Comment by avin on Stories and altruism · 2019-05-20T13:05:58.175Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

The movie Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) caused me to reflect on how people -- including myself -- might rationalize their contributions to harm, or their lack of responsibility for preventing it.

Comment by avin on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-05T01:46:15.041Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I think it's bad for Beyond Meat's brand to sell low quality products though as they've done in the past.

Comment by avin on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-05T01:43:38.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Their approach seems like the right move to me:

At Beyond Meat, we’re constantly innovating and renovating our products based on consumer feedback. Unfortunately, our Chicken Strips weren’t delivering the same plant-based meat experience as some of our more popular products, like the Beyond Burger and Beyond Sausage. But, there’s good news. We have a team of chefs and scientists who are working on getting an even better, tastier version of Beyond Chicken Strips back on retail shelves and restaurant menus as soon as possible. Until then, we hope you enjoy the Beyond Burger, Beyond Sausage, and Beyond Beef Crumbles, and some new products we have in the works for 2019!
Comment by avin on What is the Impact of Beyond Meat? · 2019-05-04T14:41:16.473Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I believe sausages typically contain pork, so Beyond Sausages might make the numbers look a little better.

Beyond Meat also had a disappointing chicken product, but it looks like they've discontinued sales, and are working on a better chicken product.

Comment by avin on Reasons to eat meat · 2019-04-28T13:07:34.863Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · EA · GW

The Charity Entrepreneurship report doesn't seem to mention that beef cattle spend around half their lives on pasture. They are also including some dairy cattle considerations that don't apply to beef cattle, e.g. tie stalls. I think this might be skewing their report to a more negative estimate than appropriate.

Comment by avin on Reasons to eat meat · 2019-04-23T12:59:16.795Z · score: 14 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I think creating distinctions between directly causing harm vs allowing harm to be caused is likely to reduce a person's effectiveness at doing good in the world. I think causing harm in an abstract way that doesn't violate social norms is basically OK if it leads to something more good. For instance, if I advocate to a funder to cut funding to a less effective program and use that funding for a more effective program, I am causing harm to the recipients of the program that got cut. I think that's fine and a good thing to do.

Comment by avin on [Question] Pros/Cons of Donor-Advised Fund · 2019-04-23T01:31:58.266Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I knowledgable EA has suggested using DAFs for the limited purpose of donating appreciated stock to organizations that do not routinely handle such requests. He said at Vanguard, you can open a DAF, donate your appreciated stock to the DAF, instruct the DAF to donate the appreciated stock to the organization(s), and then close the DAF.

You can find some more reliable information here, though not from an EA perspective.

Comment by avin on kbog did an oopsie! (new meat eater problem numbers) · 2019-04-14T21:23:00.934Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for following up on this and posting a correction. I'd suggest updating your original post to include your updated fish consumption estimates. Or if that's too much work, a correction on that post with a link to this new one would be helpful. As it stands now, it still says: "I also excluded fish because there is no significant correlation between income and fish consumption in African countries." I think people are likely to find your original post when researching the meat eater problem, especially since the corresponding EA Concepts page cites it.

Comment by avin on Why animal charities are much more effective than human ones · 2019-04-13T13:04:09.481Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Since there are less than 1 million elephants alive today, even if each elephant has modestly more moral value than each human, elephant welfare is still very unlikely to meet the importance criteria.

Comment by avin on Some information on the use of fish oil in aquaculture · 2019-04-03T01:47:55.451Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I agree that many of the considerations for fishmeal and fish oil are similar. I originally wrote this post a long time ago which is why I did not reference your report in it, but I've now included it under "Some useful sources."

A few comments on your report:

  • Your report says: "These days, any of the fish that are farmed more intensively around the world are carnivorous ... " This was confusing on a first read, but I assume that was a typo and you meant many? As far as I know, the vast majority of farmed fish are omnivorous or herbivorous.
  • I don't think it's correct to say that the fishmeal industry is on the decline. This World Bank report projects low growth through 2030. The current numbers are very high as well. Amongst vertebrates used by humans, feed fish are near the top in number of individuals.
  • You mention cultured meat as a possibility. A major obstacle to the competitiveness of cultured meat is the need for very low-cost culture media. See Open Phil's report. To me it seems the approach of growing proteins and fatty acids in yeast, plants, etc. is likely to be relatively more feasible. As you note, companies are working on this already.
  • As of last month, fishmeal prices seem to be far more expensive than the number you mention, at $1470 per metric ton. Soybean meal prices have increased too though, at $353 per metric ton.
Comment by avin on EA Forum Prize: Winners for February 2019 · 2019-04-01T00:28:32.224Z · score: 36 (17 votes) · EA · GW

I'm surprised that "After one year of applying for EA jobs: It is really, really hard to get hired by an EA organisation" did not win, given that:

  • It started an important conversation, likely valuable for people seeking EA jobs, people providing EA career advice, and people hiring for EA jobs.
  • It generated 259 upvotes and 177 comments, which is more than I remember ever seeing.
  • It must have been unusually difficult for the author to write.

Some information on the use of fish oil in aquaculture

2019-03-31T22:50:30.918Z · score: 25 (11 votes)
Comment by avin on Sharing my experience on the EA forum · 2019-03-19T13:24:26.130Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Perhaps a prompt to give optional anonymous, private, and/or brief constructive feedback after each upvote/downvote could help posters learn what was good/bad about the post while avoiding most of the costs of posting a lengthy comment.

Comment by avin on Potential funding opportunity for woman-led EA organization · 2019-03-14T14:40:43.794Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

The eligibility criteria seems to rule out nearly all EA-aligned organizations:

  • "Nominees must meet the following requirements to be eligible ... "
  • "Legal residents of one (1) of the fifty (50) United States or the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or Canada (excluding Quebec) (“Territory”)"
  • "A creator or founder of a social impact organization (“Organization”) that ... Has a primary objective related to improving health, education, or esteem or to leadership development and serves low- and middle-income women and/or children in the Territory. (The Organization may have tangential operations outside of the Territory, but, to be eligible for this contest, its core mission and programming must be directed within the Territory.)
Comment by avin on Bounty: Guide To Switching From Farmed Fish To Wild-Caught Fish · 2019-02-23T17:38:55.642Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with Jim's comment above. As the graph here suggests, the supply of wild fish appears to have been flat since the 90s, and the increase in demand has been met by the supply of farmed fish. So I think it's likely that consumption of wild fish will just cause someone else to consume farmed fish instead.

With regard to fish oil: Most of it originates from small wild fish such as anchovies. There's an entire industry dedicated to harvesting fish oil and fishmeal, and most of it is used as feed for carnivorous farmed fish like salmon. Fish oil seems to be mostly supply constrained as well, and the aquaculture industry is responding by feeding carnivorous fish more plant oils. I've written about this here and here, and should probably move these to the EA Forum now that less polished posts are encouraged.

Comment by avin on Rodents farmed for pet snake food · 2019-02-21T13:42:50.284Z · score: 11 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for working on this! I'm impressed by this and your other work on identifying and investigating groups of farmed animals that exist in large numbers but have been overlooked by other EAs, researchers, advocates, etc.

Comment by avin on My new article on EA and the systemic change objection · 2019-02-15T22:32:41.923Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · EA · GW

There is also a discussion of the paper on Facebook.

Comment by avin on The Narrowing Circle (Gwern) · 2019-02-13T00:54:54.022Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · EA · GW

Government social safety nets for elderly people (such as Social Security in the US) reduce the need for young adults to provide direct care to their elderly parents. This seems likely related.

To me this seems more of an expansion in moral circles though. Most of us in the developed world now seem to think that we're responsible for everyone's elderly parents rather than just our own.

Comment by avin on EA Giving Tuesday Donation Matching Initiative 2018 Retrospective · 2019-02-10T16:24:54.996Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

An update: We've sent follow-up e-mails to all organizations expected to receive a nontrivial amount of donations and/or matches informing them the amounts they should be receiving. Some organizations have helpfully reported to us the donated, matched, and/or total amounts that either (a) Facebook informed them they'll be receiving or (b) they've already received. For the organizations that have reported at least some of this information, the table under "Estimated from Fundraisers vs. Reported by Organizations" on our "Donated and Matched Data" page shows the amounts we've estimated from fundraiser page data vs. the amounts reported to us by the organizations.

Comment by avin on Hit Based Giving for Global Development · 2019-02-07T20:38:10.235Z · score: 13 (9 votes) · EA · GW

This announcement today on GiveWell's blog looks relevant. It seems GiveWell is beginning to look at interventions consistent with a hits-based giving approach.

Comment by avin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-23T02:27:41.032Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, this was a problem in both 2017 and 2018, and our 2018 match percent would have been higher than 65% without these problems. I think Cullen's estimates account for this though.

In 2018 we conducted a survey try to to understand this better. We should be able to use some of the results to make better recommendations in 2019.

Comment by avin on Introducing Sparrow: a user-friendly app to simplify effective giving · 2019-01-22T22:56:40.000Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I don't think Facebook permits automated donations, so I don't think this will be feasible.

Comment by avin on RC Forward - Canada's Effective Giving Experiment: Results & Plans for 2019 · 2019-01-21T14:06:25.725Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for all this work on this! A few comments and questions:

1. I think there's another important benefit that I didn't see mentioned: There's a risk that people's donations may be influenced towards less effective organizations just for the tax deduction. Permitting people to get tax deductions when donating to a wide variety of effective organizations can help mitigate this risk. My guess is that this is a more important consideration than tax deductions providing incentives to donate more.

2. Do Canadian donors already have a way to get tax deductions for donating to EA Funds? It seems like it could be worthwhile to give Canadian donors this option, though the benefits would need to be weighed against any administrative overhead it would create for RC and CEA.

3. Have you thought about permitting something like an optional 5% "tip" when people make their donations to help fund your operations? Perhaps opt-in by default? I have seen this option Crowdfunding websites, for instance. GiveWell also has an optional 10% "tip," though they're opt-out by default, and their value-add is different.

Comment by avin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-15T16:11:12.824Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It's also notable that PayPal announced that they were doing a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $500k in donations through the PayPal Giving Fund on Giving Tuesday, separately from the Facebook match.

That post was made on Giving Tuesday itself and the details there are very limited, but I found this post by an organization with a date of Nov 23, along with the match start and end time. I'm going to dig into this some more. Maybe we can ask some EA-aligned organizations signed up for the PayPal Giving Fund if they can keep an eye out for this and give us an early tipoff.

Comment by avin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-12T19:29:25.180Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

A number of people got $20k matched out of $20k donations. This required 8 donations of $2500 each.

Comment by avin on EA Giving Tuesday Donation Matching Initiative 2018 Retrospective · 2019-01-09T03:53:22.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I think improving recruitment could help. I did recruit people in late September 2018 after Facebook dropped a hint that they would do a repeat, but in retrospect it may have helped to focus on recruiting individuals who would be able to commit to 80 hours (or whatever) if necessary.

This might not be so easy though, since I suspect most people with the skills to do this well are already working on other things and would have difficulty sparing that many hours. Perhaps compensation (e.g. through a grant) could help, but I'm not sure.

I also don't think having large numbers of people each working 10 hours would help, because managing, training, and delegating tasks to that many people would be impractical.

Comment by avin on EA Giving Tuesday Donation Matching Initiative 2018 Retrospective · 2019-01-07T13:06:44.979Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the suggestion. I already had EA Grants in mind as an option, but it's interesting to know that the EA Meta Fund lists a fundraising project as an example. As William noted, we were more time constrained rather than funding constrained this year. However, I'll keep this in mind as an option for future years if our circumstances change, or if we can come up with effective ways to convert funding into time.

One other complication with applying for a grant is that we wont know whether there's a worthwhile opportunity until a month or so in advance. After that, if there is a worthwhile opportunity, then we'd need to start working immediately. So we'd probably need to apply for a grant early and, if a worthwhile opportunity doesn't materialize, then we'd need to (a) use the grant to work on something else or (b) return it.

Comment by avin on Why I'm focusing on invertebrate sentience · 2019-01-06T18:01:30.146Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Based on Georgia Ray's estimates, it looks like there are > 100x more neurons in soil arthropods than in humans.

Soil arthropods:

Using this, we get 1E22-1E23 neurons from large arthropods and 6E22 neurons from smaller arthropods, for a total of 6E22-2E23 neurons in soil arthropods.


[...] we get 6.29E20 neurons in humans [...]

EA Giving Tuesday Donation Matching Initiative 2018 Retrospective

2019-01-06T16:23:57.019Z · score: 83 (28 votes)
Comment by avin on How Effective Altruists Can Be Welcoming To Conservatives · 2018-12-24T16:07:12.793Z · score: 4 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Presumably, GWWC did not want to exclude EA cause areas outside of global poverty. Since animal welfare is an EA cause area, presumably it did not want to exclude it.

1-3 applies to nearly all EA cause areas to varying degrees, including global poverty. The difference, of course, is that EA cause areas (including animal welfare) are supported by evidence and reason, while religious outreach is not.

Specifically, "animal cruelty is bad" is a well argued position, making it very different from a religious belief. See Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.

Comment by avin on How Effective Altruists Can Be Welcoming To Conservatives · 2018-12-24T13:57:43.996Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · EA · GW
“If you’re religious, then the most effectively altruist thing is to convert everyone because of the infinite utility of Heaven” is not nearly as clever as you think it is. Every religious effective altruist has heard this argument from a hundred different atheists, including ones whose religion does not actually include a concept of Heaven. No religious effective altruist is doing this. Stop bringing it up.

I don't believe this is representative of Christians involved in EA, but the Pay It Forward Foundation advocated applying EA principles to "saving souls" in addition to recommending GiveWell top charities.

The website now redirects to, but it's not clear to me whether they've stopped trying to "save souls" or if they're just more subtle about it. For instance, if I click through the donate section, I still see an option to donate to the "Save a Soul Program."

Comment by avin on Earning to Save (Give 1%, Save 10%) · 2018-11-29T01:58:17.957Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

It's common and fully legal in the US for wealthy people to create their own 501(c)(3) private foundations. I don't think this is an issue.

Even for a 501(c)(3) public charity, a wealthy person should be able to donate enough to support 2/3 of its budget without any legal problems, as long as the remaining 1/3 fits the IRS criteria of "public support." And even if that doesn't work out, it just means the 501(c)(3) may have to turn into a private foundation.

I don't know what the laws are in other countries.

Comment by avin on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-25T15:07:06.941Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

In the podcast, Leah makes the case the economic case for farmers starting at 39:00. Farmers aren't going to be listen to Our Hen House, but presumably Compassion in World Farming USA is making arguments appropriate for each audience.

Also, this very popular clip with John Oliver is heavily focused on the bad economics of chicken contract farming for the farmers. This was likely influenced by Compassion in World Farming USA's work.

Comment by avin on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-24T00:33:25.700Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Compassion in World Farming USA has been working on this since at least 2014. You may want to listen to this interview with Leah Garces, former Executive Director. Start listening at 18:20.

EA Giving Tuesday Donation Matching Initiative 2018

2018-11-23T13:44:42.045Z · score: 29 (12 votes)
Comment by avin on Concerns with ACE research · 2018-09-10T00:49:02.724Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

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:

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 by avin on Concerns with ACE research · 2018-09-09T23:18:34.888Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · EA · GW

I started out with a negative impression of ACE when I found it years ago. Since then, I've seen substantial improvements in their research quality, substantial willingness to update to new evidence, and substantial willingness to publicly state unpopular conclusions (e.g. leafletting has a slightly negative expected value). I was also impressed with the conference they ran in 2016. My overall impression is now positive, and I appreciate their contributions. I'd also suggest putting ACE in context: GiveWell, which generally has a positive reputation, also got off to a rough start.

I agree that ACE still has room to improve, and I appreciate that you have provided constructive feedback in good faith.

With regard to:

In its cost-effectiveness analyses, ACE estimates that their mean estimate of the “proportional improvement in welfare due to cage-free policies” is ~0.05, but provides only a one sentence explanation for this estimate.

I agree that ACE should provide more justification for this estimate, but I think there are a few points worth noting:

  • This is a fairly pessimistic estimate, far more pessimistic than a reasonable reading of De Mol et al 2006. (Of course a negative estimate would be even more pessimistic.)

  • GiveWell also makes some subjective judgements in their cost-effectiveness estimates that are not supported by comprehensive literature reviews, especially regarding moral weights.

With regard to:

In its review of THL’s and Animal Equality’s corporate outreach, ACE relies only on the charities’ self-reported corporate policy successes, which it then discounts by an arbitrary uncertainty factor: ~0.4 for both Animal Equality and THL.

I assume you're referring to the metric "THL's responsibility for changes"? My understanding that this is mostly supposed to reflect the case that it's often the case that multiple charities are involved in securing a given corporate commitment, making it incorrect to assign 100% of the effectiveness to just one charity.

With regard to:

ACE does not check with third party news sources, experts or with the companies themselves on whether the claims of the charities are accurate.

I agree that ACE should do this, but I predict most of the claims would withstand this scrutiny. As I mention here, I found that 15 out of the 22 corporate commitments that CIWF USA was allegedly involved in from January 2016 to March 2017 had some publicly available evidence to support their causal role.

With regard to grassroots outreach, it's worth noting that a large amount of THL's grassroots work in the past few years has been in coordinating in person protests against food corporations. This differs quite a bit from activities like leafletting, so it's understandable that evidence on the effectiveness of leafletting may not be the most relevant consideration to an evaluation of THL's grassroots work. (ACE has published an intervention report on protests earlier this year, which I haven't read yet.)

Comment by avin on ACE's Response to John Halstead · 2018-09-09T22:03:15.529Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for the informative post, Toni!

With regard to:

We do search online for evidence in the news of each charity's achievements. The problem is: there usually is no such evidence, particularly in the field of corporate outreach. Of course, the absence of evidence of a charity's involvement in a corporate campaign is not evidence that the charity was not involved. We've also looked up corporations' press releases announcing their commitments, but these generally do not mention animal charities. (As far as I can remember, I've never seen one that does.) We have little reason to believe that a corporation could or would share detailed information about their decisions with us if we asked them. I don't know who Mr. Halstead has in mind when he mentions checking with "experts," though we've certainly spoken with many experts in corporate campaigning, if that is what he means.

I've found that the causal role of animal charities in corporate commitments is often supported by publicly available evidence. This evidence generally takes one of two forms:

  • Some corporations do name animal charities in their press releases. This often occurs when the charity secured the commitment through a cooperative approach, though it also sometimes occurs after a public campaign.

  • In cases of public campaigns, the timeline of events often provides some evidence of causality. I've found that the following pattern is typical: An animal charity launches a public campaign, leaving historical evidence in the form of a petition, tweets, media coverage, etc. Weeks or months later, the corporation publishes a press release agreeing to the commitment. (For reference, I've found Twitter to be a helpful resource for establishing these timelines.)

For example, here's is a list of corporate commitments that CIWF USA was allegedly involved in for the period from January 2016 to March 2017. (I had originally compiled this back in March 2017.) In 15 of the 22 cases, I found that their causal role was supported by publicly available evidence.

Comment by avin on Fish used as live bait by recreational fishermen · 2018-08-10T04:29:08.297Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

This is the approach I use:

Comment by avin on The EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds Lack Transparency and Accountability · 2018-07-26T23:50:37.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Open Phil hired a Senior Associate, Farm Animal Welfare in March 2018.

Comment by avin on Please Take the 2018 Effective Altruism Survey! · 2018-04-26T14:24:18.937Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I didn't see it either.

Comment by avin on Excerpt from 'Doing Good Better': How Vegetarianism Decreases Animal Product Supply · 2018-04-22T13:39:38.184Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I wonder if the cutoff point is more like 25,000 though, the number of broiler chickens raised in a shed. It's unclear to me whether producers respond to small changes in demand by adjusting the numbers of broilers in a shed or only by adjusting the number of sheds in use.

If the cutoff point is more like 25,000, then this would imply that most veg*ns go their entire lives without preventing the existence of a single broiler through their consumption changes, while a minority prevent the existence of a huge number.

For what it's worth, it seems likely that donations to AMF are similar since their distributions typically cover hundreds of thousands or millions of people.

Comment by avin on How to improve EA Funds · 2018-04-05T00:13:09.046Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

I agree with a lot of the content here, but I disagree with this suggestion:

The funds could take a similar approach to Giving What We Can – allocate funds to the top charities in their cause area, and donate to those charities on a regular basis until the fund manager comes along and updates the allocation.

If the annual discount rate is 12% and funds are granted out annually, then I believe this implies an average loss of around 6%. But the expected loss of a grant to a default charity vs a carefully selected charity is likely to be far greater than 6%.

Comment by avin on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 · 2018-04-03T15:20:59.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

I mentioned this in a previous comment, but in case readers missed it:

  • The increase in flock size from December 2015 to December 2017 is far better explained by the US egg industry's recovery from an avian influenza outbreak than by cage-free pledges.

  • Norwood and Lusk (2011) estimate based on price elasticity data that, on the margin, a reduction in demand for 1 conventional egg causes a reduction in supply of 0.91 conventional eggs. But correspondingly, an increase in demand for 1 cage-free egg should lead to an increase in supply of less than 1 cage-free egg. So it's unclear why we should expect the transition to cage-free to increase the number of layer hens. If anything, the increase in prices caused by the transition should reduce the number of layer hens.

Comment by avin on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 · 2018-04-03T13:29:51.266Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW


The layer hen flock size in December 2015 was unusually low because of an avian flu outbreak, so I don't think changes between December 2015 and December 2017 tell us much about the transition to cage-free.

It's also not clear why we should expect a transition to cage-free to increase the total number of layer hens based on price effects. If a buyer buys one less conventional egg, the expected supply of conventional eggs should fall by less than one because of price effects. On page 223 of Compassion by the Pound (2011), Norwood and Lusk estimate a decline of 0.91 eggs. But correspondingly, if a buyer buys one more cage-free egg, the increase in supply should increase by less than one, let's say 0.91 as well. I think it's a mistake to only consider price effects for the fall demand for conventional eggs for but not for the increase in demand for cage-free eggs. Of course it's fair to be on the lookout for evidence that one effect is stronger than the other, but the increase in egg supply from 2015 to 2017 is far better explained by a recovery from an avian influenza outbreak so I don't think it provides any meaningful evidence on this issue.

And if we consider price effects overall, the fact that cage-free egg production is somewhat more expensive than conventional egg production should cause a small decline in overall demand for eggs.

I think there is a risk that food corporations will renege on their pledges, perhaps arguing that the cage-free egg supply is insufficient. The parameter "Probability that groups will follow through on the pledges that they made" in ACE's estimates appear intended to capture this risk, and this is assigned a probability of 0.75 for THL in 2017. I think this risk underscores the importance of the work the animal organizations plan on follow-up with food corporations to ensure they follow through on their pledges, and that they start the transition early. I think this need for follow-up represents another limitation of ACE's cost-effectiveness estimates, since they assign all the benefits to the year of the pledges even though follow-up work will be required in future years.


Comment by avin on Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017 · 2018-04-03T04:32:26.153Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW


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.


Cost-effectiveness of The Humane League's corporate campaigns: 2015-2017

2018-03-31T22:17:06.901Z · score: 11 (11 votes)
Comment by avin on Four Organizations EAs Should Fully Fund for 2018 · 2018-03-31T12:24:40.771Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Lewis Bollard is now (March 2018) recommending additional grants to Wild Animal Suffering Research ($100k) and Sentience Institute ($70k) through the EA Animal Welfare Fund, which may change the room for funding situation for those organizations.

Comment by avin on Avoiding AI Races Through Self-Regulation · 2018-03-15T00:03:50.467Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

This is the approach I used to get this article on the EA Forum:

  • Used the "Publish to the web" feature in Google Docs.
  • Did a copy/paste from Firefox to the EA Forum. (Firefox generated much less messy content than Chrome.)
  • I manually fixed all the links to remove the redirect junk. (Not strictly necessary, but it annoyed me.)
  • I edited the HTML heavily to get the one table to show up right.
  • I made a lot of other manual edits.

It was a pain though.

Comment by avin on EA #GivingTuesday Fundraiser Matching Retrospective · 2018-03-04T01:35:29.847Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

We’ve received information from nonprofits on donation and match amounts for ~81% of the estimated amount donated, and I've updated the Follow-up with nonprofits section with some information on this. In general, we’ve found that the amounts received by the nonprofits have been similar to or greater than the amounts we had estimated.

Comment by avin on EA #GivingTuesday Fundraiser Matching Retrospective · 2018-01-14T17:26:39.101Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I agree that this is a risk.

Comment by avin on EA #GivingTuesday Fundraiser Matching Retrospective · 2018-01-14T02:12:26.377Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, if we try again in 2018, I think we can avoid some of the learning curve and improve efficiency. I'd also hope we can use what we learned to get more than 13% matched.

EA #GivingTuesday Fundraiser Matching Retrospective

2018-01-14T00:48:02.297Z · score: 21 (21 votes)
Comment by avin on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-08-31T21:43:47.231Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

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).

Here's some information I found a few months ago when trying to figure out the approach Open Phil takes with its recommendations to Good Ventures regarding funding gaps of its grant recipients. It's somewhat different than the approach that Open Phil / GiveWell takes with recommendations regarding funding gaps of GiveWell top charities.

In December 2015, Open Phil wrote regarding Open Phil grants: "In many cases, we find a funding gap we’d like to fill, and then we recommend filling the entire funding gap with a single grant. That doesn’t leave much scope for making a recommendation to individuals."

In March 2017, however, Open Phil wrote: "We typically avoid situations in which we provide >50% of an organization’s funding, so as to avoid creating a situation in which an organization’s total funding is 'fragile' as a result of being overly dependent on us. To avoid such situations, one approach we’ve sometimes taken is to fill the organization’s funding gap up to the point where we are matching all their other donors combined."

Similarly, in December 2016, Lewis Bollard, Farm Animal Welfare Program Officer at Open Phil wrote: "In April, we made a two-year $550K grant to CIWF, which filled much of its room for more funding at the time. I think it’s now likely ready to absorb more funds, and we’re limited in our ability to provide all of them by the public support test and a desire to avoid being the overwhelming funder of any group."

Comment by avin on Semi-regular Open Thread #35 · 2017-01-11T16:58:32.983Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

It's probably a relatively minor problem. I've read that the chickens often don't go outside because they are afraid of predators and do not like the small barren lots provided, but are more likely to go outside into areas with tall grass and bushes to hide in. I've also heard an anecdote from a friend with pet chickens (rescued egg-laying hens) that the chickens would go outside to a balcony to dustbathe for a few minutes and then quickly come back indoors. (Though in this case, the indoor alternative was a comfortable apartment rather than an uncomfortable shed.)