Comment by avin on EAs Should Invest All Year, then Give only on Giving Tuesday · 2019-01-15T16:11:12.824Z · score: 1 (1 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: 4 (4 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: 81 (27 votes)
Comment by avin on How Effective Altruists Can Be Welcoming To Conservatives · 2018-12-24T16:07:12.793Z · score: 3 (4 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.


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.

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.)

Comment by avin on Semi-regular Open Thread #35 · 2017-01-07T04:55:46.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Organic prohibits extreme confinement such as battery cages, but all broiler chickens (raised for meat) in the US are free to roam around in a shed. The main welfare issues come from rapid growth, poor lighting, poor air quality, overcrowding, transport, and slaughter. Organic broiler chickens must have outdoor access, but this is probably less important than the other welfare issues, and there are no requirements regarding the size of the outdoor area or that the chickens must use it.

Comment by avin on Semi-regular Open Thread #35 · 2017-01-01T19:38:22.621Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I believe funding work on corporate engagement to improve farm animal welfare probably has much higher expected value than any personal decisions about diet. There are limitations in this area regarding room for more funding, but Compassion in World Farming USA is an effective organization that seems to have room for funding in corporate engagement:

That being said, I personally find these questions interesting, and here are some thoughts.

I believe the average beef cattle in the US has net positive welfare. So in terms of direct effects on farm animal welfare, I believe eating beef increases welfare. There are indirect effects though, and some are presumably negative, including climate change, and mice and birds killed in fields for feed production. Other indirect effects might be positive (i.e. reducing insect suffering). There are other reasons why people might want to avoid beef though, such as the view that killing animals for food is inherently wrong, or the view that unnecessary harm to an animal (i.e. castration without anesthesia) cannot be offset by X number of happy days on pasture.

Beef cattle might be alone in this regard. I thought that the average dairy cow in the US might have net positive welfare but I did some more investigation and now believe their welfare is somewhat net negative. Other potential candidates for animals in the US with net positive welfare may be other small ruminants (sheep, goats) but I couldn't find much evidence on the welfare of these animals.

The overwhelming majority eggs in the US come from hens raised in battery cages, which I believe experience strongly net negative welfare. Moving from conventional eggs to cage-free eggs probably substantially reduces suffering. I believe avoiding eggs completely would eliminate suffering even further though, because cage-free has its own animal welfare problems.

"Organic" in the US probably means at least somewhat improved welfare in some animal products (eggs, pork, dairy), and not in others (chicken, beef). Generally organic in the US prohibits extreme confinement, which is relevant for egg-laying hens (bans battery cages), the mothers of pigs raised for pork (bans gestation crates), and dairy cows (bans tie-stalls which ~10% of dairy cows are housed in). Organic dairy also requires that the cows spend some time on pasture.

I haven't spend much time looking at other animal welfare certifications, but I'm skeptical of most of these. I'd note though that Open Philanthropy has issued a grant to the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) which suggests to me that GAP certifications are meaningful. That doesn't mean, however, that GAP certified animal products are from animals with net positive welfare.

I should note that farmed fish probably have net negative welfare, and eating farmed fish is probably particularly harmful because of how long they live (~20x as long as chickens raised for meat). I believe wild fish is probably similarly harmful, because supply of wild fish seems to be constrained and so demand for wild fish probably mostly just increases supply of farmed fish. I mention this because many people have the impression that eating less meat and more fish would reduce farm animal suffering, and I believe this view is likely very wrong.

Comment by avin on Where I Am Donating in 2016 · 2016-11-18T13:58:29.603Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW


Comment by avin on Where I Am Donating in 2016 · 2016-11-15T18:21:46.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Cool, can you give me the conference name? That way I can follow-up with a Google search in a few weeks or months.

Comment by avin on Where I Am Donating in 2016 · 2016-11-14T17:20:47.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Carl, I'd be really interested in seeing any content originating from these discussions.

Comment by avin on Where I Am Donating in 2016 · 2016-11-14T17:09:12.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Michael, Which conference is this? Are there any videos available for these talks?

Comment by avin on Dedicated Donors May Not Want to Sign the Giving What We Can Pledge · 2016-11-02T12:37:00.840Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for this post. I took the "Try Giving" pledge last year but have decided not taken the lifetime pledge for now. I do not make want to make promises unnecessarily that I may plausibly break, and I do plan to suspend or stop giving if unexpected circumstances require it. The reality is that I'm more selfish than altruistic, and will prioritize the basic needs of myself and the people I care about before prioritizing the welfare of strangers.

Comment by avin on Review of EA Global 2016 · 2016-09-22T16:00:15.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

+1 for NY! :)

Comment by avin on Voter Registration As an EA Group Meetup Activity · 2016-09-18T18:11:39.267Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Yes, I accept that all things being equal, registering voters that are less educated about policy than the average voter is bad. But all things are not equal. I assume most or all of the participants were trying to register demographics that are likely to vote for Clinton, not a random sample of uneducated people.

Comment by avin on Voter Registration As an EA Group Meetup Activity · 2016-09-18T00:57:33.001Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · EA · GW

The voting public is already quite uninformed as it is. I think it's more important from an EA perspective that the candidate that will do the most amount of good wins.

Comment by avin on Film as an EA outreach tool · 2016-08-30T02:27:13.697Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Some evidence to support this view: "With intended behavior, we see clear and significant differences between the different options. Respondents were significantly more likely to replace beef with chicken/fish/pork (a) than they were any of the other mitigation options (bc). As expected, they were significantly less likely to refrain from eating meat completely (c) than all other options."


The full paper is paywalled, but I'd be happy to share the PDF with anyone who's interested. Just send me a message.

Comment by avin on Film as an EA outreach tool · 2016-08-30T02:13:35.894Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA · GW

I worry that messages that suggests beef is particularly harmful to the environment are likely to increase farm animal suffering by causing people to replace their beef consumption with chicken, pork, and fish.

Comment by avin on Transgenic mosquitoes, update Effective Altruism Policy Analytics · 2016-08-11T11:46:40.024Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for providing this update! I'm happy to hear that the FDA has approved the field trial. To the extent that your policy comment was influential in securing this approval, great work! :)

Comment by avin on Transgenic mosquitoes, update Effective Altruism Policy Analytics · 2016-08-11T11:43:11.961Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW


Oxitec takes the following strategy:

  1. Issue repeated releases of large numbers of male transgenic mosquitoes over 4-6 months to suppress the mosquito population to very low levels.

  2. Issue repeated releases of lower numbers of male mosquitoes after that to prevent resurgence of the mosquito population.

See this video, starting from 4:50:


Comment by avin on The morality of having a meat-eating pet · 2016-06-20T02:21:43.874Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I'm not a proponent of ethical offsets, in part because of the reasons given by Claire Zabel here:

Further, there's really no good evidence in support of Animal Charity Evaluator's cost effective estimates for vegan outreach. And in the case of corporate campaigns, it's not clear that the organizations effective in this area still have room for funding.

Comment by avin on The morality of having a meat-eating pet · 2016-06-20T02:16:47.914Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Seems that buying really cheap pet food might be an effective approach at reducing the farm animal suffering caused by pet ownership.

An alternative and inconsistent approach would be to buy pet food made from beef, which arguably causes the least amount of farm animal suffering and farm animals killed.

Comment by avin on My Cause Selection: Denis Drescher · 2016-04-03T13:14:00.880Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

I forgot to follow-up in this earlier, but William MacAskill has issued a correction in his errata:

Comment by avin on A review of the safety & efficacy of genetically engineered mosquitoes · 2016-04-02T14:51:12.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this helpful overview. I'm relatively uneducated about the scientific issues in question, but I've been reading a bit and had a few thoughts.

I've been a little skeptical at the proposed use of gene drives to eliminate mosquitoes. My fear is that we could be left with mosquitoes with evolutionary adaptations making them resistant to the biased inheritance aspect of gene drive technology, causing us to lose the ability to use a potentially precious tool in the fight against malaria and other mosquito-borne illnesses. This seems to me like a plausible outcome given that there would be immense evolutionary pressure to evolve such adaptions.

The alternative, which you consider, is to make mosquitoes resistant to specific parasites such as malaria. You suggest that genetic load may cause parasite resistant mosquitoes to be selected against. However, there is some research that shows that malaria resistance increases the fitness of mosquitoes exposed to malaria:

Even if this turns out to be wrong and such malaria-resistant mosquitoes incur a selective disadvantage, it seems less likely that the selective disadvantage would be so great that mosquitoes would evolve resistance to biased inheritance itself.

Given these considerations, isn't starting out with using gene drives to engineer malaria resistant mosquitoes a safer approach than using gene drives to attempt to eliminate mosquito populations?


Comment by avin on The great calculator · 2016-03-27T14:31:53.570Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · EA · GW

I like this idea, and I think an improved version could be helpful in clarifying people's thinking about the importance of reducing animal suffering. But I see a few substantial problems with the existing spreadsheet, and I don't think the results can be considered meaningful until these problems are addressed.

  1. A person who avoids eating animals is reducing -- not increasing -- animal life-years, by preventing factory farm animals from being born. The same is true for most THL's vegan outreach interventions, assuming such interventions are effective. That being said, if a factory farmed animal has a life that is not worth living (and I think that describes most factory farmed animals, though not all) then reducing the life-years of such animals is a good thing. Or alternatively, if one's goal is to reduce the act of killing animals, then reducing the life-years of such animals may be an acceptable cost. But since these goals are very different from saving the lives of animals in the same way that donating to AMF might save the life of a child, they cannot be considered the same thing, and are not comparable without making further assumptions. This seems like a tricky problem to solve in your spreadsheet.

  2. THL mostly conducts vegan outreach, and the evidence that vegan outreach is effective at reducing consumption of animal products is weak. The evidence for specific cost effective figures like $0.60 for a 1-year reduction in animal suffering is even weaker. I do think the evidence for THL's cage-free campaigns is substantially better (though still very far from GiveWell-quality evidence). Given Open Philanthropy's recent grant to THL, however, it appears THL's cage-free program (at least in the US) has no room for funding for the time being. So I take issue with confident statements that one can reduce 1-year of animal suffering with a $0.60 donation. I think such statements should include caveats about the very weak evidence for these cost effectiveness figures.

  3. You ask people to estimate the value of a pig's well-being relative to a human's well-being, but you're presumably talking about eating animals in general when you say that going vegetarian saves 100 animal lives, or when you say donating to THL reduces one year of animal suffering for $0.60. But in terms of numbers, the vast majority of those 100 animal lives a person eats is going to be chicken and seafood, and I think most people would not give as much weight to the suffering of one chicken, fish, shrimp, etc. as they would give to the suffering of one pig. If you use chicken instead of pig in the spreadsheet, I think that would be more reasonable.

  4. You suggest that the person should become vegetarian, but I personally don't think this is an efficient compromise. In general, the consumption of eggs in the US causes a considerable amount of suffering, I think far more than beef. (I personally think beef cattle have lives worth living.) It certainly causes considerably more animals killed than the consumption of beef (though one might give a higher weight to killing a cow vs. a baby chick or hen). So an effective altruist with the goal of reducing animal suffering and/or killing without becoming vegan should probably limit their consumption of animal products to dairy and beef instead of dairy and eggs.


Comment by avin on The 2014 Survey of Effective Altruists: Results and Analysis · 2016-03-18T00:12:09.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · EA · GW

It's interesting that only around 10% of self-identified EA's report donating 10% or more of their income. That makes me feel less guilty about "only" giving 10%. :)

Comment by avin on Using Breaking News Stories for Effective Altruism · 2016-03-16T12:49:04.203Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Great work! Indeed, if I type "wounded warrior" in Google (with or without the quotes), the first non-ad item is your Time article.

Comment by avin on The Meat Eater Problem: Developing an EA Response · 2016-03-01T01:41:35.316Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · EA · GW

One clarification: Norwood's view, as indicated in the table above, is that broiler chickens (raised for meat) have a welfare score of +3 which means they have lives worth living. Norwood does believe that the breeders (parents) of broilers have a welfare score of -4 (better off dead), but the ratio of breeders to broilers is 1 to 144 so his conclusion is that eating chicken increases animal welfare.

That differs from egg laying hens. Norwood gives caged hens, which currently represent the vast majority of the egg laying hens in the US, a welfare score of -8.

FWIW, I tend to disagree with Norwood's views about broiler chickens and believe they are probably better off dead.