represented by invertebrates by one order of magnitude. There are very roughly 10^18 insects in the world, and this number is still multiple orders of magnitude higher than the number of vertebrate animals.”
Given this point, and the implications of Jacy’s comment, perhaps it would be preferable to conceptualise the impact of this research/career plan in this area as a form of advocacy, rather than as a form of enhancing our knowledge and affecting cause prioritisation?
In some ways, your rough career trajectory might look similar, but it might affect some decisions e.g. how to split your time between focusing on further research and focusing on giving talks to EA groups, academic settings etc.
This list has research questions across a number of different themes or categories, e.g. “wider understanding of current animal use” and “evaluations of farmed animal interventions.” To think about which questions are important, I’d suggest categorising the questions, then prioritising the overall categories.
Sentience Institute has summarised foundational questions in effective animal advocacy, and we tend to prioritise research that we think will best help to improve our understanding of these questions (see our research agenda).
Frankly, there are huge amounts of research questions that could be useful in some shape or form to effective animal advocacy. I’m not aware of anyone having compiled a comprehensive list, although I think that this might be worthwhile doing at some point, especially to coordinate the different organisations and individuals conducting research and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.
There are also important considerations about the risk that rainforest preservation efforts might indirectly increase suffering.
Many in the effective altruism community believe that a large proportion of wild animals, especially invertebrates and other r-selected species, have net negative lives. Recently, this was the conclusion of a recent report by charity entrepreneurship. If you believe that there is a non-trivial chance that these animals can suffer or have morally relevant experiences, then the short- and medium-term effect of rainforest protection might be a counterfactual increase in wild animal suffering (see here for Brian Tomasik’s discussion of a related question).
More widely, encouraging concern for habitat protection might encourage people to value non-sentient entities even where the interests of these non-sentient entities conflict with the direct interests of individual animals. In general, this seems to be a step in the wrong direction if you agree that moral circle expansion is desirable. This might encourage the likelihood of future dystopian scenarios which involve astronomical levels of suffering.
In a sense, by promoting environmentalism via conservation, you might be reducing the chance of a global catastrophe via climat change but increasing the chance of S risk.
I’m glad to see historical evidence being considered and also awareness of its limitations.
What do you consider to be the main strategic implications for the EA community?
Is it mainly to update slightly away from strategies which might lead to events similar to the hypothesised causes of decline of Mohism, and towards those which might lead to events similar to the hypothesised causes of the success of Confucianism? E.g. update towards being willing to “adapt doctrines to changing social and intellectual circumstances.”
Great write up. I’m a fan of the systematic thinking and research. It’s interesting to compare how you approached it to how Charity Entrepreneurship are looking into non-profit startup opportunities. I’m interested in how you weighed up the decision criteria; was this just intuitive, based off the rest of the research, or did you have another approach?
One area where I might diverge from your approach here is in how you conceptualise expected social impact. I get the impression here (mainly from your use of “Filter #2: Social Impact—Comparing Animal Suffering”) that you primarily conceptualise the impact of a startup in terms of the the products that that startup produces and the animal products that it replaces counterfactually. But a broader conceptualisation of the impact of a startup might include its contribution (positive or negative) to the overall eventual success (i.e. market share) of plant-based meat and/or clean meat. In the long-term, this could well matter more for total impact.
So a startup which introduces a cellular agriculture product replacing an animal product that causes relatively small amounts of suffering might still be far more impactful than some other startup ideas (e.g. a startup that brings a good clean chicken product to market at a better price point than its competitors) if it helps to bring cellular agriculture products to market in a way that has wider public support. Although each of these examples has a long list of pros and cons, this specific goal might be better achieved by:
1) Focusing on animal products which aren’t actually eaten by humans, e.g. leather, pet food
2) Focusing on products which are more widely condemned by the public, e.g. foie gras
3) Focusing on marketising the products in countries which are more likely to be supportive, even if the total market is smaller, e.g. Singapore (see here).
In each of these examples, bringing the products to market in those specific contexts might increase consumer acceptance of the higher priority products, since they (or lots of people in other countries) will already be using cellular agriculture products.
A different approach might be to starting a B2B startup which focuses on providing a cheap—but also stable and secure—specific ingredient, e.g. growth media (this one overlaps with some of your suggestions). This might require that their business focuses on selling to a broader customer base, including medical companies and scientific researchers, to ensure that they have a business model that isn’t wholly dependent on the (potentially fluctuating) fortunes of the rest of the clean meat supply chain.
Potentially these strategic concerns might matter less for plant-based foods. I can think of ways it would influence decision-making though, like focusing heavily on price, so that less well-off people can access plant-based foods, to reduce the risk that plant-based food becomes confined to well-off people and specific demographics (hippies/hipsters) due to the real barrier that price puts up and/or due to public perceptions and identity issues.
Generally, I’m arguing for considering a long-term “strategic” perspective to thinking about the social impact of start-ups. J at Sentience Institute has written two technology adoption studies on nuclear power and GM foods which I think are helpful for thinking about these sorts of perspectives. He’s currently writing a third, on biofuels—I imagine that that will be similarly useful, and that we’ll start to see trends and patterns occurring across the technology adoption studies as he does more.
Thanks for providing the examples! A couple of questions:
1) Can I check I’ve understood: the “Estimated population size” and “Odds of feeling pain” columns are not factored into the “total welfare score” (which is made up of adding together scores from the various criteria which then end up somewhere between −100 and +100) at all; they are to be used separately.
So if you wanted to work out whether sparing 10 broiler chickens or 20 beef cows from existence was more impactful, you’d have to multiply your result by the odds of feeling pain etc. E.g. for chickens: 10 * −56 * 0.7 = −392 units of suffering prevented. For beef cows: −20 * 20 * 75% = −300 units of suffering prevented. So sparing chickens slightly better by this metric (also: note that people might not agree with that the rough estimates from the OPP on consciousness mean the same thing as “odds of feeling pain,” e.g. if you subscribe to consciousness eliminativism, although I haven’t read the OPP report in a while so might be misremembering the specifics)
2) I don’t understand where the “range” figure comes from?
Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree with most of your comments/additions on my comments! Here are some further comments on your comments on my comments:
<< Unfortunately lack of funding constraints doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to build new teams. For instance, the community is very constrained by managers, which makes it hard to both hire junior people and set up new organisations… [local workshops ] are already being experimented with by local effective altruism groups… [but are] also quite challenging to run well—often someone able to do this independently can get a full-time job at an existing organisation.”
Do I take these two comments combined to mean that you believe someone needs managerial experience, or extensive experience to set these up? I feel there might be a half way house here, where those at 80K who are more experienced in running career workshops spent the days/weeks/months required to set up some clear training resources and infrastructure to make these more easily/systematically run at a local level. At this point, it wouldn’t require managers or hugely experienced people to run these. For example, I would imagine that anyone with teaching experience who spent a few weeks (paid?) making sure that they were sufficiently up to speed on key EA and career-relevant knowledge could then run workshops like this very successfully. In short, I suspect we have different opinions about a) the resources required to set up the initial infrastructure to make these sessions workable, and b) the level of experience and skill needed to run them locally. Intuitively I feel quite strongly about this but I also have a tendency to underestimate the effort/time required for large projects like this.
<< One-on-one calls seem safer, and funding someone to work independently doing calls all day seems like a reasonable use of funding to me, provided they couldn’t / wouldn’t get a more senior job >>
Similarly to the above point, my current impression is that the EA community has more people who are sufficiently talented to do a role like this sufficiently well than it has jobs like this for them to fill. This seems like it would be a fairly generalist role, which could be done well by quite a range of people. Again, I think I might have a lower bar for the calibre of applicant that I would see as sufficient to make it worth funding someone to work on this full time though.
<< Note that we have tried this in the past (e.g. allied health, web design, executive search), but they took a long time to write, never got much attention, and as far as we’re aware haven’t caused any plan changes. >>
Fair enough. However, these metrics assess their usefulness within the context of the current audience and demographics of the EA community / 80K. Part of my understanding of the broader vision of 80K’s role (or for other new organisations to step in) assumes a broader / changing audience for the EA community.
<<This seems pretty similar to SHIC: https://shicschools.org/ >>
To my knowledge, SHIC don’t spend much time on careers advice. I am aware that SHIC are working on different programmes / forms of delivery at the moment, but the “core curriculum” only includes one session on careers advice, which was mostly a selection of ideas from 80K.
More broadly, this probably fits into an issue that I think EA might have (understandably, given how new it is) of having 1 organisation working on 1 key area. E.g. 80K for careers, SHIC for students. Even ACE for evaluating animal charities/interventions… or Sentience Institute for doing social movement research for animal organisations. But none of those organisations do all possible work in those areas (although you could argue that they take up the low hanging fruit) and they all have particular views about how they should do each of those things that others in the EA community might disagree with.
<< Unfortunately, we have very limited capacity to hire. It seems better that we focus our efforts on people who can help with our main organisational focus, which is the narrow vision. So, like I note, I think these would mainly have to be done by other organisations. >>
My guess would be that it would be worth diverting some time/resources from 80K to actively advocate for the setting up of new organisations, to assist with supporting or selecting the right candidates to fill those roles (e.g. if they applying for some form of grant), and to advise them, based on your own experiences. Or even offer grants to set up organisations to fill those gaps?
(P.S. feel free not to reply to these comments; I added them to try and explain/explore why we might disagree on some of these issues despite me accepting most of the points that you just made)
Given some of the issues raised on this thread, I suggest that either 80K should broaden its role and hire (lots) more staff to make this possible, or that new organisations should be set up to fill the gaps.
I’m glad to see the discussion of the “two visions.” I would guess that there is a discrepancy between how 80K thinks of its role (the second vision, focusing on key bottlenecks) and how most people, especially people newer to the EA community or not involved in EA meta orgs, think of 80K’s role (the first vision, focusing on broader social impact career advice).
When I come across someone who cares about making the world a better place / maximising their impact who is looking for career advice, I either point them towards 80K or discuss ideas with them that have almost entirely come from 80K. It may well be that 80K doesn’t see some of those people that I have conversations with as their intended target audience, but since 80K is the only EA org focusing on careers advice, I default to those recommendations. I would guess that many other people do the same.
A crude summary of some of the ideas here would be that increasing “inclination” is more important than increasing awareness from a long-term perspective. But if 80K is demoralising people new to the movement because it focuses on the second vision of its role over the first vision, then this probably decreases inclination quite a lot and so has negative long-term implications (even if in the short-term, it has higher impact).
Although I haven’t thoroughly looked at impact or cost-effectiveness metrics for 80K and other meta orgs, there are several factors that make me think that the EA community should prioritise devoting more resources to filling the gaps in the area of career advice:
1) Conversations about career decisions happen pretty regularly. Even if the most impactful thing for the handful of individuals working at 80K is indeed to focus on the narrower vision of their role, it seems important that other individuals work on the broader conception, so that these regular conversations that are happening anyway can be relatively informed.
2) Given that 80K focuses on the narrower vision, there is probably quite a lot of work that could be done relatively easily and be quite impactful if people were working on the broader vision (i.e. low hanging fruit)
3) We talk about EA movement-building not being funding constrained. If that’s the case, then presumably it’d be possible to create more roles, be that at 80K or at new organisations.
4) If I remember correctly, the EA survey suggests that 80K is an important entry point for lots of people into EA. It’s also a high-fidelity form of communication about EA ideas/research.
5) Generally there are loads of opportunities for impact that I can think of that a much larger 80K (or additional organisations also working on the intersection of EA and careers advice/decision making) could work on, that seem like they would plausibly have higher impact than some other ways that funds have been used for EA movement building that I can think of:
Research/website like 80K’s current career profile reviews, but including less competitive career paths (perhaps this would need to focus on quantity over quality and “breadth” over depth)
Career coaching calls (available all year round, for anyone focusing on any of the higher priority EA cause areas)
Regular career workshops, perhaps run through additional employees at local groups who are trained in how to run them, or perhaps as a single international organisation. This seems like a high fidelity method of EA outreach; if marketed well, I suspect these would get a lot of take-up. Targeted marketing to groups which are demographically under-represented in EA might also be a good way to start addressing diversity/inclusion/elitism concerns.
Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K’s current work, but focusing on specific cause areas (e.g. animal advocacy broadly, including both farmed animals and wild animals)
Research/webite/podcasts etc like 80K’s current work, but focused on high school age students, before they’ve made choices which significantly narrow down their options (like choosing their degree).
In short, 80K does some amazing and important work, but there seems to be lots of space for the EA community to do more in the broad area of the intersection of EA and careers advice or decision-making. So it seems to me that either 80K should prioritise hiring more people to take up some of these opportunities, or EA as a movement should prioritise creating new organisations to take them up.
Michael, apologies for this. I just came back to check this post.
I didn’t ever receive the email because the formatting of the EA forum removed the underscore from my email, and I didn’t notice at the time. If you can find the email that you sent from your sent box in April, and could forward it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org that would be great!
I wanted to echo all of Saulius’ points (including the thanks for doing this!).
To clarify your response here: all of the rankings are essentially subjective judgements, based on whatever evidence you have available in that category? So in the example above, if those cortisol tests were somehow your only evidence in the “index of biological markers” category, you would just decide a score that you felt represented the appropriate level of badness for the wild rat “index of biological markers” score?
I’m also wondering if you’re going to use the method to compare humans to non-human animals? Some of the biological measures we could use fall down when we think about how humans fit in, e.g. neuron count. Including humans in comparative measures seems valuable for reflecting on/testing intuitions we might otherwise have about cross-species comparisons.
Thanks for the reply. Just wanted to note that I agree with ACE’s breadth over depth strategy, and that ACE might not be best-placed for a fuller review of social movement impact literature. It’s something I’m considering prioritizing doing personally in my work for Sentience Institute.
Thanks very much for posting this reply. And thanks a lot for all the work ACE does in general.
Some clarifications were useful to have, e.g. “The Relationship Between our Intervention Research and our Charity Reviews”—I had felt confused about this when I first looked through the reviews in depth.
Here are some specific comments:
Reviews of existing literature
I agree that the new intervention reports are much better on this front. I’m especially keen on the clear tables summarising existing literature in the protest report. I suspect that there’s still room for more depth here, especially since the articles summarized are probably just the most relevant parts of much wider debates within the social movement studies literature. For example, I notice a couple of items by S.A. Soule; although I haven’t read the book and analysis you (or whoever wrote the protest report) cite, I have read another article of her’s which was partially directed at considering the importance of the “political mediation” and “political opportunity structure” theories for assessing the impact of social movement organizations, and suspect that some of the works you cite might consider similar issues. I think the protest report goes into an appropriate amount of depth, given limited time and resources etc, but I’ve recently gained the impression that a literature review of social movement impact theory in a broad sense, or more systematic reviews of some of the more specific sub-areas, is a high priority in EAA research. I’d be keen to hear views about how useful this would be, and I’m happy to share more specific thoughts if that would help.
Unclear sources of figures
With some older intervention reports I agree with John Halstead that there are some confusing, unexplained numbers, although I think he exaggerates the extent of this (perhaps unintentionally), since some of the figures are explained. I don’t think this needs further comment since, as noted, the new intervention report style is much clearer.
My impression was that the Guesstimate models from more recent charity evaluations also had some slightly unexplained figures on there. E.g. THL guesstimate model – “Rough estimate of number of farmed animals spared per dollar THL spent on campaigns” is −52 to 340. Tracking this back through the model takes you to a box which notes “THL did not provide estimates for the number of animals affected by cage-free campaigns they were involved with. We have roughly based this estimate on estimates from other groups active in promoting cage-free policies and have attempted to take into account the greater amount of resources THL dedicates towards this program area.” I feel like some explanation of this (perhaps a link to an external Google sheet) might have been helpful? I don’t think this is a big issue though. There’s also a chance I’ve just missed something / don’t fully understand Guesstimate yet.
General comment on use of CEEs
ACE does make very clear that it only sees CEEs as one part of a charity evaluation. I’d just suggest that, in spite of these warnings, individuals looking at the reports will naturally gravitate towards the CEEs as one of the more tangible/concrete/easily quotable areas of the report. E.g. when I’ve organised events and created resources for Effective Animal Altruism London, I’ve quoted some of the CEEs for charities (and pretty much nothing else from the report) to make broad points about the rough ballpark for cost effectiveness of different groups. Given this, it still makes sense to treat the CEEs as more important than some other parts of the report, and to try and be especially rigorous in these sections.
So doing things like using a single disputed paper by De Mol et al (2016) (although this example is from the old corporate campaigns intervention report) as a key part of a cost effectiveness analysis seems inadvisable, if it is avoidable.
(Holly probably knows most of my story but writing about myself seems fun so I’m going to do it anyway… maybe it’ll be somehow useful for someone too)
When I was 5, I refused to eat meat for emotional reasons (something along the lines of “Mum, that thing you’re cutting up still looks like a real chicken and that is sad, I’m going to cry lots now”).
When I was about 16, my schoolfriend (also a vegetarian) bought me Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation for my birthday. Reading this turned my personal, emotional choice into something which felt like a moral imperative. Despite never having engaged with any philosophy before, Singer’s views felt almost like a manifesto of what I thought I believed in. I’ve been pretty staunchly utilitarian since (although I still haven’t engaged very deeply with much philosophy).
I knew that I wanted to contribute positively to the world through my career. Given that history was my favourite subject, it seemed like the best way to help the world was to become a history teacher. I fixed my career plans upon this, and didn’t really consider any alternatives to this for years to come...
When I went to university I had hoped to find an animal advocacy student society, but there was none, so I set one up within weeks, alongside a few other people.
It was at uni that I first heard of Effective Altruism. Max Dalton (now at CEA) was at my college at uni and so was in my (extended) friendship group. He was heavily involved in the Oxford GWWC society. I didn’t ever speak to Max about EA whilst I was at uni, but I’d guess that most undergrads in my college had heard of EA because of Max. I also went to hear Peter Singer gives talks twice while I was there, and I think one of the talks was about Effective Altruism (before I knew much about it); I don’t remember it well, so it obviously didn’t leave as much of an impression on me at the time as Animal Liberation had. I thought that EA sounded like a great idea, but that I couldn’t engage with it yet, because I wasn’t earning any money, and my understanding was that EA was about donating effectively. So I decided I would donate 10% of my income to effective charities once I started earning, but that there was nothing else I needed to do in the meantime.
After my degree and 1 year teacher training course, I began working as a teacher and immediately began donating 10% of my income. I also started tentatively looking for potential EA-related volunteering opportunities (e.g. ACE) but nothing came of this at the time.
I spoke to some uni friends who were at similar levels of support for EA as I was. They said they had taken the GWWC pledge. I decided to sign up, since I was already donating 10%.
After signing up, David Nash (EA London) sent me an email asking if I’d like to come to EA London events. I said yes and asked how else I could get involved; I ended up taking over the majority of the organising of the Effective Animal Altruism London sub-group which he had set up with Saulius (another EA based in London) but didn’t have much time to put into organising.
My responsibility for this group (and my general interest) led to a period of deepening involvement in EA; trying to read as much as I could that came out relating to EA and animals and volunteering for several EAA organisations. At some point I decided that I wanted to change my career to have a greater positive impact; this was why I had chosen teaching in the first place anyway, I just hadn’t thought the implications of this through. After several months of agonising, speaking to various people and an 80K coaching call, I decided to work towards working directly in the Effective Animal Advocacy community (as opposed to focusing on building more flexible career capital). So I started an EAA blog, contiued to focus on reading into the area and my volunteering.
A few months later, I have just started working full time as a researcher at Sentience Institute.