Comment author: casebash 28 October 2017 01:56:39PM *  1 point [-]

"The best way to find this out is from people who don’t want to be involved with EAA and are critical of it" - there is a real significant problem here in that what people say they care about often isn't very indicative of actions. Like anyone strongly aligned with social justice will be strongly pushed by their world view to say both that they dislike the lack of diversity initiatives and that they would be more likely to become involved if they were put in place, but this is independent of any effect on behaviour.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 28 October 2017 05:13:57PM *  0 points [-]

Yes, it's difficult to know whether it would have an impact in terms of more people becoming involved. Though i don't think that means it isn't worthwhile in terms of calibrating value systems within EAA, so we still need to know we are representing different value systems well, even if other people don't necessarily want to get involved.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 October 2017 09:19:05AM *  3 points [-]

As a brief point, it's not right to consider different values merely because they are different values. Our intrinsic evaluation should only pay attention to values in accordance with our determination of how likely they are to be correct. After that, and only after that, you can add all the PR/marketing/coalition-building strategies that you want. I admit that I only skimmed this post but I feel as if it serves to obfuscate the difference.

Meta-evaluation – with the necessary scope to consider foundational issues.

I think MacAskill's moral uncertainty algorithm is best for this. Web implementation coming soon (TM) !

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 27 October 2017 01:08:56PM 0 points [-]

In reference to moral uncertainty? In this article i'm saying two things which i think have a fairly similar basis. Firstly, that we need to give consideration to different value systems or we risk gravitating to a single value system by default, which is what i argue has generally happened in EAA. So i outline some ways this could be addressed.

In terms of how the issues are negotiated, if referenced to this article, i'm not in favour of normative externalism which in my view represents the main situation of EAA at present (welfare / reducetarianism). My favourite theory probably wouldn't work either because other theories are marginalised in EAA, so it would be disproportionate in such a way that different theories likely wouldn't be heard. Maximising choice worthiness could work better if frameworks for intervention were more thoroughly applied and there was an improvement in cross movement communication. The parliamentary model could be a possibility, but again there is an issue of representation, and part of the reason certain moral theories aren't represented is because there isn't space for their inclusion, or they aren't well understood / the drive toward normative externalism has obfuscated them.

There is an issue in relation to how i'm talking about two seemingly different issues of inclusion concurrently, but in my view the idea of 'inclusion' is fairly broad in EA and there are a number of commonalities which can be applied to being inclusive of different value systems and of people who are marginalised by mainstream society (indeed sometimes both considerations need to be applied at the same time). This isn't to say we need to include everyone, or all value systems, though i am saying more consideration needs to be given to systems compatible with Effective Altruism so that it can better inform the work we do, and that more consideration needs to be given to people who have less privilege. If we are merely truth seeking within our own value systems, i think this isn't going to be so worthwhile, and i am less certain this really represents what Effective Altruism is about.

As i view it, there is at least some concern around these issues that is often expressed within Effective Altruism, but not so much agreement in terms of what needs to happen, or indeed, of the consequences of the present situation. However, i think there are some things that many EAs could be persuaded, and that could include the utility of meta-evaluation, and I think this would also provide a stronger foundation for making suggestions about potential changes to address issues of inclusion. This could be grounded in moral uncertainty, but as i suggested i think there could be some steps before reaching that stage, such as how value systems are represented.

Comment author: MikeJohnson 25 October 2017 03:53:27AM *  4 points [-]

Hi Kevin,

I think it may be useful to frame your critiques in terms of causal stories -- e.g., how strategy or structural condition X, fails to achieve goal Y, that organization Z has explicitly endorsed. Offering a gears-level model of what you think is happening, and why that's bad, is probably the best way to (1) change peoples minds, if they're wrong, and (2) allow other people to change your mind, if you're wrong.

A few more specific things that I think are worth clarifying or pushing back on:

Welfare vs exploitation framing: You note the distinction between the pro-welfare vs anti-exploitation wings of animal advocacy, and suggest that the dominance of the pro-welfare wing has created some discontent in people with alternative value systems. I think that's a fair comment, but I'd also suggest (as an observer who is not associated with the organizations you mentioned) that the welfare-centric approach may have good reasons for popularity in the marketplace of ideas. Personally, as a valence realist, I believe that caring about animal welfare is much more philosophically defensible than caring about animal exploitation, because I think welfare is more 'real' (better definable; less of a leaky reification; hews closer to what actually has value) than exploitation/justice. I certainly could be wrong and it could be there are solid reasons why I should care more about alternative framings, but I'd need to see good philosophical arguments for this.

Democratisation / accountability at ACE: I should note that I'm not affiliated with ACE whatsoever, but I have been following them as an organization. I too have some qualms about some things they've written, but it seems my qualms run in the opposite direction of yours. :) I.e., I think equity, inclusion, and diversity can be good things, but I also believe organizations have a limited 'complexity budget', and by requiring of themselves an explicit focus on these things, ACE may be watering down their core goal of helping animals. However, I would also add (1) I'm glad ACE exists, (2) my impression is they’re doing a fine job, and (3) I don't see myself as having much standing (‘skin in the game’) to critique ACE.

This is not to say your concerns are baseless, but it is to note there are people who seem to share your goals (‘being good to animals’ is a non-trivial reason why I’m doing the work I’m doing, and I assume you feel the same), yet would pull in exactly the opposite direction you would.

Probably the most effective moral trade here is that we should just let ACE be ACE.

It could be that this isn’t the best approach, and that EAA orgs should ‘pay more attention to other perspectives’. But I think the burden of proof is on those who would make this assertion to be very clear about (1) what exactly their perspective is, (2) what exactly their perspective entails, practically and philosophically, (3) whether they have any ‘skin in the game’ in relevant ways, (4) what’s uniquely ethical or effective about these perspectives, among the countless perspectives out there, and by implication (5) why EAAs (such as ACE) should change their methods and/or goals to accommodate them.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 25 October 2017 11:07:17AM *  -1 points [-]

Thank you for the feedback. Do you have a few examples of the gears-level model being used so that I could look at how that works? Is it something like this perhaps? If that’s the case I could make the article fit a broader critique of Effective Altruism based on previously acknowledged areas, which may be more useful for people, rather than it perhaps appearing more like a standalone piece.

In terms of the other two points you make, I’m more familiar with that perspective. So I agree that welfare would have more popularity in the marketplace of ideas, this is because it fits with carnism and cultural speciesism. So conventional welfare is constructed on the idea of consuming animals and therefore it is easier to relate. However, this is fairly dependent on our interpretation of welfare. There is a difference here between ‘welfare that deceives’ and ‘authentic welfare’ (Lee Hall) so there is the industry interpretation of welfare advocacy, and there is welfare as consideration of the situation of other animals. So, one study suggested that drawing attention to the experience / well being (or lack thereof) within a farming system can lead to a reduction in meat consumption. However, contrary to this there is the ‘humane myth’ which works to reassure people that consuming animals is a good thing, and this is underpinned by such things as the Five Freedoms (Melanie Joy discussed this as compassionate carnism ). So the mainstream groups, particularly those such as Mercy for Animals are both campaigning for a reduction in animal consumption and reifying meat consumption at the same time. Even within the broader animal movement concerned with harm reduction there would be some contention around this, but where the ideas are separated there is likely to be less contention over where they have been amalgamated. I recently read this paper about the Five Freedoms which I thought made some useful points.

In terms of the complexity budget, I tend to view this as being used as a way to avoid doing complexity well. I’m not that interested in taking the focus off of other animals, however, there is a parallel here in terms of what groups such as Non-Humans First prescribe, essentially where little else matters except other animals because their situation is presently so dire. However, in terms of movement building this is not a good idea because it inevitably means the door is wide open to ‘everyone’ to join the movement, and it is no surprise they have an association with the far right. In this way I wonder how it is the 'mainstream' movement differentiates from that position in a meaningful way? It is not unusual to find thought leaders in the mainstream movement say they want everyone to adopt a plant based diet, and whilst it is the case that I do too, it is also the case that I don’t want the far right to be associated with the movement because inclusion can lead to exclusion. This is because unless people see themselves represented they will likely be less interested in becoming involved, whilst why would anyone want to walk into a situation where they find people discriminating against them? On a broader level, I think the larger groups need to bear some responsibility for failing to reflect the broader population we are trying to appeal to. I also think this is the problem at a very basic level, and it is one that EAA hasn’t really grasped.

In terms of ACE, i think it is more likely the case they are doing more than any other group, because there aren’t any other groups in that space. It remains that few charities are evaluated, and that claims around finding the most effective charities in the animal movement are weak. It’s true some analysis takes place, but their criteria is limited in such a way that the larger groups are most likely going to be the top charities. It could also be the case they are the best charities, but it is also the case they often conflict with EA value systems, and this conflict isn’t addressed in a meaningful way, and therefore ACE creates issues it chooses not to account for.

Overall, I think it is somewhat difficult to be critical, when ACE and other EAAs are not particularly clear about what those issues might be. The responsibility is on ACE as an organisation to consider a variety of issues thoroughly, and engaging in critical self awareness seems to be low, with the burden of proof disproportionately placed on people who are peripherally involved in Effective Altruism. Sometimes it is said that transparency and openness are key to promoting changes, but if EAs aren’t conversant in the various issues that are generated by EAA then it becomes difficult to make a case for reform because of the high burden of proof / need to educate on issues that aren’t known about (and a disinclination among EAA generally to take an interest in them). We could perhaps argue in favour of expanding ACE to increase scope, but without consideration for foundational issues ACE would in my view likely just do more of a sub-optimal thing, rather than engage in any particularly critical and progressive work.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 09 October 2017 11:59:59AM *  2 points [-]

A really interesting project and process. I would like to know how the group first came across NMNW?

In terms of including animal groups that would have been a particularly interesting process in terms of non-utilitarianism and the types of organisations the group would have considered. However, that also could have been an additional process that consumed too much time (on top of the time taken to choose to incorporate speciesism). I would say that even within EAA non-utilitarian perspectives are generally neglected, and sometimes marginalised, so negotiating that issue might have been difficult.

Overall, I think it is a good thing that utilitarians are giving more consideration to non-utilitarian perspectives, and potentially groups that fit into an area that utilitarians and non-utilitarians can agree with. However, this seems to me to largely be the point of Effective Altruism. So the idea EA is more inclined toward Effective Utilitarianism (particularly with EA weighting toward utilitarianism) is quite a complicated issue overall which the movement seems to struggle with, so I appreciate the effort made here with this project.

I think for me this issue continues to point toward the need for meta-evaluation. A commitment to reflection and evaluation ought to be a core component to EA and yet is fairly neglected at the foundational level. I know there are pros and cons for meta-evaluation, but I see few reasons why it couldn't largely benefit the movement and the organisations associated with it.

I hope some of the issues related to this project will be discussed at the forthcoming EA Global conference in London.

In response to The Turing Test
Comment author: Michael_PJ 17 September 2017 07:17:52PM 1 point [-]

Is there any way to make it available without using iTunes?

In response to comment by Michael_PJ on The Turing Test
Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 18 September 2017 01:14:49PM 1 point [-]

I just listened to an interesting one with Brian Tomisik here: https://harvardeapodcast.com/2017/09/17/episode-5-brian-tomasik/

Comment author: EricHerboso  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 09:26:11PM 3 points [-]

I work for ACE, but below are my immediate personal thoughts. This is not an official ACE response.

There is also a further option, that we consider whether EAs could prioritise meta-evaluation projects for ACE and other EA related groups. If we desire to optimise evidence based (rather than more ideologically weighted) opportunities for donors, it could be argued that we ought to limit donations until these criteria are met…

Just to be clear, you are proposing that EAs stop donating to ACE and ACE’s top charities and instead use the money to fund an external review of ACE. This is a dramatic proposition.

ACE believes transparency is extremely important. It would not be difficult for an external reviewer to go through ACE’s materials privately. We welcome such criticism, and when we find that we’ve made a mistake, we publicly announce those mistakes.

If you’re serious about performing an evaluation of ACE, you should be aware of our most recent internal evaluation as well as GiveWell’s stance on external evaluation.

With that said, I don’t believe that the effort/expense of going through an external review is warranted. Below I will explain why.

Like some others I was a little surprised…

In your opening line, you linked to Harrison Nathan’s essay “The Actual Number is Almost Surely Higher”. I and other staff members at ACE strongly disagree with the criticism he has made in this and other essays. Last year, we responded to his claims, pointing out why we felt they were inaccurate. Later, he gave an interview with SHARK, where we yet again responded to his criticism. When he continued to give the same critiques publicly, we gave an in-depth response that goes into full detail of why his continued claims are false.

If you share any of the criticisms Nathan made in his essays, I highly recommend reading our latest response.

…it would seem reasonable that EAs might choose not to fund GFI or the other top ACE charities, primarily because these are not neglected groups.

When ACE recommends a charity, the concept of neglectedness is already baked into that recommendation. One of the criteria ACE uses when evaluating charities includes checking to make sure that there is room for more funding and concrete plans for growth. This factor takes into account funding sources from outside of ACE.

The OPP’s grant to GFI was taken into account when making GFI a top charity. Bollard’s statement that he thought OPP would take care of GFI’s room for more funding in the medium term is from April 2017, after our latest recommendations were made. I’m not on ACE’s research team, so I don’t know the exact details behind this. But I can assure you that as ACE is updating our yearly recommendations in December 2017, this is exactly the kind of thing that will be taken into account, if they haven't already done so.

…it may well be the case that EAs ought to invest in developing more inclusive frameworks for intervention, and concentrate more resources on movement theorising. It is my belief that undertaking work to further explore these issues through a system of meta-evaluation could in turn create a stronger foundation for improved outcomes.

I agree that exploring more is particularly impactful when it comes to effective animal advocacy. But I disagree with your proposal on how to do this.

I’m most excited about additional research into potential intervention types, such as the work being done by the ACE Research Fund and ACE’s new Experimental Research Division. I think it makes a lot of sense for us to focus on more research, and my personal donations are geared more toward this area than the direct advocacy work that the top charities perform.

Your alternative proposal is to fund groups like Food Empowerment Project, Encompass, and Better Eating International specifically because “they tend to fall outside the welfare / abolition paradigm favored by EAA, ACE and Open Phil”, and thus presumably are relatively neglected. I strongly disagree with this line of thinking, even though I personally like these specific organizations. (I’ve personally donated to Encompass this year.)

80k Hours points out that being evidence-based doesn’t have nearly as large an impact as choosing the right cause area. When it comes to the welfare/abolition paradigm, avoiding welfare organizations is costly.

This isn’t to say that abolitionism isn’t a worthy goal; I personally would love to see a world where speciesism is eradicated and no animals are so callously harmed for food. But to get from here to there requires a welfare mindset; abolitionist techniques lack tractability.

One of the reasons why ACE likes being transparent is that we recognize that our philosophy might not correspond exactly to those of everyone else. By making our reasoning transparent, this makes it easier for others to insert their own philosophical underpinnings and assumptions to choose a more appropriate charity for them. This is one reason why we list so many standout charities; we believe that there are donors out there who have specific needs/desires that would make it more appropriate for them to fund a standout charity than any of our top charities. We are currently in the process of making it even easier to do this by creating a questionnaire that allows users to answer a few philosophical questions, allowing us to customize a recommendation specifically tailored to them.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 02 September 2017 08:21:01AM *  1 point [-]

Thanks for your comment.

This is what ACE say in relation to the criterion.

“4. The charity possesses a strong track record of success. The charity has a record of successful achievement of incremental goals or of demonstrated progress towards larger goals. Note that this implies the charity has been in existence for some length of time. While very young charities may have strong potential to return large results for small initial amounts of funding, donating to charities without track records is inherently risky.”

I think it is reasonable to say that GFI has not been in existence for a particularly long time, having launched in 2016, and having been reviewed in 2016. Whatever other considerations might mitigate this issue, it still stands that the charity has been in existence for a very short period of time, and GFI did not possess a strong track record of success, and therefore it couldn’t in my view meet criteria four. But like I said in the article, I think there is room for flexibility with newer groups.

My post here asked the question whether we ought to think more before we donate to GFI, not that EAs shouldn’t want GFI to be fully funded, or necessarily any of the other groups that ACE recommend. As I said, I think it is highly unlikely GFI wouldn’t be, as they are viewed as such a good prospect. I would generally expect most people to agree that it would be a good idea to think more about the different issues that are related to funding, and I would expect very few people to agree that GFI shouldn’t be fully funded.

I personally don’t donate money to ACE, for some of the reasons i have stated and others that follow, but just like with GFI, it isn't that i wouldn't want to see it fully funded, but I think other EAs could consider the issues more, and it might be they think it is a less good idea to put as much money into ACE until certain issues are resolved.

Some EAs believe there are few issues, others believe there are more, i'm one of the people who believe there are more. In my view there are also reasons to believe that ACE have been underfunded for some years, as i believe scope should have been expanded, and more charities evaluated, but i am uncertain whether there has been much interest in resolving a number of these issues, partly because people weight them differently. Whilst I was in favour of Open Phil donating $500,000 to ACE this year, as a way to potentially resolve some issues, and i am not in favour of the $1m funding cap.

I would prefer that more EAs consider reasons for thinking differently about the situation in relation to donations overall, including whether or not to let larger philanthropic organisations do most of the funding of top groups, or just to let them to do it, and for EAs to look at a broader range of organisations outside the ‘mainstream’. Something which might have more appeal to people outside of EA, and that would need to be instigated from within EA. It’s not even an either/or situation in terms or evaluation, it would be possible to do both, if there was a desire to do this.

It’s true I’m not presently very satisfied with the process at ACE, and I think there are reasonable grounds that some other people might like to think differently about what to do in relation to that situation too. Incidentally, I would be in favour of independent and funded external meta-evaluation for all evaluation groups related to EA, and I see no reason why this shouldn’t be encouraged in order to improve the likelihood different issues are taken into account (that organisations might be missing) and to support evaluation groups to do the work they do. I regard it as incorporating a strategy to increase the likelihood different issues are fairly considered. It also gives reassurance to donors, and I see no reason not to put a system in place as a matter of best practice, or as is sometimes considered, better than best practice. This is something I have spoken about before with ACE, and I find the reasons to do it compelling, not least because it could add more legitimacy to the evaluation process.

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On the issue of interventions, I also believe they need to include meta-evaluation. So what is the impact of say, vegan advocacy in relation to reducetarian advocacy? What is the impact of marginalising veganism to focus on ‘mainstreamness’? Or for saying we need to use the idea people love animals but hate vegans? I’m in favour of working out which interventions are effective, and within different approaches, not just comparisons between approaches to attempt to work out which one is ‘best’ (welfare or abolition). I would also like to see how ACE are considering the differences between top down and bottom up advocacy, social movements, ethical systems, and how ideas are represented or distorted within a mainstream / non-mainstream context. I think this could be something for the Experimental Research Division, and I think a good place to begin would be with foundational issues, with dialogue across the animal movement to establish where people are at with these forms of ideas.

It also wasn’t really my intention to suggest that Encompass or BEI fall outside the paradigm of abolition and welfare, but it is my belief the Food Empowerment Project do. They were all examples of groups I am more interested in, but I haven't spoken to either Encompass or BEI to know where they see themselves in relation to welfare / abolition (nor do i intend to at the present time).

The problem I am referring to by mentioning the dichotomy of welfare and abolition is that it doesn’t provide enough scope for different groups to fit in, if people reject the EA idea of welfare and also reject abolition, where do they go? Where are these different approaches generally explored within EA? I am not saying this doesn't happen at all, but it happens very little, and in a very marginal way. So i wonder where the curiosity largely exists in relation to what different people are doing in the animal movement outside the idea of 'welfare'? For me it looks a lot like larger organisations are being functionally rational within the movement, which is understandable to a degree, but i think this has impacted how evaluation works (I think Robert Jackall explores some of these issues in the book "Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers." I also believe Jonathon Smucker maps some of the issues in his new book "Hegemony How-To".)

I also question whether ACE should use the abolitionist / welfare paradigm without really having completed a thorough consideration of its origins and implications. If this examination does however exist, i would welcome seeing it.

Without this work I disagree about the idea of a ‘welfare’ mindset for tractability. How has that been articulated? What are the alternative mindsets? Where are they considered and comparisons made? People are highly interested in doing effective advocacy and some people want to be consistent with their approach, and find that is a sound way to empower people with the knowledge to make changes, whilst others are more interested in marketing techniques.

If we are in favour of diversity then we need to acknowledge and understand different approaches, and find ways that improve the work different people do, rather than adopting a dichotomy of welfare / abolition and saying welfare is best and that everyone ought to do it if they want to be most effective. For example, if we are looking at issues of social justice and speciesism, then the framework we use reasonably ought to fit with other frameworks in relation to discrimination and oppression. However, if people want to do conventional welfare, or reducetarianism, then ok, but the limitations ought to be acknowledged, and how they relate considered. I don't think I have seen where organisations in EA have completed this type of work, where it has had cross movement input.

As a movement model I would probably consider something along the lines of the following, to more easily refer to different ideas in the animal movement and improve communication. Though i would consult broadly to get more ideas:

Welfare, new welfare.
Reducetarian, reducetarian animal rights.
Vegan, animal rights.
Abolitionist Approach.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 01 September 2017 12:46:40PM 1 point [-]

Hi Peter, thanks for those comments.

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I believe that one issue with thinking of the seven criteria as fairly rules based is that people can have an expectation the criteria will be met in relation to consistency and impartiality. I am not in favour of maintaining strict rules, though I think there are some potential negative consequences of not doing so that need to be taken into account. So in which circumstances would they be overlooked or minimised? I think it is fine to be open that it could happen, but it raises issues in relation to how other groups perform well, but wouldn’t get top status for less certain reasons. There are further problems with this in relation to how the process is viewed by potential groups taking part in the evaluation process, and by people who look upon recommendations as sufficient consideration. In this way, I think we need to take into account evaluation isn’t a particularly competitive area, and there aren’t many groups that do it.

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I reasonably believe the funding gap is presently fairly negligible at GFI (for example EA Funds are not very concerned about it, and already look for alternatives to GFI in that area), and I don’t think EAs generally ought to be funding groups in preparation for 2018. Once a group has had their funding requirements met then I think we probably ought to move onto other areas of interest. Though people can choose to do what they like, and if they believe donating now for next year is a good thing, then that is their choice, but I think there are other projects that are neglected today that need further consideration and resources. Also, if GFI receive more money today that could be a factor against them receiving top status next year, because their funding requirements are met over and above their needs. So if people think they benefit, or should benefit more than others then it may be more helpful to GFI not to receive more money now.

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I think it could be possible to second guess Open Phil. I like the considerations they put into different areas, but I have spoken to Holden Karnofsky and don’t feel there is any tangible process that ensures that checks and balances are applied. I think there are issues now with the funding that Open Phil engage in, and Holden doesn’t. It essentially seems to come down to the idea he thinks things are fine, rather than there being some form of system in place that can be pointed toward that would take care of this process. In some ways it reminds me of issues with too much red tape, it is the case there can be onerous criteria that start to limit efficiency and effectiveness, but at some point we find red tape exists for a reason. At the moment I think there aren’t enough checks and balances, others will be less inclined to think this is an issue where they are reasonably content with the overall pattern of how resources are distributed, and how that is encouraged by ACE and Open Phil.

In terms of the donor of last resort, Open Phil don’t announce who they are going to give to at the beginning of the year, but I would second guess at least some of their donations based on their ideological leanings (it is more explicit with EA Funds, in their section about why people may choose not to donate to EA funds). It could also just be better if they didn’t tell anyone who they are donating to at all. As a general matter there are some updates posted by ACE, but I don’t think this sufficiently takes into account what other groups / people are likely to do in relation to those top charities, or really considers diminishing returns.

So taking a couple of points “THL has already received more funding that we predicted they would be able to use this year (including their forthcoming grant money), Coman-Hidy hopes that THL can raise an additional $2.2 million–$2.7 million this year.”

MfA had raised $5m in five months. So I don’t think there is much reason to believe they wouldn’t hit $8.3m in twelve (including a budget increase of $1m over the previous year) so in relation to GFI, MfA and THL, i think many EAs ought to be looking at other areas. Whilst AE have continued to grow, though likely at a lower rate than if they had top charity status.

Whilst stated in one of the links you posted: “For the highest-value giving opportunities, we want to recommend that Good Ventures funds 100%. It is more important to us to ensure these opportunities are funded than to set incentives appropriately.”

I think there are few grounds to believe any of the top groups aren’t going to easily hit their targets, so I am most interested in what follows from that, and I think my main point here is that donor agency is something that can be quite different depending on where people stand in the organisational donor structure. The idea that Open Phil are building knowledge or funding groups to build knowledge is a good idea, like many of their ideas, but there isn’t much evidence they do this, at least not in the areas in which I am most interested.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 01 September 2017 12:47:19PM *  1 point [-]

Continued.

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You could consider other ACE top charities or standout charities.

I think to be fair I did mention standout ACE charities the Non-human Rights project and Animal Ethics as considerations, so I left the door open with those groups, rather than to close it.

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I don't think this is true, as you do need to also build the demand for replacement meat products in addition to creating the supply.

In terms of building demand, I think this is true, but there are differences within animal advocacy and the relationship with marketing, differences which are rarely examined in depth. I think a fair amount of the contestation in the animal movement is created through neglecting this issue. Robert Grillo discussed some of these issues in his recent book Farm to Fable.

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In relation to Better Eating International, i’m thinking in terms of the criteria of needing x amount more money. I haven’t heard anything from them about further fundraising after the Kickstarter project. Though I haven’t asked either. As a group I personally like it, and supported the Kickstarter, but I am not sure they would presently meet the room for further funding criteria given they recently had a fundraiser which was oversubscribed. So where people are looking for opportunities this month, I wouldn’t prioritise BEI.

Where large donors are looking for opportunities it may be they would think about breaking down sums of money between smaller groups, but I’m not sure how much this happens or where (A Well Fed World seem to do some work here, but I don’t know what criteria they use, and I don’t think ideological differences are accounted for). In terms of Open Phil most of the announcements are for larger donations, so it isn’t clear how they manage smaller funding opportunities, or how they consider them / what resources they have to do that.

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I have quite a few opinions on the Food Empowerment Project as a group working more closely in relation to my own outlook. ACE interviewed lauren Ornelas fairly recently and covered some useful ground.

In terms of Encompass it looks like an interesting group, quite new and working in what I feel is an important area within the animal movement and the Effective Altruism movement. I have some concerns over the difference between how the large organisations operate and how that fits with grassroots organisations, and how this is represented within the advisory council. Yet I’m fairly confident this is an issue which is being taken into account. Aryenish Birdie discusses some points in this interview that I really liked (starts at 1.21.35). I also discuss some of the issues with larger non-profits and smaller grassroots groups here.

I also think it would be a good thing if ACE look at the organisations I mentioned in some depth, I think that would be useful and I would encourage all groups to be open to this process.

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In terms of meta-evaluation I would like to see ACE ring fence donations for a particular project with an accompanied plan. It’s true that money could be donated to ACE for it, but when I spoke with them it wasn’t on the table, and they’ve capped funding this year at $1m with further funds going to recommended charities. So I would be inclined to believe that people donating with this intention will find their money going to the other charities, whilst if the end of year fundraising is a matching opportunity I wouldn’t donate to ACE (if I were, and I’m not) until that point.

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From a deontological perspective I don’t find MfA’s current approach very convincing. I think it is possible to suggest it is an ideological difference, but I tend to view Effective Altruism as being more about applying EA principles and values, so we could say that each division at MfA is separate enough from the other, but I don’t think that is the case. In terms of how organisations function, the divisions which bring in more funding will arguably be valued differently, and the inconsistencies between different interventions aren’t well established. For example, the five freedoms and undercover investigations into the welfare systems MfA promote.

In a sense the reason why large non-profit groups are ‘pro-veg’ is part of this issue, in order to not disrupt the different work they tend to be doing, or the systems they are working in. There isn’t much in the way of criticial analysis around this approach from utilitarians from an EA perspective, which would have to take deontology into account. This is part of the reason I say groups don’t tend to do their counterfactuals. I think partly because we don’t find many deontologists in EA anyway, and most of the people EAs talk to are other utilitarians and so there isn’t much discussion about rights based approaches. The other issue is that many utilitarians tend to say they now do rights based advocacy through ends justify the means thinking, and this marginalises deontology, generally in a way that utilitarians haven’t really considered. At least not that I have seen so far.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 09:03:31PM *  9 points [-]

Hi, I'm on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators and participated in some of the charity evaluation process. Here's a few of my own opinions. Note that this is not an official ACE response.

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The idea that a group with no discernible track record would ascend to top charity status seemed an unlikely proposition. However, the decision itself seemed to have some basis in GFI arising out of Mercy for Animals*, a group which is a regular beneficiary of top ACE status.

It's not truly the case that GFI has no track record. They have had a strong start and have had a few notable early successes, though unfortunately I believe some of their successes are not public information. For more, see the relevant section in the GFI review.

That being said, it is true that GFI has a weaker track record than other organizations. The seven criteria were meant to help us rank charities, they were never meant to be a "pass all seven or no recommendation" gate. Moreover, the criteria are not binary... it's possible that exceptional performance on some of the criteria could make up for weaknesses on other criteria.

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Some of the main considerations for making a funding decision about GFI would probably include factoring in such issues as diminishing returns, the funding gap (presently likely negligible),

ACE's analysis is that the Good Food Institute could productively use $3M to $3.5M in 2017 fundraising. That being said, this is not an exact science and productively using funding is also not a binary, so they certainly could excel with more.

My understanding was as of the time of the recommendation, there still was a gap of $500K-$1M, even after the $1M grant by OpenPhil. I do not believe this has been fully filled. Thus, I still think GFI represents a good use of funds.

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and the scenario of the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) as the donor of last resort (unlikely to allow GFI to fall short when GFI likely advocate on behalf of investments for philanthropists who also support Open Phil).

I don't think OpenPhil operates that way, where they fully fund 100% of the organization to the point where the organization has no use of additional funds. They have written at length about how they balance their grants to specifically avoid being a donor of last resort (see here, here, and here).

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If we choose to work outside EA Funds and Open Phil, then it is reasonably the case that we need to find alternatives to GFI, so we could start to look at other groups that might fit our criteria.

You could consider other ACE top charities or standout charities. :) I think Mercy for Animals has the largest remaining funding gap right now (though that is my personal impression, not a careful or official analysis) among top charities.

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As part of this process, if we accept the claims made by GFI, then I would suggest there is little value to be found elsewhere in the ‘mainstream’ (ideologically reducetarian) animal movement.

I don't think this is true, as you do need to also build the demand for replacement meat products in addition to creating the supply.

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For a starting point, I would be most interested in the Food Empowerment Project, perhaps Encompass (new), and Better Eating International (also new). These groups wouldn’t represent a large funding opportunity, though a degree of funding will be required to help some of them develop further.

I'd be interested in more analysis here. I personally donated $10K to Better Eating International and have privately and personally analyzed their operations and found them to be a great start-up organization to support. I believe they still have room for more funding and could productively use more funds, and I'd personally encourage other people to donate to them. That being said, donating to them is more risky than donating to ACE top charities, as they've received less overall vetting and have much less of a track record.

I may personally write more about their activities in the future. It's also possible ACE may review them in the future, after they develop more of a track record.

I do not yet have opinions about the Food Empowerment Project or Encompass. I'd be curious to hear more. It's possible these organizations may be reviewed by ACE (I don't personally know).

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There is also a further option, that we consider whether EAs could prioritise meta-evaluation projects for ACE and other EA related groups.

I think this would also be a great idea. Donations to ACE could certainly be used for this purpose.

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Mercy for Animals has the appearance of a one stop shop for interventions. Where various interventions are constructed without a corresponding assessment of how they fit (or don’t fit) together.

MFA does do a lot of things, but from personal conversations with MFA staff I think they do have a very coherent and well-thought strategy for how they integrate all the different interventions.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 01 September 2017 12:46:40PM 1 point [-]

Hi Peter, thanks for those comments.

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I believe that one issue with thinking of the seven criteria as fairly rules based is that people can have an expectation the criteria will be met in relation to consistency and impartiality. I am not in favour of maintaining strict rules, though I think there are some potential negative consequences of not doing so that need to be taken into account. So in which circumstances would they be overlooked or minimised? I think it is fine to be open that it could happen, but it raises issues in relation to how other groups perform well, but wouldn’t get top status for less certain reasons. There are further problems with this in relation to how the process is viewed by potential groups taking part in the evaluation process, and by people who look upon recommendations as sufficient consideration. In this way, I think we need to take into account evaluation isn’t a particularly competitive area, and there aren’t many groups that do it.

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I reasonably believe the funding gap is presently fairly negligible at GFI (for example EA Funds are not very concerned about it, and already look for alternatives to GFI in that area), and I don’t think EAs generally ought to be funding groups in preparation for 2018. Once a group has had their funding requirements met then I think we probably ought to move onto other areas of interest. Though people can choose to do what they like, and if they believe donating now for next year is a good thing, then that is their choice, but I think there are other projects that are neglected today that need further consideration and resources. Also, if GFI receive more money today that could be a factor against them receiving top status next year, because their funding requirements are met over and above their needs. So if people think they benefit, or should benefit more than others then it may be more helpful to GFI not to receive more money now.

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I think it could be possible to second guess Open Phil. I like the considerations they put into different areas, but I have spoken to Holden Karnofsky and don’t feel there is any tangible process that ensures that checks and balances are applied. I think there are issues now with the funding that Open Phil engage in, and Holden doesn’t. It essentially seems to come down to the idea he thinks things are fine, rather than there being some form of system in place that can be pointed toward that would take care of this process. In some ways it reminds me of issues with too much red tape, it is the case there can be onerous criteria that start to limit efficiency and effectiveness, but at some point we find red tape exists for a reason. At the moment I think there aren’t enough checks and balances, others will be less inclined to think this is an issue where they are reasonably content with the overall pattern of how resources are distributed, and how that is encouraged by ACE and Open Phil.

In terms of the donor of last resort, Open Phil don’t announce who they are going to give to at the beginning of the year, but I would second guess at least some of their donations based on their ideological leanings (it is more explicit with EA Funds, in their section about why people may choose not to donate to EA funds). It could also just be better if they didn’t tell anyone who they are donating to at all. As a general matter there are some updates posted by ACE, but I don’t think this sufficiently takes into account what other groups / people are likely to do in relation to those top charities, or really considers diminishing returns.

So taking a couple of points “THL has already received more funding that we predicted they would be able to use this year (including their forthcoming grant money), Coman-Hidy hopes that THL can raise an additional $2.2 million–$2.7 million this year.”

MfA had raised $5m in five months. So I don’t think there is much reason to believe they wouldn’t hit $8.3m in twelve (including a budget increase of $1m over the previous year) so in relation to GFI, MfA and THL, i think many EAs ought to be looking at other areas. Whilst AE have continued to grow, though likely at a lower rate than if they had top charity status.

Whilst stated in one of the links you posted: “For the highest-value giving opportunities, we want to recommend that Good Ventures funds 100%. It is more important to us to ensure these opportunities are funded than to set incentives appropriately.”

I think there are few grounds to believe any of the top groups aren’t going to easily hit their targets, so I am most interested in what follows from that, and I think my main point here is that donor agency is something that can be quite different depending on where people stand in the organisational donor structure. The idea that Open Phil are building knowledge or funding groups to build knowledge is a good idea, like many of their ideas, but there isn’t much evidence they do this, at least not in the areas in which I am most interested.

Comment author: gworley3  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 05:07:02PM 2 points [-]

Reading between the lines here, are you saying ACE may not be living up to EA standards given this and other recommendations it has made?

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 07:09:26PM 1 point [-]

I think it depends how we choose to look at it. GFI would certainly be a departure from what ACE generally agree upon as part of the seven criteria. Though it doesn't really matter to me they did that, it could be the case that i wouldn't favour the group they replaced them with.

Maybe it would be Animal Equality. I think generally it could depend how concerned we would be about how they could have benefitted from Top Charity status. Jon Bockman wrote the following article: https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/our-2016-recommendation-of-animal-equality/

In a recent post ACE said they would fund their recommended charities if / when they meet a $1m fundraising target, and i disagreed with that for a number of reasons, not least because i think ACE need to do more work around establishing which animal groups meet the seven criteria (or maybe six, so we can include newer ones).

In that way it would be easier to look at alternative non-profits in the different areas people might be interested in. At present it is difficult to discuss groups outside the top and standout charities within EA because we don't know whether they meet the seven criteria. I think depending on which ethical theory we are using, it may be the mainstream groups aren't very appealing anyway, so i think there needs to be more scope for people to take different issues into account.

The blog discussing fundraising restrictions, and how ACE will distribute funds if they exceed $1m. https://animalcharityevaluators.org/blog/ace-fundraising-restrictions/

Comment author: RandomEA 31 August 2017 04:53:13PM 3 points [-]

the Open Philanthropy Project (Open Phil) as the donor of last resort (unlikely to allow GFI to fall short when GFI likely advocate on behalf of investments for philanthropists who also support Open Phil)

Do you have evidence that the funders of Open Phil have significant investments in plant-based meat or clean meat? And, if so, do you have evidence that Open Phil considers this in making grant decisions?

Two groups working in a similar area to GFI.

In addition to New Harvest and the Plant Based Food Association, there is the Modern Agriculture Foundation.

Comment author: KevinWatkinson  (EA Profile) 31 August 2017 05:39:18PM 0 points [-]

It’s true I don’t know who gives money to New Crop Capital or the Open Philanthropy Project. However, I think it is fairly ok to assume that people investing in meat alternative start ups could also be giving money to various groups that will support and promote their investments. It is likely what I would do if I had a foundation.

As a claim it is a fairly intuitive one, because even if that wasn’t the case, I still believe Open Phil would fill a funding gap because GFI is highly rated by them, and they donated $1,000,000 to the fledgling project toward the end of last year.

Thanks also for the link to MAF, I don't think i had heard of them, though I am aware of SuperMeat.

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