↑ comment by Joey ·
2020-09-30T16:09:04.667Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Hey Ramiro and Thomas,
Thanks for your engagement with this system. I think in general our system has lots of room for improvement - we are in fact working on refining it right now. However, I am pretty strongly in favor of having evaluation systems even if the numbers are not based on all the data we would like them to be or even if they come to surprising results.
Cross species comparison is of course very complex when it comes to welfare. Some factors are fairly easy to measure across species (such as death rates) while others are much more difficult (diseases rates are a good example of where it's hard to find good data for wild animals). I can imagine researchers coming to different conclusions given the same initial data.
It’s worth underlining that our system does not aim to evaluate the moral weight of a given species, but merely to assess a plausible state of welfare. (Thomas: this would be one caveat to add when sharing.) In regards to moral weight (e.g. what moral weight do we accord a honey bee relative to a chicken etc.) – that is not really covered by our system. We included the estimates of probability of consciousness per Open Phil’s and Rethink Priorities’ reports on the subject, but the moral weight of conscious human and non-human animals is a heavily debated topic that the system does not go into. Generally I recommend Rethink Priorities’ work [EA · GW] on the subject. [EA · GW]
In regards to welfare, I think it's conceptually possible that e.g. a well treated pet dog in a happy family may be happier and their life more positive than a prisoner in a North Korean concentration camp. This may seem unintuitive, but I also find the inverse conclusion unintuitive. As mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that we should be prioritizing our efforts on improving the welfare of pet dogs vs. humans in North Korea. Prioritizing between different species is a complex issue, of which welfare comparisons like this index may form one facet without being the only tool we use.
To cover some of the specific claims.
- Generally, I think there is some confusion here between the species having control vs the individual. For example, North Korea as a country has a very high level of control over their environment, and can shape it dramatically more than a tribe of chimps can. However, each individual in North Korea has extremely limited personal control over their life – often having less free time and less scope for action than a wild chimp would practically (due to the constraints of the political regime) if not theoretically (given humanity’s capabilities as a species).
- We are not evaluating hunter gatherers, but people in an average low-income country. Life satisfaction measures show that in some countries, self-evaluated levels of subjective well-being are low. (Some academics even think that this subjective well-being could be lower than those of hunter gatherer societies.)
- Humanity has indeed spent a great deal more on diagnosing humans than chimps. However, there is some data on health that is comparable, particularly when it comes to issues that are clearer to observe such as physical disability.
- There is in fact some research on hunger and malnutrition in wild chimps, so this was not based on intuitions but on best estimates of primatologists. Malnourishment in chimps can be measured in some similar ways to human malnourishment, e.g. stunting of growth. I do think you’re right that concerns with unsafe drinking water could be factored into the disease category instead of the thirst one.
I would be keen for more research to be done on this topic but I would expect it to take a few hours of research into chimp welfare and a decent amount of research into human welfare to get a stronger sense than our reports currently offer. I think these sorts of issues are worth thinking about and we would like to see more research being done using such a system that aims to evaluate and compare the welfare of different species. Thank you again for engaging with the system - we’ll bear your comments in mind as we work on improvements. Replies from: Ramiro
↑ comment by Ramiro ·
2020-09-30T20:31:17.938Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
Thanks for this clarifying comment. I see your point - and I am particularly in agreement with the need for evaluation systems for cross-species comparison. I just wonder if a scale designed for cross-species comparison might be not very well-suited for interpersonal comparisons, and vice-versa - at least at the same time.
Really, I'm more puzzled than anything else - and also surprised that I haven't seen more people puzzled about it. If we are actually using this scale to compare societies, I wonder if we shouldn't change the way welfare economists assess things like quality of life. In the original post, [EA · GW]the Countries compared were Canada (Pop: 36 mi, HDI: .922, IHDI: .841) and India (Pop: 1.3 bi, HDI: .647, IHDI: .538)
Finally, really, please, don't take this as a criticism (I'm a major fan of CE), but:
We are not evaluating hunter gatherers, but people in an average low-income country. Life satisfaction measures show that in some countries, self-evaluated levels of subjective well-being are low. (Some academics even think that this subjective well-being could be lower than those of hunter gatherer societies.)
First, I am not sure how people from developing countries (particularly India) would rate the welfare of current humans vis-à-vis chimps, but I wonder if it'd be majorly different from your overall result. Second, I am not sure about the relevance of mentioning hunther-gatherers; I wouldn't know how to compare the hypothetical welfare of the world's super predator before civilization with current chimps with current people. Even if I knew, I would take life expectancy as an important factor (a general proxy for how someone is affected by health issues).