Jamie_Harris comments on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Jamie_Harris 02 April 2018 07:04:40PM 1 point [-]

A useful exploration, thank you. I hadn't really thought of the cost effectiveness estimates not taking account for previous efforts, so this is useful. It reinforces the importance of really thinking carefully about how different organisations interrelate before we make judgements about comparative effectiveness - and especially before we make important decisions (either as a movement, or as individuals, developing career paths etc) in the light of these judgements. This is something I've been thinking a lot about since reading Harish Sethu's post for The Humane League Labs on a similar topic. [1]

In line with Hauke Hillebrandt's comment about nagging related worries about the campaigns, I feel it's worth re-emphasising the real uncertainty about the long-term implications of these campaigns, summarised by Sentience Institute [2] (and expressed by many upset abolitionists, whenever welfare campaigns or organisations are mentioned): will they lengthen the existence of factory farming by encouragin humanewashing?

Combined with information suggesting that "cage free" isn't actually much of a real welfare improvement [3], it makes me sceptical of the overall value of welfare interventions. And now Hauke Hillebrandt's comment has made me even more sceptical!

All these things combined might make considerations of cost efficiency of the intervention type fairly irrelevant - potentially these are even consideartions of the efficiency of increasing total animal suffering?

I'm possibly being overly negative here - but when THL is the only charity that ACE has recommended in all review periods, and has previously recommended MFA (who run similar programmes), it seems pretty fundamental to EAA.

[1] http://www.humaneleaguelabs.org/blog/2018-01-30-how-ranking-of-advocacy-strategies-can-mislead/

[2] https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/foundational-questions-summaries#momentum-vs.-complacency-from-welfare-reforms

[3] https://www.openphilanthropy.org/blog/new-report-welfare-differences-between-cage-and-cage-free-housing

Comment author: AviN 03 April 2018 04:32:26AM *  2 points [-]


I worry that people might misunderstand the views of Sentience Institute from your comment. The Sentience Institute report summarizes arguments for both positive (momentum) and negative (complacency) long-term effects of welfare reforms. But Jacy and Kelly, who run Sentience Institute, are in favor of welfare reforms, although they do believe anti-speciesism has more positive expected value in the long term. [1] And Sentience Institute's survey [2] of EAA researchers similarly indicates strong support for momentum rather than complacency in the long-term.

More broadly, the sign of the long-term effects of all EA interventions are uncertain, and this is not a problem specific to welfare reforms. (Even the sign of the short-term effects of most animal interventions are uncertain.)

I also don't think the statement that "'cage-free' isn't actually much of a real welfare improvement" is a fair summary of the Open Philanthropy's report. The blog post says, for instance: "We continue to believe our grants to accelerate the adoption of cage-free systems were net-beneficial for layer hens ... In addition, it seems clear to us that cage-free systems have much higher welfare potential than battery cage systems – that is, the theoretical highest-welfare hen housing system would not contain cages."

That being said, I think it is fair to say that ACE regards cage-free as a small improvement, since their 2017 cost-effectiveness model assumes that moving one hen to a cage-free facility reduces only 5% as much suffering as preventing the hen from existence. But it's also notable that ACE's cost-effectiveness models still place corporate campaigns and engagement for welfare reforms as the most cost-effective of the interventions in their estimates, even though they adjust for this pessimism.

(Of course the effects could go negative as you suggest, i.e. if they change their mind and decide cage-free increases 5% as much suffering. But again, this problem is not unique to welfare reforms, as evidenced by the observation that ACE's estimates of most interventions have confidence intervals that span the negatives.)

For what it's worth, my own view is that ACE's cost-effectiveness estimates are far too pessimistic about the benefits of cage-free vs battery cages. (Though I also think they're too optimistic about some other assumptions.)


[1] This is from memory and hopefully I've characterized their positions accurately.

[2] https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/blog/eaa-researcher-survey-june-2017