Comment author: Jc_Mourrat 11 September 2018 06:11:12PM *  1 point [-]

People at GiveWell state that they base their recommendations on four criteria: evidence of effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, room for more funding, and transparency. For ACE, as you reminded us here, there are seven criteria, including:

"6. Does the charity have strong leadership and a well-developed strategic vision? A charity that meets this criterion has leaders who seem competent and well-respected. The charity’s overall mission puts a strong emphasis on effectively reducing suffering, and the charity responds to new evidence with that goal in mind, revisiting their strategic plan regularly to ensure they stay aligned with that mission.

"7. Does the charity have a healthy culture and a sustainable structure? A charity that meets this criterion is stable and sustainable under ordinary conditions, and seems likely to survive the transition should some of the current leadership move on to other projects. The charity acts responsibly to stakeholders including staff, volunteers, donors, and others in the community. In particular, staff and volunteers develop and grow as advocates due to their relationship with the charity."

I have some questions about this.

1) Would you agree that your evaluation criteria are different from those at GiveWell? If so, do you think that one organization should update its criteria? Or is it that the criteria should be different depending on whether we consider human or non-human animals?

2) W.r. to point 6: if a charity does outstanding work, but happens to not emphasize effectively reducing suffering in its mission statement (e.g. they emphasize a proximal goal which turns out to be useful for the reduction of animal suffering), would that be a reason to downgrade its evaluation?

3) W.r. to point 7: if a charity does outstanding work, but staff and volunteers do not become advocates due to their relationship with the charity, would that be a reason to downgrade its evaluation?

Comment author: AviN 10 September 2018 12:49:02AM 2 points [-]

On human poverty, GiveWell is one among several very serious actors. It engages very thoroughly in discussions and explanations when diverging views emerge.

The diverging views in the case of the GiveWell example you gave are from respected research organizations Campbell and Cochrane, with all parties arguing in good faith. This was very different from the case of Nathan's criticisms of ACE.

So again I see a small dissenting voice in the otherwise rather monopolistic position of ACE which is being dismissed without due consideration.

But ACE did reply to Nathan Harrison's criticisms:

https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/responses-to-common-critiques/ https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/response-to-a-recent-critique-of-our-research/

But again, I want to pause and think about the bigger picture for a while. The fact is that at the time of writing this argument, the organisation Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) had put up a rather comprehensive report explaining that they had come up with the opposite conclusion! (That cage-free reform is actually detrimental to animal wellfare.) I will refrain from discussing it at length here because this comment is already long, but this report of DxE was, in my opinion, dismissed with precious little good argument.

My understanding is that ACE did in fact take DxE's arguments into consideration, and that their relatively pessimistic estimate that cage-free represents a ~5% improvement is informed by many different views, including DxE's arguments that cage-free is harmful. (This is from conversations I've had and I'm not sure if ACE has published this. I agree it would be helpful if ACE published their reasons for this estimate.)

But we have to realize that when it comes to animal suffering, as far as I know ACE is the only game in town.

I'm not sure how you define "the only game in town." There are currently a number of other organizations who do research on effective animal advocacy, including Open Philanthropy, Sentience Institute, Rethink Charity, Faunalytics, Humane Society of the United States, Humane League Labs, Animal Welfare Action Lab, Wild Animal Suffering Research, etc.

Comment author: Jc_Mourrat 10 September 2018 12:24:13PM 0 points [-]

The fact of the matter is that ACE exists since 2013, that corporate outreach is central to its strategy, and that Nathan, DxE, and now Halstead have serious reservations about how the impact of this intervention is assessed. Moreover, it seems to be agreed upon that past mistakes have been substantial and yet have stayed online way too long. So I'm not sure if I found the best way to express it, and I surely wasted a lot of time on material that is regarded as outdated, but I think the point remains that ACE's research has not been sufficiently "tested". I am very happy to see all the progress that has been made and is to be coming at ACE. But I also hope with Halstead that these observations "will encourage external scrutiny of ACE research going forward".

Comment author: Jc_Mourrat 07 September 2018 06:44:33PM *  12 points [-]

I had arrived at similar conclusions. Lately we were busy preparing material to put up on our freshly minted website at EA France. When it comes to recommendations, we naturally turn to charities such as GiveWell or ACE and refer to their work. But before putting these recommendations onto our website, I wanted to double-check that the evaluations are sound, because I want that we be ready to back them up publicly with confidence. So I tried to locate contradicting voices. For GiveWell, I found out that they disagree with other organizations such as the Campbell institute or Cochrane on the effectiveness of deworming programs. So I spent quite a bit of time reading the arguments of each party, and after that I came out extremely impressed by the depth and seriousness of the analysis of GiveWell. Of course I did not check all of what they do, but this experience gave me very high confidence that they are doing an outstanding work.

Then I moved to ACE. I took Nathan's article as a starting point for the disagreeing voice. Of course I was appalled by some of the points raised there, in particular in relation with leafletting. Also, a friend at AEF dig up a Facebook thread that happened around the time of publication of this article, and my recollection is that half of the people discussing this where just busy explaining that Nathan was really a very very mean person that we could not possibly imagine talking to.

I understand that this is old news, but I want to pause for a moment and reflect on the bigger picture. On human poverty, GiveWell is one among several very serious actors. It engages very thoroughly in discussions and explanations when diverging views emerge. We can argue about whether Nathan was diplomatic enough, etc, certainly he did not take all the precautions that Halstead has taken when writing this piece. But we have to realize that when it comes to animal suffering, as far as I know ACE is the only game in town. In my opinion, this is a precarious state of affairs, and we should do our best to protect criticism of ACE, even when it does not come with the highest level of politeness. Of course, I do not mean that people at ACE have bad intentions, but checks and balances are important, we are all human beings, and right now there seems to be precious little of these.

And as it turns out, as pointed out here by Halstead, at least some of the criticism of Nathan was actually correct, and is now acknowledged on the website of ACE (e.g. on leafletting).

And then I must stay that I fell off of my chair when I looked up the evaluation of corporate outreach and found out that the single argument in support of cage-free reform was this paper by De Mol et al (2016). To give an element of context, I have no previous exposure to animal wellfare, and yet it jumped at me that this was very bogus. How can this possibly happen?? I know that now ACE changed their position about this, but how they could come up with that in the first place, and how on Earth can this argument be still available online completely eludes me. All this while, as far as I can tell, corporate outreach is one of the flagship interventions advocated by ACE.

But again, I want to pause and think about the bigger picture for a while. The fact is that at the time of writing this argument, the organisation Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) had put up a rather comprehensive report explaining that they had come up with the opposite conclusion! (That cage-free reform is actually detrimental to animal wellfare.) I will refrain from discussing it at length here because this comment is already long, but this report of DxE was, in my opinion, dismissed with precious little good argument.

So again I see a small dissenting voice in the otherwise rather monopolistic position of ACE which is being dismissed without due consideration. And of course I get more worried. (To be perfectly clear, my point has nothing to do with whether DxE's conclusions were right or not; only with the fact that they were dismissed without proper consideration.)

I know that ACE no longer considers the article of De Mol et al (2016) as relevant, and things are clearly moving in a positive direction. Yet my confidence in ACE's work is at an all-time low. For full disclosure, I was planning to propose to my colleagues at AEF that we spend some time doing a "case study" in relation with the recommendations of ACE (similarly to studying the controversy about deworming for GiveWell). The "case study" I have in mind is the comparative evaluations of the Good Food Institute vs. New Harvest (As a side remark, I am interested in any previous discussion about this point.)

To sum up, I want to stress that I write this with the best intentions, and I appreciate that ACE has been improving a lot on all the points I have raised so far. Also, I understand that we cannot "go meta" and ask for evaluators of evaluators, evaluators of evaluators of evaluators, etc. Yet it is my impression that when it comes to human poverty, the situation is much, much healthier. In this area, there are several influential actors that have their own decision processes, can then compare their conclusions, and engage in serious debate about them. For animal suffering, I think it would do us a lot of good to make sure that dissenting voices are heard and protected, and that ACE engages with their arguments with much greater consideration than has been the case so far.