Should we minimize the suffering felt next year or speed up neglected welfare improvements? A simple model
In my work as a research analyst for Charity Entrepreneurship, I have been assessing possible animal welfare campaigns. The first thing I found is that finding the correct welfare asks for corporate or government campaigns is really hard. The scarcity of information in animal advocacy relative to other cause areas means that accurate decisions are harder to make. Establishing reliable metrics to assess ideas is essential to avoid wasting time. One way of doing this is to think about how to approximate the endline metric we are trying to maximise: counterfactual impact.
Over the past few months, Charity Entrepreneurship has dedicated hours of work to researching ideas for potential animal charities that we believe could have uniquely high positive-impact. Our ask reports cover the impact of many different components of charitable interventions (for example, which animals to focus on). However, all of these reports are done only in the context of founding a new charity.
The following is a fictional story to illustrate a point.
The two interventions were both urgent. Animal Issues - Canada had been considering which of the two to pick for months. Jeremy thought that they should work on geese, as they had a significantly lower welfare standard than other in Canada. It looked clear to him that they should move the majority of their resources onto campaigns aimed at increasing the welfare of geese. However, his co-director disagreed. Jenny had been researching ducks and thought they were even more important than geese, since the ducks were slightly more numerous, although slightly better treated than the geese. It was a hard call, and so they chose to flip a coin. Both interventions were good, and flipping a coin seemed like a fair way of deciding, but both Executive Directors agreed that whatever the outcome, they would dedicate themselves to the issue.
But the coin betrayed them.
There are billions of animals who live in extremely painful conditions, but there are also hundreds of ways to help them. From methods as direct as rescuing a single animal from a horrible life to means as wide-reaching as working with governments and corporations in order to set up long term policies for improving the lives of millions of animals. Given the ongoing suffering and all the possible ways to help, why would anyone concerned with animal issues choose to focus on something as abstract and long term as research?
The small animal replacement problem is the concern that certain diet changes aimed at causing less harm to the world might, in fact, cause more harm - specifically, changes that result from eating smaller animals instead of larger ones. For example, when many people see the problems with factory farming, the first meat to go is often red meat, specifically cows. Sadly, if this person increases their chicken or fish consumption even moderately, this might be a bad move ethically. There are two main factors that drive this: welfare condition and meat generated per animal.
Some of the books I read to try to get a sense of animals lives from different angles.
I have been a vegan for 8 years and have been semi-actively involved in animal rights for the past 5 years. Despite this, I have realized that my understanding of many aspects of animals' lives is surprisingly narrow, and I think this is fairly common for activists in animal advocacy (or any movement, really). As the project I am now working on is recommending charities that should be founded in the animal advocacy movement and providing an incubation camp for them, I feel the need to broaden my understanding of these issues.
Everything takes longer
One of the biggest things we noticed while in India was that it takes large amounts of time even to accomplish fairly routine tasks relative to trying to do them in Canada. This no doubt was in part due to our unfamiliarity with the country, but based on what we saw, we think this could also be true even for natives, though to a lesser extent. For example, basic tasks like getting a vaccine or getting a cell phone set up were far cheaper but took far longer than doing the equivalent task in Canada. For example, getting a vaccine required considerable time and many different small steps for payments and waits (getting the appointment, for getting the consultation, prescription, getting prescription filled, getting injection, paying for each step).
--- This blog post had been edited and updated based on new information sent to us about the relationship between IQ and income. We feel as though the evidence is more positive than we originally wrote but still not enough to change our conclusion that there is insufficient evidence of a connection between IQ and other positive life outcomes for us to value increasing IQ as a potential metric. ---
When we decided to do this project many of our advisors suggested we spend time in the developing world to get a stronger sense of some factors that we wouldn’t from reading the statistics. Only one member of our team had spent significant time in the developing world and we thought there could be considerable learning value from spending some time there.
We knew when coming to India that a huge percentage of the population was vegetarian and many different cultures in India had respect for animals significantly different from that seen in the West. However, we had no idea how animals would be treated on a day to day basis but wanted to keep an eye out and try to get a sense of what an animal's life is like and particularly how farm animals might be treated in India. That said, the following are informal observations based mostly on walks and travelling we have done for purposes not related to animal welfare. We can imagine our views changing over the rest of the time we are here.
Our team is now in India, and one of the first things we did was arrange a tour of a large slum in New Delhi. We did this through PETE, a local nonprofit that provides free educational programs,. This tour was very informative and we wanted to write up a quick post on some of the biggest things we learned.
Hi, I am Kieran. I joined the Charity Science team in June 2015 after volunteering since the previous February. Hope you're enjoying the new website.
Charity Science recently evaluated more than 20 different fundraising methods to determine which methods would be the most promising to experiment with in the third quarter of 2015. This prioritization task resulted in slightly more than a hundred pages of research about fundraising methods, which will be helpful for other groups considering a wide range of fundraising options. When researching, reviewing and evaluating these methods, something that persistently proved useful was the cluster thinking approach. In essence, cluster thinking involves approaching empirical questions from numerous reference frames or mental models and synthesising this cluster of views into one’s opinion.