Comment author: ToniA 10 September 2018 02:45:14PM 2 points [-]

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for those thoughts. I agree that there’s room for more depth in the literature review portion of our intervention reports. We’ve prioritized breadth over depth in our intervention research so far. That’s because there’s usually no existing survey of the literature on a given intervention, and beginning with a survey helps us identify the areas that we’d like to explore more in depth. (We usually identify “questions for further research” at the end of our reports.) I agree that a review of the literature on social movement impact theory would likely be very useful for the movement. I’m not sure whether ACE is the best-positioned group to do that kind of research, but we can certainly consider it!

Regarding the sources of the figures in our CEEs, I agree that this is an area where we can improve. I do think Guesstimate can be a little hard to read, and that might be part of it, but there are also some places where our 2017 CEEs did not include enough information. We are being more careful about this in 2018, and are publishing a separate “CEE metric library” that will explain the figures that crop up in every CEE.

Yes, we’ve definitely noticed that people naturally gravitate towards our CEEs : ) That corporate outreach report will be archived, and we are focusing on improving our research every year.

Best, Toni

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 12 September 2018 10:17:16AM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the reply. Just wanted to note that I agree with ACE's breadth over depth strategy, and that ACE might not be best-placed for a fuller review of social movement impact literature. It's something I'm considering prioritizing doing personally in my work for Sentience Institute.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 08 September 2018 09:37:58AM 4 points [-]

Thanks very much for posting this reply. And thanks a lot for all the work ACE does in general. Some clarifications were useful to have, e.g. "The Relationship Between our Intervention Research and our Charity Reviews" - I had felt confused about this when I first looked through the reviews in depth.

Here are some specific comments:

Reviews of existing literature

I agree that the new intervention reports are much better on this front. I'm especially keen on the clear tables summarising existing literature in the protest report. I suspect that there's still room for more depth here, especially since the articles summarized are probably just the most relevant parts of much wider debates within the social movement studies literature. For example, I notice a couple of items by S.A. Soule; although I haven't read the book and analysis you (or whoever wrote the protest report) cite, I have read another article of her's which was partially directed at considering the importance of the "political mediation" and "political opportunity structure" theories for assessing the impact of social movement organizations, and suspect that some of the works you cite might consider similar issues. I think the protest report goes into an appropriate amount of depth, given limited time and resources etc, but I've recently gained the impression that a literature review of social movement impact theory in a broad sense, or more systematic reviews of some of the more specific sub-areas, is a high priority in EAA research. I'd be keen to hear views about how useful this would be, and I'm happy to share more specific thoughts if that would help.

Unclear sources of figures

With some older intervention reports I agree with John Halstead that there are some confusing, unexplained numbers, although I think he exaggerates the extent of this (perhaps unintentionally), since some of the figures are explained. I don't think this needs further comment since, as noted, the new intervention report style is much clearer. My impression was that the Guesstimate models from more recent charity evaluations also had some slightly unexplained figures on there. E.g. THL guesstimate model – “Rough estimate of number of farmed animals spared per dollar THL spent on campaigns” is -52 to 340. Tracking this back through the model takes you to a box which notes "THL did not provide estimates for the number of animals affected by cage-free campaigns they were involved with. We have roughly based this estimate on estimates from other groups active in promoting cage-free policies and have attempted to take into account the greater amount of resources THL dedicates towards this program area." I feel like some explanation of this (perhaps a link to an external Google sheet) might have been helpful? I don't think this is a big issue though. There's also a chance I've just missed something / don't fully understand Guesstimate yet.

General comment on use of CEEs

ACE does make very clear that it only sees CEEs as one part of a charity evaluation. I'd just suggest that, in spite of these warnings, individuals looking at the reports will naturally gravitate towards the CEEs as one of the more tangible/concrete/easily quotable areas of the report. E.g. when I've organised events and created resources for Effective Animal Altruism London, I've quoted some of the CEEs for charities (and pretty much nothing else from the report) to make broad points about the rough ballpark for cost effectiveness of different groups. Given this, it still makes sense to treat the CEEs as more important than some other parts of the report, and to try and be especially rigorous in these sections. So doing things like using a single disputed paper by De Mol et al (2016) (although this example is from the old corporate campaigns intervention report) as a key part of a cost effectiveness analysis seems inadvisable, if it is avoidable.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 05 August 2018 10:53:33AM 10 points [-]

(Holly probably knows most of my story but writing about myself seems fun so I'm going to do it anyway... maybe it'll be somehow useful for someone too)

When I was 5, I refused to eat meat for emotional reasons (something along the lines of "Mum, that thing you're cutting up still looks like a real chicken and that is sad, I'm going to cry lots now").

When I was about 16, my schoolfriend (also a vegetarian) bought me Peter Singer's Animal Liberation for my birthday. Reading this turned my personal, emotional choice into something which felt like a moral imperative. Despite never having engaged with any philosophy before, Singer's views felt almost like a manifesto of what I thought I believed in. I've been pretty staunchly utilitarian since (although I still haven't engaged very deeply with much philosophy).

I knew that I wanted to contribute positively to the world through my career. Given that history was my favourite subject, it seemed like the best way to help the world was to become a history teacher. I fixed my career plans upon this, and didn't really consider any alternatives to this for years to come...

When I went to university I had hoped to find an animal advocacy student society, but there was none, so I set one up within weeks, alongside a few other people.

It was at uni that I first heard of Effective Altruism. Max Dalton (now at CEA) was at my college at uni and so was in my (extended) friendship group. He was heavily involved in the Oxford GWWC society. I didn't ever speak to Max about EA whilst I was at uni, but I'd guess that most undergrads in my college had heard of EA because of Max. I also went to hear Peter Singer gives talks twice while I was there, and I think one of the talks was about Effective Altruism (before I knew much about it); I don't remember it well, so it obviously didn't leave as much of an impression on me at the time as Animal Liberation had. I thought that EA sounded like a great idea, but that I couldn't engage with it yet, because I wasn't earning any money, and my understanding was that EA was about donating effectively. So I decided I would donate 10% of my income to effective charities once I started earning, but that there was nothing else I needed to do in the meantime.

After my degree and 1 year teacher training course, I began working as a teacher and immediately began donating 10% of my income. I also started tentatively looking for potential EA-related volunteering opportunities (e.g. ACE) but nothing came of this at the time.

I spoke to some uni friends who were at similar levels of support for EA as I was. They said they had taken the GWWC pledge. I decided to sign up, since I was already donating 10%.

After signing up, David Nash (EA London) sent me an email asking if I'd like to come to EA London events. I said yes and asked how else I could get involved; I ended up taking over the majority of the organising of the Effective Animal Altruism London sub-group which he had set up with Saulius (another EA based in London) but didn't have much time to put into organising.

My responsibility for this group (and my general interest) led to a period of deepening involvement in EA; trying to read as much as I could that came out relating to EA and animals and volunteering for several EAA organisations. At some point I decided that I wanted to change my career to have a greater positive impact; this was why I had chosen teaching in the first place anyway, I just hadn't thought the implications of this through. After several months of agonising, speaking to various people and an 80K coaching call, I decided to work towards working directly in the Effective Animal Advocacy community (as opposed to focusing on building more flexible career capital). So I started an EAA blog, contiued to focus on reading into the area and my volunteering.

A few months later, I have just started working full time as a researcher at Sentience Institute.

Comment author: Henry_Stanley 15 July 2018 11:17:53PM 6 points [-]

I like this a lot.

Random plug: I know a lot of EAs (including myself) use goal-and-task-tracking tool Complice; you can assign an accountability partner who sees your progress (and you see theirs). You can also share a link like this that lets anyone get updates on your public goals, which could potentially be quite motivating.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 16 July 2018 03:29:40PM 1 point [-]

Do you follow a Getting Things Done framework? If so, how does this fit in? Do you end up duplicating yourself?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 12 July 2018 08:10:48AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for exploring this topic!

A few relevant links you might find useful, if you were unaware of any of them:

1) There's an EA FB group on the topic, although unfortunately it's quite inactive

2) Hauke Hillebrandt has written and spoken about EAs engagement with impact investing

3) My blog post exploring whether it would be worth EA Funds or another EA group setting up opportunities for smaller donors/investors to get involved in impact investing. I was focusing on clean meat and plant-based meat to reduce animal suffering, but briefly consider other cause areas in the piece. TLDR: there probably aren't good opportunities for doing this at the moment, but if the landscape changes and some areas become more funding constrained, then it could be a really useful intervention.

General thoughts:

I think there are two main issues for EAs with regards to impact investing, if you come at it from a utilitarian perspective + want to maximise good.

1) Is the social impact greater in total for the same amount of "lost money" in many impact investment opportunities? Through impact investing, in theory at least, you will be losing ROI compared to the market rate. This is equivalent to a donation. Could you do more good by donating directly? If so, then EAs don't need to consider impact investing.

2) The practical issues. How do we manage this? As you note, smaller donors/investors can't invest themselves. Could we pool money together through an EA impact investing fund manager?

I explore both ideas in my blog post linked above. If you come at the issue from a non-utilitarian perspective, then you might still value Socially Responsible Investing.

Specific request / suggestion:

I like the look at a particular investment option above. But I'm not following your opinion on how impact investment there might compare to donation to Cool Earth. Since an issue for EAs is the comparison (in social "bang for your buck" terms) between a direct donation to a charity and an impact investment (which will lose you money since it will have a lower ROI than the top of the market investments), it might be helpful to have a detailed model of an individual case study, which covers estimates on impact for the same amount of lost money, and the timescales involved.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 11 July 2018 12:32:16PM *  5 points [-]

If capital markets are efficient and most people aren't impact investors, then there is no benefit to impact investing, as the coal company can get capital from someone else for the market rate as soon as you back out, and the solar company will lose most of its investors unless it offers a competitive rate of return. At the same time, there is no cost to impact investing.

In reality I think things are not always like this, but not only does inefficiency imply that impact investing has an impact, it also implies that you will get a lower financial return.

For most of us, our cause priorities are not directly addressed by publicly traded companies, so I think impact investing falls below the utility/returns frontier set by donations and investments. You can pick a combination of greedy investments and straight donations that is Pareto superior to an impact investment. If renewable energy for instance is one of your top cause priorities, then perhaps it is a different story.

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 12 July 2018 07:51:06AM 3 points [-]

This point about the cause is very important, since cause areas can have orders of magnitude difference in their impact.

However, at times, it may be possible to invest in companies in high priority cause areas. See OPP's investment into Impossible Foods here

I've written about this topic elsewhere, to explore whether it would be worth EA Funds or another EA group setting up opportunities for smaller donors/investors to get involved in impact investing. I was focusing on clean meat and plant-based meat to reduce animal suffering, but briefly consider other cause areas in the piece. TLDR: there probably aren't good opportunities for doing this at the moment, but if the landscape changes and some areas become more funding constrained, then it could be a really useful intervention.

Comment author: DavidMoss  (EA Profile) 03 July 2018 03:14:05PM 0 points [-]

Is this from EAF, not LEAN?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 04 July 2018 09:22:17AM 0 points [-]

Yes, you're right, I got mixed up because I found it from the database of useful EA organisers' resources. I've edited the comment!

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 03 July 2018 07:52:48AM *  0 points [-]

Finding this list very useful personally, so thanks for that!

I am also planning to use it to help create a discussion group on the topic. There is a shorter version from EAF, but here are the questions for discussion I'm thinking of discussing:

  1. Suffering: a. Are we convinced that K-Selecting species have net negative lives? b. Are we convinced that R-Selecting species have net negative lives? c. Are we convinced that wild animals, in total, have net negative lives?

  2. Prioritisation: How far should we prioritise work on reducing WAS compared to: a. farm animal advocacy, b. other EA cause areas?

  3. Potential crucial considerations: a. Should we still focus on WAS if we believed that animals had net positive lives? i. Would this change how far we prioritise the cause over other cause areas? ii. What effect would this have on the actual interventions that we favoured? b. Should we still focus on WAS if a scientific consensus emerged that most insects were not sentient (but other r-selecting species, like many fish, small mammals or birds etc, still were)? i. Would this change how far we prioritise the cause over other cause areas? ii. What effect would this have on the actual interventions that we favoured?

  4. How far should we prioritise each of the following steps: a. Spreading anti-speciesism and concern for all sentient beings, including those living in the wild. b. Raising awareness of the very bad situation in which wild animals are, and spreading the view that we should be prepared to intervene to aid them. c. Doing research regarding the situation in which these animals are and the ways in which the harms they suffer can be reduced, rather than increased. d. Supporting those interventions in nature that are feasible today and present them as examples of what could be done for the good of animals in the wild at a bigger scale.

  5. What are the different actions and interventions we can take for each of the above steps: a. As a community? b. As individuals?

  6. Can we come up with 1 single personal goal to do more in this space? Create a timeframe and feedback loop or commitment device for this?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 01 July 2018 09:14:02AM 0 points [-]

Minor question, but when I tried downloading something from my internet browser blocked it and didn't give me any obvious options for allowing the download. I'm not exactly techy and so this sort of thing scares me - how confident are you that I can download things off the site without giving my laptop viruses etc?

If people use other sites to access free books I'd also be keen to know!

Comment author: NatKozak 26 March 2018 07:41:53PM *  5 points [-]

I'm graduating from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) with an Honors History degree this year. This gave me a nonstandard amount of experience with literature reviews and research for an undergraduate student. However, I've seen that OpenPhil generally prefers its candidates to have non-humanities majors.

1) Is the latter claim true?

2) In general, how does OpenPhil rate research experience that is not in the field(s) currently being explored?

Comment author: Jamie_Harris 04 April 2018 03:25:57PM 3 points [-]

Thanks for the question - I have wondered the same, as I also studied History at undergraduate level.

A slight detour from your question, but maybe of interest. There is currently is no community / FB group for people with backgrounds or research interests in History within EA that I know of. There have been quite a few times when discussions around the usefulness of historical studies has come up and it might be good to share ideas and collaborate.

I don't have time to try and coordinate this at the moment, but it seems like trying to establish some sort of discussion forum (or organisation?) for using the study of history to advance our understanding of (and strategy towards) cause areas which are often prioritised within EA.

If this is something you (or anyone else seeing this) has an interest in me developing, it's something to bear in mind? People should feel free to contact me at jamesaharris [at] if you want to talk about it further.

Examples: I'm thinking primarily within Effective Animal Advocacy (Sentience Institute's study of the British antislavery movement; ACE discontinuing their social studies project; technology adoption being considered as a precedent for clean meat e.g. by Sentience Institute and Paul Shapiro) but this would also apply to other fields. The systematic approach described in the post linked at [1] seems to correlate more closely with the approach Holden and others took at OPP than it does the studies done in the Effective Animal Advocacy sphere.


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