February 24, 2021
Guest Jo Anderson and Saulius Šimčikas, Faunalytics and Rethink Priorities
Hosted by Jamie Harris, Sentience Institute
Jo Anderson of Faunalytics and Saulius Šimčikas of Rethink Priorities on research for effective animal advocacy
We [Faunalytics] put out a lot of things in 2020. Some of the favorites that I [Jo] have, probably top of the list, I’m really excited about our animal product impact scales, where we did a lot of background research to figure out and estimate the impact of replacing various animal products with plant-based or cultivated alternatives. Apart from that, we’ve also done some research on people’s beliefs about chickens and fish that’s intended as a starting point on a program of research so that we can look at the best ways to advocate for those smaller animals… [Rethink Priorities’] bigger projects within farmed animal advocacy include work on EU legislation, in particular a review of how much do countries comply with EU animal welfare laws and what we can do to increase compliance. Jason Schukraft wrote many articles about topics like how the moral value of animals differs across species. There has been a review of shrimp farming. I [Saulius] finished an article in which I estimate global captive vertebrate numbers. And Abraham Rowe posted an article about insects raised for food and feed which I think is a very important topic.
- Jo Anderson and Saulius Šimčikas
There have been many new research posts relevant to animal advocacy in 2020. But which are the most important for animal advocates to pay close attention to? And what sorts of research should we prioritize in the future?
Jo Anderson is the Research Director at Faunalytics, a nonprofit that conducts, summarizes, and disseminates research relevant to animal advocacy. Saulius Šimčikas is a Senior Staff Researcher at Rethink Priorities, a nonprofit that conducts research relevant to farmed animal advocacy, wild animals, and several other cause areas associated with the effective altruism community.
Topics discussed in the episode:
- Faunalytics and Rethink Priorities’ research in 2020 relevant to animal advocacy (1:40)
- Jo and Saulius’ work on polling about fish welfare (5:37)
- The impact of replacing different types of animal products (12:27)
- To what extent should animal advocates focus on legislative campaigns rather than corporate campaigns? (16:29)
- Experiences and turnover in the animal advocacy movement (24:33)
- New research on the difficulties of scaling up cultured meat (28:15)
- New research about the promise of lectures to reduce students’ animal product consumption (32:16)
- Charity Entrepreneurship’s (many) new intervention reports (36:54)
- How the idea of longtermism should affect animal advocacy (39:32)
- Other exciting effective animal advocacy research published in 2020 (45:51)
- How does all this research actually lead to impact for animals? What is the theory of change? (50:06)
- How do you decide or prioritize which specific research topic to pursue? (56:41)
- What are the pros and cons of working on multiple cause areas within a single research nonprofit? (1:00:11)
- What are the pros and cons of various different types of research? (1:05:21)
- What are the main bottlenecks that the farmed animal movement and its contributing research organizations face? (1:18:17)
- What routes into effective animal advocacy research roles did Jamie, Jo, and Saulius take and what is the relative importance of effective animal advocacy familiarity vs. formal research experience? (1:23:49)
Resources discussed in the episode:
Resources by or about Jo Anderson and Faunalytics
Resources by or about Saulius Šimčikas and Rethink Priorities
- Past issues of Jamie’s newsletter for his blog, listing interesting effective animal advocacy research
- David Humbird, Scale-Up Economics for Cultured Meat
- Randomised controlled trials finding evidence that lectures can encourage students to reduce their consumption of animal products by Andrew Jalil, Joshua Tasoff, and Arturo Vargas Bustamante, Chris Bryant and Courtney Dillard, and Eric Schwitzgebel, Bradford Cokelet, and Peter Singer.
- Harish Sethu, How Ranking of Advocacy Strategies Can Mislead
- Intervention evaluations by Charity Entrepreneurship
- Global Priorities Institute’s definition of longtermism
- Tobias Baumann, Longtermism and animal advocacy
- Animal Advocacy Careers, Effective animal advocacy bottlenecks surveys
- Animal Charity Evaluators, Allocation of movement resources
Resources for using this podcast for a discussion group:
Transcript (Automated, imperfect)
Welcome to the sentience Institute podcast, where we interview activists, entrepreneurs, and researchers about the most effective strategies to expand humanity's moral circle with the focus on expanding the circle to farmed animals. I'm Jamie Harris researcher at Sentience Institute and at Animal Advocacy Careers. Welcome to our 15th episode of the podcast. I was excited to have Jo Anderson from Faunalytics and Saulius Šimčikas from Rethink Priorities on the podcast because they are both excellent researchers whose work I've read and admired on a number of occasions. They both conduct research relevant to effective animal advocacy, albeit sometimes with a slightly different focus to the research we do at Sentience Institute. Between the three of us, we have quite a mix of career backgrounds and perspectives. So I expected the conversation to be a useful review of the research that was published in 2020 and an interesting discussion of research, methodologies and plans going forwards on our website.
We have a transcript of this episode, as well as timestamps for particular topics. We also have suggested questions and resources that can be used to run an event around this podcast in your local animal advocacy or effective altruism group. Please feel free to get in touch with us. If you have questions about this and we'd be happy to help.
Let me introduce our first guest for the episode. Jo Anderson, Jo is the research director at Faunalytics, a nonprofit that conducts summarizes and disseminates research relevant animal advocacy is also the co-leader of the researcher collective group called research to end consumption of animal products and an adjunct to research professor at Carleton university. Welcome to the podcast Jo.
Thank you so much for having me.
You're very welcome, Jo, what did you and Faunalytics work on in 2020 and what are some of the research outputs that you think are most important for animal advocates? Oh,
Big question. We put out a lot of things in 2020. Um, some of the favorites that I have in terms of how helpful I think they could be probably top of the list. I am really excited about our animal product impact scales, where we did a lot of background research to figure out and estimate the impact of replacing various animal products with plant-based or cultivated alternatives, um, and at a very specific level. So not just chicken versus fish versus beef, but like bacon versus chicken nuggets versus fish filets. So we've got those all rank ordered and we're able to say how many animal lives and days of suffering go into each of those products, which has a huge variety of different applications for advocates, whether they're talking to manufacturers or a restaurant chains or individuals, um, we have data for the individual level as well as the population level in the U S so it's got a really wide applicability. Uh, apart from that, we've also done some research on people's beliefs about chickens and fish. That's intended as a starting point on a program of research, uh, that will become experimental in a subsequent phase so that we can look at the best ways to advocate for those smaller animals. Uh, because of course with their smaller bodies, they die in much larger numbers in order to feed the people who eat them. Yeah. So that's just a couple of things we've also done, uh, some more fundamental work on different types of advocacy that are already happening, like a reduction versus vegetarian advocacy, uh, on the effectiveness of farm sanctuaries and a whole bunch of other things to you that I won't get into because there are too many.
Great, well, hopefully we'll have some time to dive into some of those in a bit more detail in a bit, but for now, let me introduce our second guest, Saulius Šimčikas. Saulius Is a senior staff researcher at rethink priorities, a nonprofit that conducts research relevant to farmed animal advocacy, wild animals, and several other cause areas associated with the effective altruism community. Before that he was a research intern at animal Charity Evaluators and an organizer of effective altruism events in the UK and in Lithuania. Saulius, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks for having me, Jamie.
Yeah, you're very welcome. So what did you and rethink priorities work on in 2020? And what are some of the research outputs that you think from that are most important for animal advocates?
So our bigger projects within farm animal advocacy include work on the EU legislation in particular our view of how much do countries comply with EU animal welfare laws and what we can do to increase compliance. Then, uh, Jason Shukraft wrote many articles about topics like how moral value of animals differs across species. So for example, some of his articles explored how the subjective experience of time might be different in different species and how this could change, uh, which animal species we should prioritize when doing activism. There has been a review of shrimp farming and its welfare problems in the works in 2020, uh, which will probably be posted sometime in the next few months, I finished an article in which estimate global captive vertebrate numbers. And I worked on various smaller projects and Abraham Rowe posted an article about insects, race for food and feed, which I think is a very important topic that should be discussed more because it's predicted that insect farming for chicken pig and fish feed will grow exponentially in the next decades. So if we animal advocates have any concerns about the welfare and insect farming, we should probably start doing something about it now.
Sure. Okay. Thanks both. So I was quite keen to focus this discussion on a bit of an overview of the effective animal advocacy research that has come out in 2020. And of course the work of our three respective organizations makes up quite a high proportion of that research output. So it was a great place to start for context in every this year I've been sending out a newsletter for subscribers to my blog that has what I considered to be the 10 most interesting or important news items and pieces of new research relating to effective advocacy. From that month, I was aware of combined our three groups Sentience Institute, Rethink Priorities, and Faunalytics cover about one third of the bullet points I included, although obviously that probably reflects my own interests in bias to some extent. So let's dive in with some topics that you have both looked at to some extent this year. So you've both done some work relating to polling on fish welfare, specifically. Saulius, you were looking at existing surveys for Europe and Jo, you were conducting some original surveys. Let's start with Jo. Can you describe what that work entailed?
Yeah. So that's the study that I mentioned in passing a minute ago, uh, beliefs about chickens and fish. So we, we conducted a survey of, uh, people in the U S asking them about their existing beliefs about those animals. So this was a collection of beliefs that we sort of crowdsourced, um, open-ended from people asking them what they thought about fish. And then we turned those into a scale items and ask people to rate the extent to which they believed each of the things on the list. And those are things along the lines of, uh, fish are loving, fish are gross, uh, fish are more intelligent than we give them credit for, um, all kinds of different beliefs, positive and negative that relate to fish. And the goal of this is partially to get a descriptive picture of what people think about fish and chickens, but the main purpose of it was to provide a first step for figuring out which of these beliefs might be most tractable, uh, to work with.
If we are trying to make changes at an individual level or, uh, like a ballot initiative where we need some public support petitions, anything like that. So we also correlated those beliefs with two outcome measures, one of which was a pledge to reduce your consumption of fish or chickens in that case. Um, and the other was willingness to sign a petition, uh, to improve welfare conditions for those animals. So the goal really is to get that preliminary evidence and then follow up with experimental research, looking more closely at, uh, which of those beliefs might be the most tractable and effective.
Cool. Yeah. So it's interesting. You mentioned it as a first step. Um, I'm wondering if you think it has, if it does currently have direct implications for advocacy in this space or not. So for example, those, those correlations with particular asks that you mentioned, um, you found that beliefs that fish are more intelligent than people give them credit for. And that many fish farms have horrible living conditions, both had substantial correlations with signing a pledge to reduce fish consumption and with signing a petition demanding improved welfare for fish. But I guess I thinking like what that kind of correlation actually tell us, I have this slight worry that those sorts of correlations don't tell us much about what advocates should actually do, because it doesn't necessarily follow that emphasizing one message or another will necessarily be more cost-effective. And obviously I don't expect any individual piece of research to answer all our questions in one go. So it's not a criticism per se. I'm just asking if you, uh, if you do think it has direct implications or if it's just kind of like laying out the current situation to do more research on.
No, absolutely. And I think that's a really important distinction, which is why I keep saying preliminary or first stage, because correlations are just that they're correlational. Um, they can't tell us whether those things are the best place to target or whether, uh, the direction of causation is actually the opposite that people who are more likely to reduce their diet already, uh, sorry, reduce their consumption of fish already, um, are the same ones who are already concerned about the issue already know more about the issue and therefore have more positive beliefs about fish. Um, so there's a limit on the conclusions we can draw from this kind of research, but I think it is always important to take an incremental approach like this. Do your groundwork before you dive into trying to manipulate something in an experiment, because there are 35, I think, beliefs on our list. And so it would have been a shot in the dark to start with something we could have reviewed the existing literature, but there isn't a lot. And so this was a really useful step for us to take, to get a sense of the lay of the land before we try and manipulate something to come up with an effective intervention.
Yeah. That makes sense. And Saulius your research was in some ways, was that, uh, having a look at the existing literature, albeit obviously not necessarily like exactly the, the phrasings of questions we'd want, but again, for you with those, was that research kind of intended to directly inform advocacy efforts or was it about kind of research prioritization?
Well, the project came about when I simply randomly encountered an interesting survey on a website of YouGov, which is a polling company. And then I thought, Hey, I should see what other surveys here are. So I just searched for some keywords, like vegan, vegetarian, animal, animal welfare, but through results. And again, for some of these surveys could be relevant for animal advocates. And I don't think they know about them. Uh, so I didn't have like a specific purpose in mind. It was more like, I just tried to see what is there already without needing much work on my part. And so, like I found a list of bowling companies on Wikipedia went to each one of them entered keywords, like vegan, vegetarian animal, animal welfare, and just extracted surveys that were useful. And I wrote that article about, uh, that Europeans seem to care about fish welfare more than I expected to, because that was my biggest takeaway. And, and yeah, and then I just put all the other surveys that I fought didn't have like this clear narrative and to another article called service related to animal advocacy. So I did this partly because this was a very simple, easy, and project that relatively little time, and I thought it could be useful for a variety of purposes.
Cool. Makes sense. Yeah. That makes sense that that particular post kind of stemmed out of the, the wider, just looking for surveys, which was, it was definitely a cool project. Let's focus in on some of those other topics that you guys mentioned in your kind of introductory question that I asked you. Jo, this research that you worked on for the impact of replacing different types of animal products, so that you, you did that research with Ali Ladak actually, who's now a researcher since, since do interestingly, uh, what sorts of applications were you envisaging from that research?
Yeah. Uh, first of all, just let me give a shout out to Ali, cause he's just amazing, uh, did a huge amount of heavy lifting on this project and you are lucky to have him there. Um, so we started this project, uh, due to funding from the food system research fund, which I think helps kind of contextualize what we were thinking of with it, their goal. And our goal was to come up with these impact measurements for a, you said a large scale talking to manufacturers who are trying to improve on the plant-based products that are currently on the market. So there are many plant-based products on the market now and more every day, but I think we all know that there's still quite a bit of room for improvement in terms of making analogs that are good enough for meat eaters to want. So having an idea of where manufacturers should focus their efforts, if they want to improve animal welfare or just the people lobbying them are hoping that that will be a consideration.
Then they can focus on the things that are most impactful. But on top of that, we were able to with the same analysis, just tweak it a little bit and get the same data at the per serving level rather than the population of the U S level. And so that way it's actually really broadly applicable, um, because even advocates who are doing individual dietary outreach, if they're willing to, uh, advocate for reduction, then it gives them, uh, a roadmap for where people might want to start. You know, it can feel very overwhelming if you're trying to cut down and not knowing what to start with. Um, so if you want to do it for animal welfare reasons, you can start with the top of the list and work your way down one product at a time and know that you're going to have the biggest impact right away by doing that.
Cool. Yeah. So this one, I guess I have the sense that like these sorts of numbers feel super important, but then actually sometimes they get kind of almost drowned down by kind of tractability considerations with stuff like that. So I think one application you mentioned was animal product alternatives, right? You might think, Oh, this product is, is way more impactful. And, and this, this, you know, I've made these kinds of arguments before. And I do think that they're important and there's something to be said for kind of focusing on the highest priority animal products and stuff like that. I guess the, you might think, however, that actually it comes down more to just like, how easy is it to make certain types of products or what's the market like for things like that? I don't know. Do you have any thoughts about like how this research gets used? Is it kind of one input on a spreadsheet or, or what?
Oh, I completely agree with you. Uh, because that's something that comes to mind for me a lot with other things, like, depending on the use, you know, what we're doing with something about insect farming, for instance, not to say that that's not important, but that the tractability, if it's in a general public kind of way at all, you know, might not be there so super important for this topic as well. Um, and I do see it as one input on not an actual existing spreadsheet that I have, but on the spreadsheet that hypothetically exists for anyone who's making this kind of decision. So yes, there are definitely practical considerations for instance, right now, if someone like beyond has great technology for making, uh, products in the red meat space. And I don't know what else they're working on, I'm not privy to that, but you know, it's probably fair to say that they would be more comfortable making similar types of products right away. So what this tells them then is even within that subset of things, they're willing to look at what might be a good target. Um, I'm sure that they have their own numbers on things like feasibility and where they have the technology, but they probably haven't done this type of work. So by providing that to these groups that have their own internal numbers on other things like tractability or cost, it is just one more input that I think can be really useful for making that decision. Yeah.
Sounds good. Okay. So solar is in, yeah. Earlier you mentioned the, some of the political research that Rethink Priorities has been doing. It's actually quite a lot of different projects that have kind of touched on more political topics than I guess some previous effective animal advocacy research has done. So there was, for instance, there was some polling around the US election and also polling at the state level to think about ballot initiatives. There was this intervention profile about ballot initiatives. And then additionally, there is the project by Neil couple of posts about the political situation in Europe. Yeah. Was this kind of shift towards slightly more political topics? Do you have any kind of information about how that came about? Was that, was there something in particular that encouraged that, that you're aware of?
Uh, well, a lot of our research is driven by what questions organizations, uh, ask us, uh, what questions they say would determine, uh, what issues they work on. And, uh, I think a lot of this work came about like this externally.
Oh, nice. That's exciting. So it relates to the question, I guess, just kind of using that as a touch point, but how optimistic do you both feel about legislative work relative to corporate campaigns, either from the perspective of animal welfare asks or increasing the provision of plant-based foods relative to animal products and sort of, so I'll start with you. Cause obviously you've done quite a lot of research on the cost effectiveness of corporate campaigns as well. So any thoughts on that?
Yeah. Well, it's difficult to give a general answer to this question. Like whether a given legislative campaign is promising depends on a number of factors, such as public support, the number of veto players in the process, the strength of enforcement mechanisms and so on. So there are definitely definitely situations where focusing on legislative campaigns as the better option and situations where corporate campaigns are the better option. And of course the two approaches can be used in combination with corporate commitments decreasing in the industries, opposition to legislative campaigns. But in many cases, it's very difficult to say which of these options is the best choice or when to switch from corporate campaigns to legislative campaign or if to switch at all. So I think there are no easy answers here. Depends on the context.
Yeah. Uh, any kind of things that jump to mind where you'd be excited to see legislative campaigns that don't exist or anything like that?
Yes. So, uh, on bait fish, which are fish that are farmed so that recreational fishermen could hook them on a hook and use them as a live bait. I wrote an article about it two years ago, and many people complimented me on it, but no one ever did anything, but it's a very big issue. I estimated that there are one to 6 billion bait fish farmed in the U S at any time. Uh, so for comparison, there are about 2 billion chickens, both broilers and egg-laying hens farmed in the U S at any time. And I've, I've talked to a fish welfare expert and they said that, uh, bait fish suffer a lot from their lives. So it's a very big problem. And I think it's tractable, like there are States that already banned bait fish and there are restrictions and other States, and it's also banned in many other countries. And I've, I've talked to a funder who said, they'd be interested in funding something in this space if the right person came along. So yeah, I really think someone should work on this issue in the U S
Nice, well, that sounds like a ready-made project or charity complete with funding for any listeners who want to take that up! Um, just to clarify, is, is that kind of specifically something you optimistic from a legislative point of view, as opposed to a corporate or just either or?
I think the legislative approach in this case would make more sense. And there are some other issue that I also think I would be excited to see lobbying projects on. So that includes fish raised to be released into the wild for stocking and possibly insect farming. But as Jo mentioned, I'm really uncertain if it's actually tractable.
Okay, cool. And I guess with reference to one or two of those specifics, why legislative over corporate in those instances?
In terms of bait fish, I just don't see what corporations would you do corporate campaigns against, uh, because the only corporations involved are bait fish farms and bait and tackle shops or fishing shops, uh, in some cases, maybe gas stations, but I don't think people would understand the corporate campaigns against gas station that's targeted on this issue. Yeah. And it's a similar situation with the fish stocking.
Nice Jo, any thoughts on this broad topic of legislative versus corporate campaigns?
Yeah, so I'll caveat at first by saying I haven't done any research myself on legislative campaigns, so grain of salt, not expert, but I definitely agree with Saulius that it is highly context-specific and public support is one of the biggest things that I see as influencing that decision. I think that when public support exists, even in a kind of nebulous way, uh, that probably a two-pronged approach going for both is, is really useful. So where we're seeing things movement on cage-free egg campaigns at the same time as, uh, legislative changes, it can be really useful to make it, make it feel in society that things are changing and that everyone is on board. Even if that's not actually the reality on an individual level, just having that momentum is really important. On the other hand, for something where there isn't a lot of public support, and this is where we need research to see where there is, or there isn't.
I think that legislative campaigning is probably not going to work super well. So there might need to be some building of that public support first or, and, or focusing on corporate campaigning if that's even feasible. Um, really just across the board. I think thinking of this from every angle at the same time and applying pressure where it needs to be applied, whether that's public opinion or corporations or government, it's really important to think of all those things at once. And it seems like so far, we're talking about this in a very Western context, but it's also important to think about the differences in other countries, uh, like in China, where we're conducting some interview research right now, the possibility of corporate campaigning is pretty limited. Uh, like if, if it's a company that's headquartered in the West, that's one thing. But for domestic companies, it's quite a different scenario politically. So just trying to apply the same kind of principles across the board would be a dangerous game. Shall we say?
Yeah. Interesting. You mentioned the public opinion angle, just to pick up on kind of one specific thing you said, actually, that's one thing that our, some of our social movement case studies have suggested is not as important as it might intuitively seem to legislative campaigns like public opinion is definitely an input on legislative decision-making, but there have been several examples in anti-death penalty movement anti-abortion movement of where essentially re very unpopular laws get passed. Um, so it doesn't, I don't think it necessarily has to be prohibitive and it may well depend on the specific issue, the extent to which there is a kind of technical versus public issue or stuff like that. But yeah, I kind of just wanted to push back on that a little bit.
Yeah, that's absolutely true. And, and you're certainly much more of an expert on the historical precedent than I am. I would say, as long as you have that more internal minimum possible number that you, you need to put that pressure to make it pass, even though it is unpopular. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day that people passing laws are a small subset of the population who don't necessarily reflect population opinions as much as they claim to, which can sometimes be good and can sometimes be bad for our purposes.
Cool. So, Jo, another piece of research that you conducted that I was quite excited about at the time, as you may remember, um, is the state of animal advocacy in the U S and Canada experiences and turnover. And this is part of my excitement was stemming from the relevance to my work at Animal Advocacy Careers. What would you say are some of the main takeaways from that research?
Yeah, it's interesting. Always looking back on it a few months later. Uh, cause I think the main takeaways for me are what most come to mind when I do that reflection. So it's actually a little easier, uh, once some time has passed. I think that the main takeaways for me are I need to focus on a professional and supportive environment within the professionalized advocacy movement, the paid advocates among us. So by that, I mean a lot of focus on leadership, which I know you've been working on, did animal advocacy, careers, making sure that leaders are really, uh, encouraging and empowering the people that work with them, as opposed to that more dictatorial approach that was common in past decades. So part of it is that the good working conditions for people, whatever that may mean, uh, supportive colleagues, benefits, uh, just feeling respected and like your, your opinions are heard and that you have some control over the things that you're doing.
Um, all the things that sound kind of obvious when you say them, but don't necessarily exist in every animal advocacy workplace. Right now, we found that 40% of people for instance, had left a workplace because of leadership issues. And then the other thing that I want to highlight is just the difficulties faced by minoritized advocates. Um, whether that's advocates of color advocates with disabilities, there are just additional levels of challenge for people who are minoritized. And we found higher incidents of discrimination and harassment. And we just know from speaking to organizations like encompass that there are additional difficulties faced by those advocates and even difficulties faced by us, just in running the survey, sort of at a meta level, how much harder it was to recruit people of color, to participate, I think speaks to the importance of, uh, equity and inclusion in the movement. And so that's something I want to pull out of that as well. And I think we need more research on.
Yeah. So I guess one thing that jumped to mind when I was reading it at the time is I was kind of really interested in just like the kind of raw data about the movement itself. But the next question for me was like, how does this compare to other contexts? Not because it does, it's not meaningful on its own, but just to get a sense of like, is this unusually good or bad, depending on obviously exactly what you're looking at. One seemingly surprising finding was that relatively high incidents of harassment, bullying and abuse of various kinds. And obviously those figures are concerning kind of, regardless of comparisons. But yeah, I'm also interested in whether we have reason to expect that they're like, especially bad compared to say other nonprofits or for-profit contexts or whatever. Do you have any kind of evidence or just intuitions or anything on that?
Um, so I haven't looked at a broad range of industries, but my previous life, uh, prior to animal advocacy was in government and they were also experiencing issues with, uh, discrimination and harassment in the department where I worked. And so I will say that the levels that we're seeing here are similar to what I observed there. The difficulty is that when groups or organizations commission this type of survey, it's usually because they're already aware that there's a problem. So admittedly, I, I can't give you figures from a general population survey where that's not the case. They look similar to ones where there was another known issue, I will say.
Hmm. Interesting. Okay. Let's, let's talk about some of the other research that was published last year then did, are there any pieces of research by other effective animal advocacy nonprofits from 2020 that either of you were particularly impressed by or thought were particularly important for animal advocates?
One report that seemed important is called "scale up economics for cultured meat" by David Humbird, which showed that there are some very big obstacles that need, need to be overcome if cultured meat were to become cost competitive with meat from animals. But I haven't read the full report because it's too technical for me. I don't understand it. So I don't know how much to trust it, but it was commissioned by the open philanthropy project. So it should be unbiased. And I hope there will be more discussion about it.
What sorts of discussion are you hoping to see?
An answer from maybe organizations like the good food Institute? Just, um, yeah, to just because it would be good for us animal advocates to know, uh, whether it's the case that this future where we will have cultured meat, that's cheaper than meat from animals will never come.
Yeah, I have not finished reading it, but I started reading only heard of it recently. And my impression from what I've seen so far is not that it's saying it will never come just that it was saying that it's harder than people seem to imply. Um, but I haven't, as I say, I haven't finished yet. So I may have got the wrong takeaway. I may be about to hit the bombshell or they explain why it's all doom and gloom.
You probably read more than me.
Nice Jo, any thoughts? Especially important pieces of research?
I agree. I agree with you that that's, that's a really important one and it is tricky to find that balance between whether it is doom and gloom, or... I had the same takeaway. Not that it's impossible, not that it will never happen, but that we need to be a little more realistic in some of the numbers that end up out there. And that's not the fault of the people working on it. A lot of the time, I don't think it's sort of media spin that gets put on things, but we need to find that balance of continuing to put funding towards something, if it's viable, but not putting all of our hopes and dreams into that outcome, if it's potentially further off than, than it seems, because that could really backfire and you don't make things look worse than they are, uh, when it just doesn't meet predictions because those predictions were wrong. So, yeah.
Yeah. Um, I have a slight kind of rebuttal to, I think basically not necessarily like that you guys have expressed this view, but I think one inference you might take is that cultivated meat the project is, is not going to work. We should do something else, like maybe switch entirely to plant-based meat or something like that. Uh, I think it might just lead to an implication that say, we need to invest more in kind of like capacity building strategies or strategies that are a bit slower burn. So for instance, you might think it might increase your sense of the importance of academic progress in the field relative to relative to for-profit investment and stuff like that, uh, to build kind of this kind of more robust research field that will last and survive an investment winter or something like that. This is partly an implication taken from Sentience Institute's case study of the biofuels industry, which had this sort of investment winter and essentially didn't rebound too well, partly because of the overly optimistic timeframes attempts to scale up too quickly, all these sorts of things and that, you know, taking a more slow and steady approach and investing in academic research, those sorts of things might be a way to kind of protect against some of those pitfalls.
I personally think that's, that's very true and, and true across more than just that one domain that we need to continue to invest in the slower efforts at the same time as we put money toward quick change, that that, that is needed, uh, that the quick change doesn't always go the way that we expect. Cool.
So at Sentience Institute, we've long been arguing that the farmed animal movement needs to focus more on tactics that target institutions, rather than individuals diets, but this year they've actually been three new randomized controlled trials that found evidence that relatively time-intensive lecture formats given to students can successfully encourage them to reduce their consumption of animal products. And obviously that's quite a positive finding and I was quite, quite reassured by that in some sense. It hasn't changed my view too much on the overall question of how resources should be allocated between that individual and institutional tactics personally, but it has at least increased my optimism about that specific type of intervention. Have you guys read, read any of their studies or have any reflections on that?
Yeah, I also, I found them quite positive and there have also been smaller scale studies that we've done at Faunalytics, looking at other types of, like I said, kind of more traditional advocacy methods and finding evidence of change there as well. And I see why you haven't updated away from institutional change, but I think that it's really important to see these well conducted studies that are coming out positively in terms of showing support for those more traditional methods. Because I personally feel that a lot of early decision-making around institutional versus individual funding was partially motivated by looking at poorly done research that appeared to show that individual outreach didn't work. And like I said, poorly done research doesn't really tell you anything. So it, it has always concerned me that that's the case. And so I love to see new research coming out that is done well and is showing effects. And if that doesn't update you away from institutional change, that's completely fine. But at least the research is there showing that it can be effective. Yeah,
I guess part of the reason it didn't update me too much was because of the part of my view. And this overall question comes from other types of evidence. It's not necessarily like the, you know, specific testing of like, did this intervention have an effect within X timeframe type research? So again, coming back to our social movement case studies, some of that, some of that informs my thinking on the institutional approach as does some kind of just like broader psychological studies about like moral outrage and backfire effects and things like that. So for any listeners who are just listening to that, thinking what on earth is he on about, we have a summary of some of this research on our webpage on a page called the foundational questions summaries that goes into this individual versus institutional question.
A question that remains for me on the institutional side, because we've, we've looked very closely at a lot of them are traditional individual outreach methods at this point, um, on the institutional side, kind of looking at the entire process, not just the potential impact for the number of animals, but the reason for particular increments of change being selected, whether they're supported by scientific animal welfare research to show that they actually do produce positive change for the animals. Um, and, uh, the type of research that you're trying to do it, sentience Institute, looking at what the likelihood is that over time, this type of change will be positive and build momentum as opposed to creating more barriers down the road for, for further increments of change. Um, I would just like to see more of a look at that full process. Um, Oh, and also just, you know, whether whether the corporations are following through, because I know that there is some research now showing that some of them are not following through very well on the pledges that they've made and are just using it more for publicity. So yeah, just, you know, applying the same degree of careful constructive criticism to all different methods that we're, we're taking.
When I and other people made cost effectiveness estimates of things like corporate campaigns. We already took into account that not all companies will follow through and that there will have to be some work done to make sure that they follow through, but corporate campaigns seem to still be very cost-effective even if we make those pretty big adjustments who sources that I found to be very helpful when thinking about this issue of individual tactics versus institutional tactics is one, an article by Harish Sethu, how ranking of advocacy strategies can mislead and second, um, a, um, list of foundational arguments for and against it, um, by Sentience Institute.
Lovely, thank you. One source of fairly regular output on effective animal advocacy research is the relatively short intervention evaluations by Charity Entrepreneurship, usually focused on quite specific asks in sometimes a narrow set of countries in 2020. They released intervention reports on shrimp welfare feed fortification for egg-laying hens, reducing homing errors in managed honey bees, reducing the incidence of footpad burns in factory farm turkeys, banning the sale and use of glue traps for rodent control and the conditional liberalization of trade based on animal welfare standards. I'll be honest in saying that I haven't managed to stay up to date on reading through all of those different reports, but have either of you got any thoughts or reflections on some of the content they've put out?
I haven't followed closely, but sort of a general feeling that I have is that I'm not sure that all of the issues identified need to be new charities. I see some of them as useful information for a campaign or a literature review or that kind of thing, but I personally not having read them closely to be fair. Uh, don't always see that they require the amount of resources, uh, to create a new charity.
Yeah, it makes sense. I think Joey and Karolina are quite keen on new charities in the sense that they think it can be more targeted and kind of focus specifically on the most high priority actions that need to be taken and stuff like that. And I'm sure they'd give a much bad defensive the, uh, the, the focus on creating new charities and I'm giving, but I think, yeah, that definitely there's, it's a, it's kind of like the intervention reports are in some sense, separate from the question of should a charity be founded to focus on this intervention.
Yes, fair enough. And I think it's great that they're looking at a wide range of different potential issues and providing that information to people.
So my impression of their research, and again, I also haven't tried them all, is that they're not trying to be very comprehensive and very rigorous because many of their, uh, research reports are time boxed to 20 hours. Or I think in the past, at least it was like even five hours. So I think we shouldn't like put too much weight on their conclusions. I think it makes sense for them to do this for their purposes because they need to make a big, many big decisions in a relatively short period of time. But it's, I think it's not the most rigorous research that is out there, but it's probably maybe one of the most actionable research for them.
Yeah, definitely. And we can kind of come back to this kind of who the audience is. Some of this work is in a bit. At Sentience Institute we have a longtermist view, which is defined by the Global Priorities Institute as the view that the primary determinant of the differences in value of the actions we take today is the effect of those actions on the very long-term future I've had on my to-do list for quite a while to write up a blog post about the implications that this perspective has for animal advocates, but excitingly I've kind of been beaten to it by Tobias Baumann from the Center for Reducing Suffering and Animal Charity Evaluators actually also have a draft blog post, which they're hopefully be releasing some point soon written by a former intern, James Faville, which will be about a similar topic basically. Uh, have either of you guys read that relatively short blog post by Tobias, or do you have any thoughts about this idea of like long-termism and how it applies to animal advocacy in general?
Yes. I have read reports and I agreed to it in some ways, but at the same time, I've heard these arguments many times, but I've never heard that much of concrete conclusions, concrete, actionable changes that animal advocates should make based on these considerations. And I would like someone to, to try and produce such conclusions. And I guess the argument against the sort of view is that it's so difficult to predict what will affect the far future that it becomes kind of like a doing random thing, uh, of which we don't know what will happen.
I totally agree with what Saulius is saying that, that I think that's all of our goals, uh, to have the best impact in the term. But I think that it can sometimes become too much of a focus and that we neglect the short term where we can actually see the impact of the actions that we take.
And in the short-term we have found which interventions are much more cost-effective than which other interventions, but for the long-term cannot find that out this easily. But then again, I think that point of view has weights and I will, I'm looking for ways to change my actions to also cater to that point of view.
Cool. Sounds good. Well, that is some nice motivation for me to crack on with my blog post at some point and try and make it nice and concrete. Um, interesting that you mentioned the, the, the kind of like knowledge about cost-effectiveness estimates and you know, those things we have done for the more, you know, on the, on short term timeframes. Cause I think that's an example of, of where kind of contrary to what Jo was saying. You, we might, in theory, you share an interest in the long-term, but for example, if you're committed to this long service view, then you potentially just won't place that much stock on some of these cost-effectiveness estimates, because essentially you might just think that the impacts that are measured within that might just be completely drowned out by some of the considerations, like Jo mentioned earlier, the, the kind of momentum versus complacency consideration that we've, that we've kind of looked at to some extent for welfare campaigns and other kinds of incremental tactics.
And you might just think that like the answer to that question does it, which tactics encourage momentum, if any, and to what extent do they encouragement to might just matter far more than literally anything on the kind of spreadsheets. And we might come up with with manual processes and then if you're committed to this long term, so you then essentially you would, you would place far more weight on even uncertain evidence about those real long run effects, which just might matter far more. So I think, yeah, basically like in theory, you're right. If we say, do you care about long-term effects? Did she, everybody's going to say yes, but it's about how do we actually, uh, I guess sort of say really about what does that actually imply about the actions that we take basically.
Yeah. And I think capacity building comes into it too. And we think about these issues that some of the things that seem lower impact or the things that we haven't well figured out how to measure yet, but the spreading impact of things that can influence a lot of people over time is one of those things like those RCTs that you're talking about, yes, they are costly to implement in a classroom at the time. But if we look at the outcome, not as new vegans, for instance, but as new animal advocates who potentially go out and create other animal advocates, that's not something that we've even come close to being able to quantify yet. And I know that one of the arguments against that way of looking at things is that if we were going to see that kind of a spreading effect that we would have already, because the animal advocacy movement has been active in the U S for decades at this point. But I don't actually agree with that perspective because it started so much smaller and so much slower. And it has really gained momentum over the last few years that I think that that actually is a reasonable thing to at least consider at this point and look at to try and understand how, how creating new advocates and, uh, new people who care about these issues. People who are expanding their moral circle, if you want to put it that way can actually be really effective over a longer time.
Jo, I'm curious what evidence that you saw have you seen that made you think that animal advocacy movement has grown a lot in the past few years? I'm just curious,
By grown a lot. I mean, like has grown into a movement that has professional organizations that are doing research like this that are trying to become more effective that existed. There were, there were existing organizations a couple of decades ago, but it was much more focused on companion animals. The farmed animal movement has grown in terms of number of organizations, a number of advocates, and just in terms of our understanding of how to be effective. I think that that capacity for effectiveness is, is where I'm seeing a lot of the growth as opposed to, in terms of, you know, just number of number of bodies on the ground. Because I think we all agree that doing things right is more important than the number of bodies on the ground. Um, and we're starting to target more in that direction.
I think you're right to highlight capacity building as a, as a general kind of area that you would take, you would tend to take a lot more seriously if we're interested in, in term longer term timeframes, um, or even just medium term time frames, as opposed to looking for impact now, essentially. Cool. So a couple of other kind of, almost like categories of research output, we've been speaking mostly about research from nonprofits, but obviously there's like a whole body of academic research, which is of some relevance to the work that we do in the work that, uh, effective animal advocacy nonprofits kind of doing, they're more kind of front line, direct work type work. Do I guess? Yeah. I'm interested in how much attention you guys pay to that, that kind of the research that's put out in academia. Do you kind of monitor it proactively or just tend to look into it as, and when it comes up for particular topics that you're working on
A little of column A, a little column B for me, I certainly look into it when I have a specific question, but I'm also a very lucky to be at Faunalytics where a huge part of what we do is the research library, where we summarize journal articles for lay readers advocates. So a lot of things come across our desks. Um, just that way. Um, I'm exposed to a huge amount of new research as it's suggested for the library and as Karol, our content director figures out what to summarize and all of that. I'm not directly involved with the library, but it's there. And I think having that just constant influx of new information, even outside of farmed animals is really useful to have
I read research almost exclusively only when it's needed to answer some specific question I have, but I've been meaning to read more of Faunalytics' research library.
Ah, thank you, I hope you do.
Nice. Um, okay. I'll move on from this topic of kind of research other research done in this space, but I feel like obviously there's been a lot of research per hour and I don't, uh, we've only covered a kind of a small section of it. So I kind of just wanted to give some quick shout-outs to other exciting research that's happened. So we have not, I mean, obviously the thing that the three of us share most is a focus on, on farmed animal research. So we've been speaking about that, but there has been a load of cool research and projects done by Wild Animal Initiative and Animal Ethics, focusing on various wild animal topics. Also Animal Charity Evaluators, do a fairly kind of intensive research process to put out there their evaluations of charities. And they released a new set of evaluations this year, which included down on initiative, who I just mentioned as a top charity. And they also actually quite quite a lot earlier in this year, sorry, last year released a systematic review of cultured meat, consumer acceptance, which I thought was really cool. And there's, there's also been a much more recently a group of academics published a systematic review on consumer acceptance of alternative proteins, pulses, algae, insects, plant-based meat alternatives, and cultured meat. So I haven't actually read through that one yet, but there's been a, I guess, a bunch of kind of review papers in this space.
Yes. I also would love to just give a shout out in general that we're seeing so many more of these comprehensive reviews of areas, proper meta analysis in many cases, and Jacob Peacock at The Humane League Labs has been involved with a number of those that I haven't come out yet, but, um, I think will be really important for our understanding of different, uh, methods and tools that we have available more so than the kind of, you know, attempt to be systematic that we all use when we do a lit review. But when we're not following a full set of rigorous guidelines, it's never quite the same. So I am really excited to see those when they come out. Yeah,
That's good. Um, and thanks for mentioning Humane League Labs and Jacob, because there's a, I was going to mention that, uh, Mercy For Animals and Fish Welfare Initiative, or a couple of other nonprofits that have been doing the core research, there's also research by a bunch of individual academics and researchers that's highly relevant. So a good example is Chris Bryant has been doing various work on cultivated meat, consumer acceptance, and Jayson Lusk often puts out relevant information on agricultural economics and the effects of welfare reforms. So yeah, there's a whole ton of cool research and I'll, I'll share on the notes, the, uh, the, the list of my newsletter issues from, from this year in case everyone wants to kind of just dig into the larger list of, of research. So let's switch over to thinking about the, kind of the different effective animal advocacy research groups and the different kinds of work they do in general and how they interact and stuff like that. So, first I kind of just wanted to ask in a, yeah, just ask what your, each of your respective kind of theories of change are for either at the organization level for how organizations lead to outcomes for animals, or just to their kind of personal perspective. Like, how would you think that the work you do actually helps animals? Um, and we, obviously, we kind of touched on this, but it'd be nice to kind of lay it out quite concretely. Jo, do you want to start?
Sure. Yeah. So mine goes back to what I was just talking about. It's kind of a personal thing of, of mine, a personal interest of mine at the moment, thinking about capacity building, how to quantify that, how to come anywhere near understanding the potential spreading impact of building capacity by bringing in new advocates, by establishing new networks. It's so far outside of my social psychology background, that it's hard to even approach. And I think there's a reason that as a movement, we haven't got any good modeling around that at this point, but essentially a Faunalytics impact is largely indirect it's it's capacity building. We summarize research like I was talking about in our library, which is for the use of any advocate in any area, because that's very low cost for us. We use a lot of volunteer resources, uh, to help out with those.
Um, we can summarize studies that pertain to all different cause areas, whether that's farmed animals, wild animals, or companion animals, or animals used in science, it, it builds capacity for all areas of the movement. And the original research that we do is the same. It's meant to give resources to people, to help them be more effective in their advocacy, whether that's targeting certain strategies or improving on strategies that we're already using, selecting between small differences in existing methods, really all that kind of thing. Uh, because we have a big network of advocates that we're connected to already, we have that, uh, potential for effectiveness research to go a long way, uh, to reach a lot of eyeballs, uh, just through our site. And we also do a lot of, um, direct training and, uh, providing advice, providing pro bono support advocates to try and ensure that regardless of the type of work you're doing, you're doing it as well as you can. Essentially. I see myself as primarily an advocate, but also just an advocate for research and strong methodology, and, you know, evidence-based, decision-making.
Nice Saulius, what are your thoughts, how does your research lead to impact?
Well, the theory of change for Rethink Priorities is quite concrete. It's helping decision-makers within the effective altruism movement to make better decisions. And for animal related work, we raised one of the main goals that we raised is finding a new intervention that would be at least as cost-effective as corporate campaigns. So this is the goal that we have in mind when we write about topics like managed honey bee welfare, fish farmed to be released into the wild, shrimp farming, which is a topic that we will soon release a report on, and many more similarly with our wild animal welfare work, we're trying to find a tractable intervention that could in principle be funded right away, even if we choose not to do so. And that intervention, we should also be noncontroversial, which by our definition means that less than 30% of respondents who would oppose to it in a national US poll. But, um, many of our projects have some kind of a different theory of change. In some cases it's very specific. Like we do research to help some specific organization to make a specific decision. And in those cases, sometimes we still post such work publicly in case others would also find it useful, but sometimes we don't.
All right. So I guess tied into this question about the theory of change is about who the key audiences are for the research. And I think interestingly, not just us three in our respective organizations, but actually almost each of the different effective animal advocacy research organizations has a slightly different approach to this in terms of like who their key audience is and what their theory of change is. So like at Sentience Institute we focus on a fairly idealized form of key questions that animal advocates face, uh, what we've called the foundational questions, in effective animal advocacy, which I've referred to already in this conversation, we basically seek to make progress on those questions almost regardless of whether people are telling us that they're urgent or not. And then it's like we find the answers and we kind of build up confidence in particular conclusions yes or no on important questions. And then we'll do outreach later. Once we reached those key conclusions. My impression is that for genetics is focusing focuses more on kind of meeting the needs of animal advocates where they're at now and rethink priorities focuses a bit on that and a bit on the needs of funders, where they're at now, what are your impressions of that? Those kinds of characterizations of our respective organizations? I would just give,
Well, that's true for a lot of our work, but not all of our work. For example, we did a lot of work on invertebrate sentience. That is definitely not an urgent need, but we thought it's something that could, uh, be important down the road.
Uh, your characterization of Faunalytics is quite good. We, we really exist for advocates. Um, I think we're the oldest of the, the organizations that are focused on improving effectiveness, been around since 2000 and the whole mission, uh, the whole way along is to support advocates in doing the best work that they can. So whatever that means, uh, in terms of identifying new strategies, helping with existing strategies, uh, turning people away from strategies that are ineffective, uh, it, it's not as specific as you said, I think, but it is very advocate focused and funders are advocates too, but they're not our primary target.
And for what it's worth, I think Animal Charity Evaluators, Charity Entrepreneurship, Fish Welfare Initiative, and Animal Advocacy Careers all have a model that focuses on doing research that they primarily applied themselves in their own as organizations. And then any published research is a kind of nice bonus on the other groups can benefit from, um, mercy for animals and humane deacon, abs research at both a bit like that. But then they also quite often focus, uh, provide research that they're kind of focused on the needs of other animal advocacy groups as well. Cool. So within our various audiences and theories of change, then how do you decide or prioritize which specific research topic to pursue among the many different possible topics that you could do?
So we go through a prioritization process, but I will say it's pretty new to us. Um, we started formalizing it only two years ago because before that it was just one person doing the research and the entire team was just three. So it was pretty informal as we've grown a bit. We've also formalize that process, so that it's sort of a funnel down thing. We start very broad talking to advocates from different cause areas, different backgrounds, um, getting a sense of what they think the biggest priorities are. And then from there we try and rate them internally board and staff on, you know, tractability, neglectedness, uh, feasibility for us. And part of that consideration is alignment with our mission that we do want the things that we do to be useful to advocates, not just a very specific funder in a particular area of the world, if we don't have any advocate audience there and don't really see room for that to happen, that's probably not going to be the top of our priority list, even if it's a very high movement priority. There's other groups like rethink that, do that kind of work. So yeah, multi stage process rating. And we end up with a few that are feasible and, uh, seek funding for them.
Well at Rethink Priorities, it's the management team, which is Peter, Marcus, and David Moss who decide what projects we work on. Uh, so they do most of the prioritization and I don't know that well how they do it. And it's also, they're now just changing everything the way they do. It's moving to a different process. Of course, they definitely do take into account the opinions and suggestions of researchers like me. But when I think what I should work on, it's not much more sophisticated than just an intuition of how useful the research would be divided by the intuition of how much time it would take. One thing I found is just to, it helps to write down ways. I think a given article would make an impact, but that's about all I do. Perhaps I should start thinking about it more systematically though, even though I'm not the main decider.
Yeah. Well, it sounds like it's nicely outsourced for you to, uh, to Marcus, Peter and David's so, um, yeah, I don't think I've got anything particularly exciting to add on, on how to, how to PR how we prioritize things. It says it's do we, we tend to, we we've had different approaches because obviously we're, we're also a small organization. I tend to kind of create a spreadsheet and just kind of put a load of different columns for different criteria that I think would, would affect what I work on. And these are some practical things and sometimes they're things capacity building value in terms of like with any academics, be interested in that. So you might take up the project and things like that. So I just have like loads of different columns and then I just put subjective scores and then come up with a weighted view at the end and kind of use that as a point to discuss with the others on the team.
But I know for example, we've, we've previously, not everybody does that. And previous researcher, for example, used to kind of do a bit more intuitively and then like flesh each one out a little bit and actually write down some stuff and then start researching it basically, and use that to kind of see which, which seems most promising based off of that initial process, because obviously we do relatively time intensive processes, sorry, time-intensive projects like, uh, they tend to be a month plus for us at least, um, for different sorts of things. So that's sort of a few days kind of spending some time flashing. Each one out can be worthwhile. I mentioned before that, I guess the main thing we had in common as a focus was our focus on fundamental research. And I do tend to think of the kind of effective animal advocacy community as focusing almost exclusively on farmed animals, but actually among the three of us are on this call.
We all work for organizations that have a bit of a wider scope than that. So Rethink Priorities, conducts research related to farmed animals, but also wild animals, human health extinction risks for humanity, various surveys of the effective altruism community, um, Faunalytics provides assistance for all kinds of animal advocacy, essentially, especially virus research library. And essentially, since you, as I've mentioned, we have this kind of moral circle expansion long-term is to approach, which has focused primarily on found animals to date, but we're increasingly working on issues to do with artificial sentient beings as well, and kind of future life forms that don't necessarily even exist yet. Do you guys have any thoughts about the pros and cons of this kind of multi causal focus and how, if at all, would it affect your own work?
I, I can only speak to Faunalytics, of course, our approach. I think that the, the, the pros of it are a greater understanding of the different backgrounds and perspectives that come with different types of advocacy, uh, that we are not narrowly focused in as much on one way of looking at the world. Uh, it's just always important. And we also are thinking about a really broad range of different types of methods that might bring in those different, uh, cause areas, you know, things like whether we can find bridges to animals used in science or companion animal advocates, uh, in some ways it seems like low-hanging fruit to try and, uh, incorporate people who already think about other types of animal issues into the farmed animal space. On the other hand, that's proven very challenging in the past, uh, just anecdotally from what I know. So it's definitely helpful in also bridging, uh, some of the communication gaps that can exist that, you know, certain areas of the movement don't know what others are doing, the siloing effect.
And we try to do research is broadly applicable. We always try to focus on farmed animals for the greatest impact, but if it's possible to do topics that are more broadly applicable, then that's great in terms of, uh, cons. I think it's a little more difficult just positioning your organization, uh, that it can be unclear to someone who has a more specific focus, whether you are, uh, a farmed animal organization, if you are an effective organization. And so we, we have to work harder to make clear what our goals are, why we help the broad range of animals that we do. Um, and how much of our resources go to different programs, because like you said, visibly, a lot of what we do is the library where we help animal advocates in all different areas, but in terms of the financial resources that go toward the different programs, the library is a much smaller proportion of the budget, just because it's so volunteer driven and, you know, it's, it's summarizing existing articles as opposed to conducting new research.
Saulius, any thoughts?
So I agree with the con that it's more difficult to position your organization. And I imagine that that's some, sometimes it's more, maybe difficult to fundraise, uh, but I don't know, I'm not the one who does that in general as a researcher. It doesn't make that much difference to me that some of my colleagues work on things like global health. Uh, I just don't interact with these people that much, but in some cases maybe, uh, knowledge from multiple areas can actually help. Um, maybe the only minor con is that perhaps my manager is not purely focused on farmed animal welfare. So, uh, because their attention is more divided, they made be a little bit less knowledgeable, but at the same time, it allows us to fill in the research gaps that we see, not just in the space of farm animal welfare, but in, in all cause areas of the movement, which I think is great.
So when I think about animal advocacy, strategic research, there are several categories of different research types. I think in terms of, so one type is measurement aggregation and summarizing of the historical actions of the farmed animal movement. And that would include Saulius' research into cost-effectiveness of past corporate welfare campaigns, for example. Another is aggregation and summarizing of external evidence likely to be useful for effective animal advocacy. And then I guess an example would be sources research on those, those surveys that we were talking about, just kind of collecting lots of existing surveys, and then the more kind of formal literature reviews that we spoke about as well. And for example, I've been doing some of that with, um, health behavior research and the effects causing effects of superior court decision-making. Then there's also like tailored surveys about animal advocacy issues, which each of our respective organizations have done quite a bit of.
And there's experimental studies specific to animal advocacy issues. And in my head, this is much more Jo specialism. Um, although I actually ran one for the first time this year, which was quite fun for me to have, have a go at of testing the effects of increasing increased awareness about animal products, alternatives on people's opposition to animal farming. And then the last kind of category I've got is social movement case studies and tech adoption case studies. And I guess, various other kinds of case study, uh, any thoughts on categories of research that I've missed out?
There's no mention here of qualitative research apart from the sort of desk research of, you know, finding and summarizing, depending on what approach you take to that. But I know that qualitative research doesn't always have the best, uh, impression in effective altruism, but there is a way of doing it in a very rigorous manner that I think can be extremely helpful for foundational research where you don't know what you don't know, going into a setting where you don't have a good understanding. Often the best thing to do first is a qualitative study, uh, that involves, uh, semi-structured interviews, something like that. Um, and then thematic analysis to highlight where, uh, issues are where opportunities are. And in my mind, at least generally to follow up with something quantitative that lets you put stronger, uh, representative numbers to the situation, but qualitative can be a very good starting point for getting in-depth information, scoping information on a situation.
Yeah. So, yeah, I agree with that, that, that I didn't mention that you're right. And I, despite having actually done something in that ballpark with Animal Advocacy Careers just as, as you mentioned, kind of like when you're approaching your topic, it seems like quite an easy way to quite quickly gather information and kind of consider lots of different angles is just to ask people who already thought a lot about this topic and their impression. So definitely see the benefit of qualitative qualitative research in an interviews in various forms, depending exactly on what the question you're looking at. Obviously
I would also add, uh, economics, both macro level stuff and, uh, more behavioral economic approaches that aren't necessarily experimental in nature, but allow for you to have controls, uh, to compare things rigorously, to look at many different factors at once, like a conjoint analysis, um, I think economists have a lot to offer and we don't have that many of them in the movement in my experience. Uh, so I'd love to see more research, uh, from that background and, uh, also animal welfare studies. I think I mentioned this earlier on, but just my understanding from talking to people who are actually educated in animal welfare science is that very few animal welfare scientists are allied with the movement. And so I think that, you know, they tend to work for industry. I would love to see more animal welfare science research coming out that is directly intended to support animal advocacy. And I think it could have a strong impact for decisions around like what kind of incremental change we're pushing for whatever actually has the most empirically supported, uh, positive impact for animals.
Cool. Um, so yeah, so we've discussed the pros and cons of some of these research types. Admittedly, not the full list we just went through, but some of these research types on Sentience Institute's foundational questions summaries page. Um, but I'm interested in your thoughts. The, the kind of obvious answer to the question is that each of these research methodologies has different strengths and weaknesses and it more or less useful for different research questions that you might have. Do you have any overarching thoughts about which types of research are most useful for the movement at the moment or where the lowest hanging fruit or further information gains are?
Ok, this is the question, what is the best tool that I can use to answer a question that I have? And I'm just thinking this is a useful list that, uh, you guys made, that next time, I will have a question, maybe I will look for this list and just think about it more explicitly, which of these should I do, but I don't, I don't have other thoughts on this topic.
Nice. I guess you've done quite a range of different types. So it's not like you can, it's not like you've kind of converged on, on one research methodology for lots of different questions or anything like that really is it.
Yeah. And in cases where I feel I'm not qualified to do some type of research, then I try to find someone else who, who is.
Nice. Jo any thoughts?
Yeah. I've probably spent more time thinking about it just because I am directing our program and also because we're hiring right now. Um, so thinking about what kind of research background we're looking for, and I personally would much rather find someone who is a specialist in a particular area and has a very strong understanding of that area then to find someone who can do a little bit of everything. And my thinking is that I, I I've said this before and I come back to it repeatedly is just, I don't know what I don't know. And so often the questions that we ask for research are tied up in the methods that we use, that I don't necessarily think that I am well positioned to come up with all of the questions without the background that would let me approach those questions effectively. If that makes any sense. I want someone who has that background in behavioral economics, um, or animal welfare specialization to tell me what the important questions are, so that we can formulate them together, um, and make those decisions about what's most helpful. And what's most impactful.
We touched on this earlier, but Rethink Priorities does quite a lot of work on aggregating more accurate numbers of various animal types. So you, in 2020, you published insects raised for food and feed global scale practices and policy, which I think you mentioned briefly, um, and estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers, I guess, what are the applications of that research? Is it, does it tend to kind of come about just from the sense that there is uncertainty and we can probably narrow down on that uncertainty or are there particular kind of things you've got in mind in terms of like why we need more, more accurate numbers on these sorts of things?
Well, in order to see whether we should prioritize on a, uh, issue like insect farming or managed bee welfare or shrimp farming, it helps to know what the scale of the issue is or how many animals are affected. And also how many animals will be affected in the future. If, if the industry is going to grow, which is the case with, uh, insect farming and with some of these other industries. Another thing is that when, uh, many animal charities prioritize what to work on, they do rely on animal numbers. And in some cases there are quite big uncertainties of these animal numbers. So for example, I'm still not sure how many broiler chickens are alive in farms at any given time. It could be as low as 9.5 billion, and it could be as high as 16 billion and knowing more exact number, not just for the whole world, but also for each country would probably influence things like say how much open philanthropy prioritizes and funds broiler campaigns.
And in some other cases, we don't even know the order of magnitude. So for example, one organization, wasn't sure if they should work on things like crocodile farming for skin or snake farms for skin, because they made a simple estimate and it's according to it, that was billions of animals. And they didn't know, maybe it's billions, maybe it's millions. So for example, I, I looked into that and okay, it turned out to be millions and they probably deprioritize that a little bit. So it does have direct effect on, on decision-making for charities. But the main theory of change behind my article estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers was trying to find some new group of animals that is surprisingly big, uh, that I didn't even know existed, uh, that could then become a focus for animal advocates. And I did find some groups of animals like that. Most notably fish waste to be released into the wild and rodents farm to be fed, to pet snakes, lizards, and some other animals. I wrote about this topic separately before finishing the main article estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers. And then I found multiple other groups, uh, that number in hundreds of millions or billions that I sometimes was a little bit aware of, but I didn't realize that they were had significant size. So like farmed frogs, farmed turtles, quail, working animals used for transplants, transport and agriculture. And so on.
My only concern with this sort of research is, is what I was saying to Jo earlier that sometimes it might just get swamped by kind of tractability considerations and other things like that. But, uh, you know, shifts in, in orders of magnitude, uh, would, would, it would not be completely drowned out that would, that would make a substantial difference to your decision-making presumably. And so you've given some nice concrete examples of that already. Cool. Let's uh, yeah. So one, one other question on this kind of different types of research thing that's, that's related there is I guess, looking at what we've done so far and how useful that's been. And so I'm interested in the processes that your respective organizations use for evaluating the impact of your research so far, if you've got anything to add on that.
So we send a survey every year to, um, he people that we try to influence and we ask them about, I think each of our bigger projects that this, uh, change your mind on something important, uh, how useful do you think it was? And so on.
And, uh, similarly we have some survey research that we use for evaluation as well. We have an annual community survey. That's similar to what Saulius is talking about at rethink. And we also have, uh, we do follow up with people who come for pro bono support at our office hours asking about whether that will be used for specific things and another one for stakeholders on projects. Uh, so for each project, we try and find advocates ahead of time who plan on using the research who are invested in it and will help with the design, like provide feedback to make sure it's as effective as possible. And then we follow up with them after the fact as well. And we're also trying constantly to come up with new objective measures because, uh, surveys are of course great. Um, but the more objective you can get the better.
So currently we look at things like page views, number of downloads of our reports, a number of citations on Google scholar. And we're also playing with ideas like, uh, we have a reasonably good sense of who the organizations are that are on our, on our mailing list. Use our resources come into the pro bono office hours. And obviously we're not going to be in a position of saying we take credit for X amount of their work, but at least to the extent that we have a lot of high-impact organizations that are using our work and saying that it's useful, uh, we're better able to triangulate on a sense of having an impact.
And we actually also do look into things like views of our research and so on. But actually since our main goal is to find a new cost-effective intervention. We hope that soon we won't have to like, just rely on surveys. We will see that this new idea that we raised is implemented in the real world and is helping animals. So we hope that this is how we will evaluate our impact zone.
Cool. Well, that will be exciting. I look forward to, to seeing if, if some of these ideas do come to fruition like that, I want you to touch on this kind of question of the key bottlenecks that the movement overall faces and also our respective organizations, and I'm obviously careers. The other organization I work out, I've mentioned a few times recently released some surveys of leadership and hiring managers, uh, effective animal advocacy nonprofits, and a survey of researchers, grant makers and others working on kind of matter and movement building services for the movement in those surveys. Lack of funding was identified as a key bottleneck by both both sets of respondents and as well as lack of qualified and capable applicants for paid roles, not being far behind. And obviously it is, sorry. Listeners can have a look at the survey write-ups if they're interested, but do you have any thoughts you'd like to share about the bottlenecks in the movement overall, either about the kind of most important difficulties or about those difficulties that are just more neglected by, in terms of when we think about this question of what needs tackling
Those are, those are the big ones that I was going to touch on, um, funding and lack of skilled, uh, support, uh, at least in the, you know, in the research sphere, what I find really challenging when we're going through hiring processes and, you know, if anyone listening has applied, I haven't looked at the application system, but, um, uh, is just that there are multiple skill sets that we require. We need people who are, uh, familiar with animal advocacy and at Faunalytics. That means, uh, two different things. They, they need to either be or become familiar with, uh, the more traditional grassroots outreach style advocacy, as well as the EA space to have an understanding because we have a foot in both worlds. And on top of that, I require a strong science understanding of, uh, people who are going to work for us.
So that doesn't always mean that you have graduate level training in a scientific field, but it's a lot more likely if you do. Um, because, uh, what I see as, as a common bottleneck is, uh, that there are a fair number of people actually, who are skilled in data analysis, um, math, computer science, which is fantastic. And a lot of those, uh, like desk research type analysis can be done, uh, really well, but for anything that's more on the like, uh, experimental, uh, rigorous analysis, just understanding of what kind of comparisons need to be made in order to draw strong conclusions and alternative hypothesis. Um, you need some degree of science training. So finding someone who can bridge those multiple areas or be trained to do so within a reasonable amount of time, uh, is definitely a challenge.
Yeah. Um, I guess we're kind of talking specifically about the bottlenecks that we face is effective advocacy research organizations. I mean, I'll chip in and say that kind of separately from survey results for sentences too. I can say pretty unequivocally that our main bottleneck is a lack of funding in our last time around, we had well over a hundred applicants and we would have been happy to hire quite a number of them. So with more funding, we could maybe have done that and make progress on our research agenda. Um, is that, is that a substantial, the most substantial bottleneck for you guys as well?
Possibly. I can't say for sure, honestly. Um, it is certainly a bottleneck and it's a bottleneck for a lot of non-research organizations, especially I think that funding tends to go in cycles of funding, particular topics or particular areas. And of course, funders, um, will also stick to things that they know and like sometimes so, uh, that can be an issue, but yeah, you can see funding going in certain directions and not being spread as much as might be useful to encourage the diversity of approaches and perspectives that I think would be useful and necessary for the movement to advance. I think Saulius mentioned earlier, uh, Harish Sethu's article about, uh, too much focus on ranking or prioritizing methods, but, you know, it's better to have multiple methods, multiple perspectives. Um, all of them are needed and valuable. And I, I don't want to say from Faunalytics' perspective, but from the movement's perspective, I think more funding and more diversity of funding is, is a big bottleneck.
I don't know that well. Um, what is the situation at rethink priorities with funding? Because this is not one of the things I'm responsible for, but I think that we struggled to find funding to support research and topics that are not imminently relevant to interventions being currently pursued. Yeah.
Interesting. I do think that research is often undervalued by donors, Animal Charity Evaluators found that only about 2% of the farmed animal movement's funding is spent on the broad cat category of capacity building work, which of which research is only really one part. And yeah, I mean, just for some, some comparisons, obviously I haven't looked at Rethink Priorities or Faunalytics kind of detailed financial information, but in, in 2020, Sentience Institute, we spent about $85,000 in total. And if you compare that amount to organizations like the good food Institute, which is $14 million, but humanely no million dollars, and these expenditures are just, uh, just tiny, like our expenditure was less than 1% of the expenditure of each of those organizations. So, I mean, obviously I think those two organizations do amazing work. So I'm not saying that like give us all their money or something. But I do think there's a broad case for at least some, some higher prioritization of, of research than has been done so far.
Cool. All right. Well, I wanted to speak, uh, at least briefly as our kind of final topic about research careers and, uh, both from kind of you guys' perspective and from listeners, if they, if they're considering research careers themselves. So I thought thinking about this, it's interesting because I guess you guys have had quite different routes into research sort of. So I think that your route is quite similar to mine in a lot of ways, essentially degree have quite low relevance to the work that you're actually doing now followed by a few years in a mostly unrelated career, and then some quite deep involvement in the effective altruism community, helping you to move into a full-time research role. Do you agree with that characterization? And do you want to kind of add some details and flesh out narrative alphabet for our listeners?
Yes, I do agree with that characterization. Um, I studied mathematics in Lithuania where I grew up. Um, but actually I have to admit that I learned very little, most of it was over my head and I studied computer science and worked as a programmer for five years, again, quite unrelated. Uh, my plan was earning to give, and I was doing a lot of research, uh, for years actually in order to decide where I should donate my money. Uh, and I think that's when I started learning skills that eventually, uh, I think helped me to get into this career. Uh, but at the same time I was doing a lot of, uh, other things like community building for effective altruism. And, uh, I, because I was doing too many things at the same time, I think I burnt out. And so after some rest, that's when I thought it would be interesting to try some kind of a different type of jobs and programming.
So I applied to various year organizations, not all animal related. And I think I got an internship at animal charity evaluators, uh, because I had criticized their work when doing research, where to donate on one topic. So they, uh, took me in partly so I could fix that issue, which actually I later found that that was not their mistake so much, and I was wrong to criticize them ironically bad. Uh, I think that was not a big problem because people respect when you admit that you were wrong. Um, but in general, I actually struggled at animal charity evaluators. Um, like some of the tasks they were given were over my head. I think this shows that it's not always like immediately obvious if you are good for a certain, uh, career or not. Uh, and it's only after that internship. Uh, I just kind of knew from that internship with the kind of topics, uh, should it be written about. So I wrote about some of them and they received positive feedback. And so then I decided to try the research path one more time and, uh, applied to many organizations and eventually was hired my current job.
I was just going to say, I certainly respect your, your, um, your level of, of detailed evaluation and willingness to, to give feedback whether it's asked for or not. Um, I remember we were at a conference one time and in the closing speech, it got to the question, it was meant to be a big motivation speech. And you put your hand up and asked a clarifying question about some of the, one of the statistics on a slide about halfway through and suggested that they were inaccurate somehow.
Yeah, I do regret doing that. That's, um, partly lack of social skills sometimes, but I think I am getting better at that.
Well, okay. So maybe the, maybe the example wasn't the best one, but it is very helpful to have some, some, you know, detailed attention to these things, which is often, you know, when we go, when we talk about, when we look for feedback on various things, often people kind of give the big picture feedback and you're one to dive into the footnotes, which is a valuable perspective to give. Nice! So Jo, your story is quite different. Obviously you did a PhD in social psychology and followed the academic route more closely for a few years, right?
Yeah. So social psychology, PhD postdoc in social psychology slash behavioral economics. And I went into government for a few years after that. And, uh, it was not for me. So I was looking around for something that I could do that was more meaningful. I had never realized prior to that, that there was research in animal advocacy. I thought of it as the kind of grassroots advocacy that I am far too, uh, socially shy for. So I volunteered with statistics without borders actually, and ended up working with Faunalytics as a volunteer for a year on a large scale, RCT with them, and then ended up as the research director when the previous one left. So my trajectory was quite different, kind of fell into it sideways, not realizing that this end of the movement existed, but was very happy to find myself in it once I did. So. Yeah. I had to learn a lot more, uh, in the other direction of how to take academic research and apply it to something like this. I had done some of that in government, of course, but a very different context. And I had to learn a lot more about the history of the movement, the, the grassroots end of things, traditional outreach, and also about effective altruism and effective animal advocacy and kind of where Faunalytics stood in the balance of all of those things. So it was an interesting journey.
Nice. Okay. So kind of simplifying and characterizing a little bit, obviously, um, one could approach kind of research careers with varying degrees of research experience and expertise, and then also kind of effective animal advocacy, effective altruism experience and expertise. And this is something we touched on earlier when you were talking about hiring decisions. So let's, let's think of a, kind of a hypothetical here. Let's imagine that you're leaving your current role and Faunalytics or Rethink Priorities need to find a replacement for what you're doing. Imagine that one of those kinds of dates for the position has excellent experience and understanding of the effective altruism and animal advocacy communities, but lacks say graduate education or some kind of equivalent formal research experience. And then there's another candidate who has excellent formal research experience, but lacks the direct experience in animal advocacy. And in fact of altruism, assuming that everything else is equal, which is obviously a unrealistic hypothetical, but assuming everything else is equal, including stuff like their level of commitment to the cause, which candidate do you think you'd be? You'd be better. Sorry. Would it be better at performing your current role, sort of, you want to start, you got any thoughts on that?
Sure. So, well, from my role, I think that understanding animal advocacy and effective altruism communities would be more important. I think that a person with such understanding would be better at focusing on things that are more actionable and relevant and would know how to communicate findings sent to home. And we don't necessarily always need complex research at this point in animal advocacy. I think because like the field of animal advocacy research is tiny, maybe 35 full-time equivalents. And until recently it was probably less than 10. So some useful work that I do is like, for example, that, uh, collecting surveys that I talked about earlier that was just Googling and summarizing what I found, uh, and, you know, even things like that could have some value. You don't always need to apply. I think advanced research techniques at this point, even perhaps show disagree with this, which I understand as well, but in general, I think is best to hire both kinds of people and make them work together and get both best out of both worlds, which is what we have done at Rethink Priorities.
I don't really disagree. I think, uh, I think over the longer term I disagree, but just based on my own experience, I really struggled at first, uh, getting my head around everything, especially the effective altruism side of things, not going to lie. I mean, it's, it's interesting to say because I come from a background where the entire point is figuring out, you know, a statistical differences and what's effective and what's not, but the EA way of looking at things is very different from that. And it took a while to get up to speed. I still don't feel entirely up to speed. And so I think that at least in the short term, having someone who is stronger on animal advocacy is probably going to be more effective because like, like Saulius said, there's so much low-hanging fruit of desk research and that kind of thing that can be done that you don't need the strong background for.
That's great at the same time, if it's my position I'm hiring for where it's a director level position, and we're determining the direction of Faunalytics, and we're determining the types of research that are happening and making sure that the stuff that we're putting out is really rigorous because we want to influence the movement as a whole to become more rigorous and to do things scientifically, I'm going to be thinking of that long-term perspective. And I want someone with a strong science background, whether that's a formal graduate education or not, isn't important to me, but even for some of those tasks, that it doesn't seem as necessary on the surface. I think that just having that strong understanding helps you grapple with questions like the most effective way of doing things and seeing, you know, seeing hypothesis and alternative hypotheses in the questions that we're looking at. Uh, so I'm not saying that that's not something that you can learn without taking a PhD in astronomy or something, but I think that that really helps. And particularly for people making the strategic decisions, I think that that's really important.
Cool. Interesting. Yeah. I guess I have an intuition that it's much easier to pick up the EA stuff and the kind of animal advocacy stuff, then the kind of detailed research background. So I was kind of, I kind of lean the other way, but, uh, I may be given what you just said. I may be underestimating the difficulty, cause I guess I've been kind of immersed in this, in this world for a good few years now and kind of,
You know, what I completely agree with you actually. So if I made it sound like I don't, um, it's more, yes, I do think it's much easier to learn, uh, the EA perspective and all of that, uh, animal advocacy background than it is to learn five years worth of research methodology, like just, it is. Um, and so I am going to hire someone who has a science background, like regardless, I just wanted to also acknowledge that there are many questions that don't require that and that in the short term, it is probably easier to hire someone who has that background. So he always thinking long-term with a hire, I will take the person with the science background.
Nice. Okay. Well, I have more thoughts and many more questions I could ask you guys, but we're out of time. So I'm just going to say, yeah, thanks very much for joining both. Um, and just ask Jo, first of all, is there anything that, well, any kind of requests or, uh, shout outs for how people can get involved in Faunalytics?
Oh, uh, visit our site. Obviously we, uh, whether you get directly involved with us or not, we have all kinds of resources for advocates to use. Um, I'll give a particular shout out to our pro bono office hours. If you need support, conducting research for your organization. I love talking to people one-on-one that way. Uh, there's also the library with all the up-to-date research in it. And, uh, if you want to get involved on a, a stronger level, um, there's always volunteering or donating to us. Of course we love. Um, so yeah, please help us help advocates.
The thing I want to end on is just saying, if anyone is interested in working on bait fish or insect farming or raising fish, so they could be released into the wild, please contact me.
Speaker 5 (01:34:58):
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