Posts

Social Movement Lessons from the Fair Trade Movement 2021-04-02T10:51:43.982Z
The Importance of Artificial Sentience 2021-03-03T17:17:48.921Z
Effective animal advocacy bottlenecks surveys 2021-01-13T13:38:52.491Z
Technical research for animal product alternatives skills profile 2020-11-30T15:56:08.880Z
Animal product alternatives for-profit roles spot-check 2020-11-19T07:31:35.113Z
Jamie_Harris's Shortform 2020-10-17T07:00:08.848Z
A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research 2020-10-06T14:21:17.332Z
Careers advising calls and an online course about impact-focused animal advocacy 2020-09-18T13:37:20.832Z
Careers (to help animals) in politics, policy, and lobbying 2020-08-30T10:37:13.870Z
Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review 2020-07-24T16:21:08.754Z
Social Movement Lessons from the US Prisoners' Rights Movement 2020-07-22T12:10:39.884Z
What Interventions Can Animal Advocates Use To Build Community In Their Country? 2020-07-17T17:42:29.040Z
Animal Advocacy Careers advice 2020-07-06T12:56:05.867Z
The Effects of Animal-Free Food Technology Awareness on Animal Farming Opposition 2020-05-16T07:30:35.987Z
Which institutional tactics can animal advocates use? 2020-04-29T14:11:22.174Z
Effective Animal Advocacy Nonprofit Roles Spot-Check 2020-03-31T15:22:36.283Z
Research on developing management and leadership expertise 2020-03-05T16:57:42.422Z
Introducing the Sentience Institute Podcast 2019-12-05T18:12:44.012Z
Survey data on the moral value of sentient individuals compared to non-sentient environmental systems 2019-10-27T07:00:00.000Z
A short survey on bottlenecks in effective animal advocacy from nine attendees of Effective Altruism Global London 2019-10-24T07:00:00.000Z
Effective animal advocacy movement building: a neglected opportunity? 2019-06-11T20:33:50.415Z
How tractable is changing the course of history? 2019-05-22T15:29:49.195Z
A case study for animal-focused local EA movement building: Effective Animal Altruism London 2019-01-23T22:09:32.308Z
Event Review: EA Global: London (2018) 2018-12-17T22:29:35.324Z
Book Review: The End of Animal Farming (Jacy Reese, 2018) 2018-12-17T22:26:34.669Z

Comments

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Silk production: global scale and animal welfare issues · 2021-04-20T19:50:19.042Z · EA · GW

Interesting! Obviously a whole host of pros and cons to animal advocacy in India generally. The evidence I'm referring to is from our social movement case studies -- we have a post in draft form atm. Feel free to either wait for the finished post (~1 month?) or email me at jamie@sentienceinstitute.org and I'll send you the draft!

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Silk production: global scale and animal welfare issues · 2021-04-20T11:48:29.238Z · EA · GW

Important topic! I appreciate the balanced consideration of both direct and indirect evidence, as well as both advocacy and academic perspectives / info.

I agree bans at the retail level seem promising for a number of reasons. Apologies if I missed it, but have you seen data on which countries/areas are the main markets for silk? I.e. the demand side rather than the supply side? (On the one hand, bans in areas with high use might have larger impact, but historical evidence and my general intuition suggest that bans in areas with low usage will be much more tractable -- happy to provide further info if helpful)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on On the longtermist case for working on farmed animals [Uncertainties & research ideas] · 2021-04-11T11:04:25.715Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this post Michael, I think I agree with everything here! Though if anyone thinks we can "confidently dismiss the above longtermist argument for farmed animal welfare work, without needing to do this research" I'd be interested to hear why.

I won’t be pursuing those questions myself, as I’m busy with other projects

I just wanted to note that Sentience Institute is pursuing some of this sort of research, but (1) we definitely won't be able to pursue all of these things any time soon, (2) not that much of our work focuses specifically on these cause prioritisation questions -- we often focus on working out how to make concrete progress on the problems, assuming you agree that MCE is important. That said, I think a lot of research can achieve both goals. E.g. my colleague, Ali, is finishing up a piece of research that fits squarely in "4a. Between-subjects experiments... focused on the above questions" currently titled "The impact of perspective taking on attitudes and prosocial behaviours towards non-human outgroups." And the more explicit cause prioritisation research would still fit neatly within our interests. SI is primarily funding constrained, so if any funders reading this are especially interested in this sort of research, they should feel free to reach out to us.

Contact the Sentience Institute and/or me to discuss ideas

Thanks for this note! Agreed. My email is jamie@sentienceinstitute.org if anyone does want to discuss these ideas or send me draft writeups for review.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Case studies of self-governance to reduce technology risk · 2021-04-10T15:11:51.299Z · EA · GW

Cool post! I like the methodology; it bears a lot of similarities to the case studies summary and analysis I'm writing for Sentience Institute at the moment. What do you think about the idea of converting those low / moderate / high ratings in the RQ2 table into numerical scores (e.g. out of 5, 10, or 100) and testing for statistically significant correlations between various scores and the "level of success" score?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series · 2021-04-10T11:29:58.573Z · EA · GW

I saw after writing this comment that Jonas Vollmer's recent "Some quick notes on 'effective altruism'" post is filled with people calling for more empirical testing on EA messaging. So perhaps there is both more interest and intent to carry out this sort of research than I previously believed.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on EA Debate Championship & Lecture Series · 2021-04-06T19:25:55.712Z · EA · GW

This is very cool. Seems like high fidelity outreach to a highly promising group, done well.

My main concern: how often can this general debate theme be repeated among major debate tournaments? I wonder if this will now not be repeatable for several years.

<<Lesson 5: It may be helpful to design a formal EA-advocacy framework and research agenda. Debate can be a useful case-study for EA-advocacy for the reasons mentioned in this post.>> I have often thought this. There is a lot of research that seems like it could be useful for EA outreach, e.g. testing the effectiveness of various messaging strategies. There's some cause area-specific research, but not much that I'm aware of relating to more general EA principles.

<< However, even with the help of fellow EAs, it took us a while to understand how best to measure engagement with EA content. >> I have also thought this! I created some questions to use in an RCT we are running at Animal Advocacy Careers and lamented that I had a scale to use for "Animal Farming Opposition" (based on factor analysis of Sentience Institute's surveys) but not "Effective Altruism Inclination" or something similar.

Would be happy to discuss the EA outreach research ideas a bit more if anyone reading this is interested in pursuing (/ collaborating on?) that.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on The Importance of Artificial Sentience · 2021-03-09T13:39:00.736Z · EA · GW

Hey, glad you liked the post! I don't really see a tradeoff between extinction risk reduction and moral circle expansion, except insofar as we have limited time and resources to make progress on each. Maybe I'm missing something?

When it comes to limited time and resources, I'm not too worried about that at this stage. My guess is that by reaching out to new (academic) audiences, we can actually increase the total resources and community capital dedicated to longtermist topics in general. Some individuals might have tough decisions to face about where they can have the most positive impact, but that's just in the nature of there being lots of important problems we could plausibly work on.

On the more general category of s-risks vs extinction risks, it seems to be pretty unanimous that people focused on s-risks advocate cooperation between these groups. E.g. see Tobias Baumann's "Common ground for longtermists" and CLR's publications on "Cooperation & Decision Theory". I've seen less about this from people focused on extinction risks, but I might just not have been paying enough attention.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Total Funding by Cause Area · 2021-03-08T23:23:25.562Z · EA · GW

Cool post, I enjoyed seeing these numbers like this. I share your takeaway that global health seems more overrepresented than I expected.

"Do you feel that the numbers I'm using are misrepresentative?" One consideration here is whether the appropriate figures to consider are "EA funding" or "all funding." What's the case for the former? Just that you expect EA funding to be substantially more cost-effective? Maybe. But even then you'd ideally include non-EA funding with some sort of discount, e.g. each non-EA dollar is only counted as 0.5, 0.1, or 0.01 EA dollars. I appreciate also that EA dollars are easier to count.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on The Importance of Artificial Sentience · 2021-03-04T17:45:49.171Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much!

Comment by Jamie_Harris on The Importance of Artificial Sentience · 2021-03-03T23:30:54.146Z · EA · GW

Oh "staff" might have just been the wrong word. I just meant "team members" or something else non-prescriptive. (They commented anonymously so I couldn't thank an individual.) They confirmed to me that they are currently inactive.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Many (many!) charities are too small to measure their own impact · 2021-02-18T16:21:09.826Z · EA · GW

Some other, partly overlapping reasons:

  • In rushing to measure their impact to meet requests for impact evaluation, they might just focus on the wrong things. E.g. proxy metrics that sound like good impact evaluation but aren't very good indicators really. If measuring in their "own" timelines, rather than when asked, charities might have more scope and time to do it carefully.
  • I think there's something to be said for just trying to do something really well and only subsequently stopping to take stock of what you have or haven't achieved. (We've taken pretty much the opposite approach at Animal Advocacy Careers and I periodically wonder whether that was a mistake)
  • if you're doing something that seems pretty clearly likely to be cost-effective, given the available evidence, spending resources on further evaluation might just be a waste.
  • Similarly, unless conducting and disseminating research is an important part of your theory of change, the research focus might be be a distraction if it doesn't seem likely to affect your decision-making.
Comment by Jamie_Harris on How can non-biologists contribute to wild animal welfare? · 2021-02-18T16:11:05.995Z · EA · GW

I hosted a podcast episode substantially (not exclusively) about this question! https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast/episode-13.html

Main categories of possible actions discussed:

  • fund Animal Ethics or Wild Animal Initiative. They're massively underfunded.
  • spread the word, especially to audiences that seem likely to be receptive to the idea.
  • get a career in an area that might help, like in policy.
Comment by Jamie_Harris on Running an AMA on the EA Forum · 2021-02-18T16:00:43.612Z · EA · GW

I like answering questions when I'm asked them, but I suspect that there won't be (m)any questions asked to me if I did an AMA. Should I do one anyway?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Is there any evidence that people who recycle also advocate for institutional policy changes to combat man-made climate change? · 2021-02-02T20:11:28.333Z · EA · GW

There's actually evidence that recycling produces a "moral licencing" effect, but there is evidence from other social movements that people who participate in consumer action are more likely to participate in wider institutional tactics.

(Apologies for the lack of links/citations for now, but I have a post coming out soon which discuses this briefly!)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on How do EA researchers decide on which topics to write on, and how much time to spend on it? · 2021-01-03T18:43:42.756Z · EA · GW

For me, the short answer is that I follow this process!

Comment by Jamie_Harris on What areas are the most promising to start new EA meta charities - A survey of 40 EAs · 2020-12-23T16:08:13.632Z · EA · GW

Thanks! A lot of these tradeoffs are closer to a 50/50 split than I would have expected.

I'd be interested in any info you're able to share about who was actually asked -- but I'm guessing you've already shared as much info as you feel you are able to about that.

I'd also be interested in what the numerical scores are based on?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on How high impact are UK policy career paths? · 2020-12-19T17:58:37.977Z · EA · GW

I don't think I have much to offer on all-things-considered views of how civil service roles compare to lobbying, politics, earning to give, etc. But since you expressed interest in anecdotes, you might be interested in Animal Advocacy Careers' skills profile on politics, policy, and lobbying (https://www.animaladvocacycareers.org/skills-profiles). You can read the interviews in full on a spreadsheet off that profile -- two of the interviewees were UK civil servants.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on What skills would you like 1-5 EAs to develop? · 2020-12-16T09:49:26.684Z · EA · GW

I'd like to see a small number of people connecting EA to each of these... Social movements (eg Fair Trade, Black Lives Matter, drug reform/prison reform movements)

If you still hold this view, I'd be interested in why you'd like to see people "connecting EA to each of these." What are the benefits you expect? Is it for recruitment (i.e. getting them to switch causes), shared strategic knowledge, or something else? (If you don't still hold this view, I'd be interested in why not?)

I ask because I'm just finishing up a social movement case study on the Fair Trade movement; hence why I stumbled across this post from a year and a half ago.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-14T22:53:43.151Z · EA · GW

That's a good point -- my intention was that it would be the same individual in each instance, just with or without the training, but I didn't word the survey question clearly to reflect that.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-13T20:56:07.007Z · EA · GW

Oops, I meant "the further they got"

Psychology, sociology, (history), (political science). I imagine that that's an unusually broad range to be considering, but I didn't want to rule anything out prematurely. My undergraduate was in history but my research in nonprofits has been much more social science-y, and a bit more quantitative.

I imagine that there's a very broad range that could be on the table. I haven't thought about this question in general that much for "EA / longtermist" research orgs. For effective animal advocacy research organisations, my main guesses would be the same as the list above, plus economics. But there could be others that I haven't thought about, related to those options, or an unusually good fit for some individuals etc.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-13T20:47:40.169Z · EA · GW

Thank you! Great points. Based on your post, this comment, and some brief additional reflection, I've booked an intro call with Lynette.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-12-13T09:58:59.037Z · EA · GW

The value of graduate training for EA researchers: researchers seem to think it is worthwhile

Imagine the average "generalist" researcher employed by an effective altruist / longtermist nonprofit with a substantial research component (e.g. Open Philanthropy, Founders' Pledge, Rethink Priorities, Center on Long-Term Risk). Let's say that, if they start their research career with an undergraduate/bachelor's degree in a relevant field but no graduate training, each year of full-time work, they produce one "unit" of impact.

In a short Google Form, posted on the Effective Altruism Researchers and EA Academia Facebook groups,  I provided the above paragraph and then asked: "If, as well as an undergraduate/bachelor's degree, they start their research career at EA nonprofits with a master's degree in a relevant field, how many "units" of impact do you expect that they would produce each year for the first ~10 years of work?"* The average response, from the 8 respondents, was 1.7. 

I also asked: "If, as well as an undergraduate/bachelor's degree, they start their research career at EA nonprofits with a PhD in a relevant field, how many "units" of impact do you expect that they would produce each year for the first ~10 years of work?"* The average response was 3.9. 

I also asked people whether they were a researcher at a nonprofit, in academia, or neither, and whether they had graduate training themselves or not.** Unsurprisingly, researchers in academia rated the value of graduate training more highly than researchers in nonprofits (2.0 and 4.3 for each year with a master's and a PhD, respectively, compared to 1.2 and 1.7), as did respondents with graduate training themselves, relative to respondents without graduate training (2.0 and 5.2 compared to 1.2 and 1.7).

I asked a free-text response question: "Do you think that the value of graduate training would increase/compound, or decrease/discount, the got further into their career?" 4 respondents wrote that the value of graduate training would decrease/discount the got further into their career, but didn't provide any explanations for this reasoning. This was also my expectation; my reasoning was that one or more years' of graduate training, which would likely only be partly relevant to the nonprofit work that you would be doing, would become relatively less important later on, since your knowledge, skills, and connections would have increased through your work in nonprofits. 

However, two respondents argued that the value of graduate training would increase/compound. One added: "People without PhDs are sadly often overlooked for good research positions and also under-respected relative to their skill. If they don't have a PhD they will almost never end up in a senior research position." The other noted that it would "increase/compound, particularly if they do things other than anonymous research, e.g. they build an impressive CV, get invited to conferences because of their track record. If one doesn't have a PhD, the extent of this is limited, mostly unless one fits a high-credibility non-academic profile, e.g. founded an organization."

I did some simple modelling / back of the envelope calculations to estimate the value of different pathways, accounting for 1) the multipliers on the value of your output as discussed in the questions on the form and 2) the time lost on graduate education.*** Tldr; with the multiplier values suggested by the form respondents, graduate education clearly looks worthwhile for early career researchers working in EA nonprofits, assuming they will work in an EA research nonprofit for the rest of their career. It gets a little more complex if you try to work it out in financial terms, e.g. accounting for tuition fees.

For my own situation (with a couple of years of experience in an EA research role, no graduate training), I had guessed multipliers of 1.08 and 1.12 on the value of my research in the ~10 years after completing graduate training, for a master's and PhD, respectively. For the remaining years of a research career after that, I had estimated 1.01 and 1.02. Under these assumptions, the total output of a nonprofit research career with or without a master's looks nearly identical for me; the output after completing a PhD looks somewhat worse. However, with the average values from the Google form then the output looks much better with a master's than without and with a PhD than with just a master's. Using the more pessimistic values from other EA nonprofit researchers, or respondents without graduate training, the order is still undergrad only < master's < PhD, though the differences are smaller. In my case, tuition fees seem unlikely to affect these calculations much (see the notes on the rough models sheet).

Of course, which option is best for any individual also depends on numerous other career strategy considerations.  For example, let's think about "option value." Which options are you likely to pursue if research in EA nonprofits doesn't work out or you decide to try something else? Pursuing graduate training might enable you to test your fit with academia and pivot towards that path if it seems promising, but if your next best option is some role in a nonprofit that is unrelated to research (e.g. fundraising), then graduate education might not be as valuable.

I decided to post here partly in case others would benefit, and partly because I'm interested in feedback on/critiques of my reasoning, so please feel free to be critical in the comments!

*For both questions, I noted: "There are many complications and moderating factors for the questions below, but answering assuming the "average" for all other unspecified variables could still be helpful.)" and "1 = the same as if they just had a bachelor's; numbers below 1 represent reduced impact, numbers above 1 represent increased impact."
**These questions were pretty simplified, not permitting people to select multiple options.
*** Here, for simplicity,  I assumed that: 
- You would produce no value while doing your graduate training, which seems likely to be false, especially during (the later years of) a PhD. 
- The value of 1 year after your graduate education was the same as 1 year before retirement, which seems likely to be false.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-07T11:32:41.795Z · EA · GW

This is very impressive when compared to effects observed in psychology (figure, full; if it's helpful, this effect size is similar to the gain in height American girls experience between 14 and 18 years of age).

Would you be able to share where you got this analogy from? I often  read research that deals with effect sizes like standardised mean difference, hedges G, Cohen's d and so on, but I don't have a very good intuition for what those effect sizes mean. I'd love to see more examples like this that helps to build my intuition.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Coaching: An under-appreciated strategy among effective altruists · 2020-12-06T15:37:44.350Z · EA · GW

I'm convinced that investing time and resources in improving productivity (especially early in your career where the gains might last for longer), including perhaps via coaching, will often be worthwhile. But when I have looked at coaching sites, they seem to be phrased in terms of addressing pre-existing issues.

E.g. from your site: "swift behavioral changes to increase productivity, decrease procrastination and anxiety, and remove paralyzing stress (if present)". I have no problems with procrastination, anxiety, or stress. I think I'm pretty productive already, I'm just hoping to get better.

Would you still recommend reaching out to coaches and having the free calls, even if 1) I'm not sure what I'd gain from their coaching, 2) I don't match up very well with some/all of the examples described on their site? Why/why not?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Animal Welfare Fund: November 2020 grant recommendations · 2020-12-05T08:13:52.469Z · EA · GW

The resulting project, ModernFerma, seeks to become a credible, trusted partner that can convince producers, policymakers, and other influential Russian agriculture stakeholders of the economic case for reforms... It may also be an especially promising approach in Russia's more difficult political environment, just as similar approaches have had success in other locations with similar environments.

Huh, I wonder what this is referring to? I'd be keen to see examples of that.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on The Comparability of Subjective Scales · 2020-12-05T07:45:22.729Z · EA · GW

Interesting! I would have thought you could test this empirically? For example, though it wouldn't tell you the answer to this question, it would be informative if someone:

  • Created vignettes about people in various conditions (e.g. with certain diseases) and asked people to rate those people's "happiness, life satisfaction" etc. Ask people in different countries and check for systematic differences by country. Ask the same people at different time points to see how much variation there is in the answers from time to time.
  • (Less useful?) Showed people vignettes about people in various conditions or about different events and stories, didn't ask any questions about those vignettes, but then asked participants (in different countries or at different time points) to rate their own "happiness, life satisfaction" etc. The test here is whether the effect of external stimuli on these ratings is similar in different cultures and across time, or whether the effects vary systematically.
  • Asked people  questions about their own "happiness, life satisfaction" etc, then asked them to qualitatively describe what 1 and 10 would look like. Do some sort of content analysis of the answers.

(I've only read your summary and I'm not familiar with the literature, so apologies if people already talk about this sort of thing or have run these sorts of studies.)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Learnings about literature review strategy from research practice sessions · 2020-11-23T20:45:13.687Z · EA · GW

"Searching smartly is often more effective than going down the citation trail" I'd love more detail / clarification on this if you're happy to share? I think I pretty much exclusively go down the citation trail.

Relatedly, what's the benefit of having "a pile of papers ready to look at" before you start reading them? Unless you're trying to be systematic and comprehensive (in which case you might as wel gather them all first), it seems to me that reading through papers as you go helps you realise if you need to adjust your search terms or add new ones, or if you're just hitting diminishing returns on the review generally. I pretty much just Google Scholar search and start reading the first item that comes up.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Please Take the 2020 EA Survey · 2020-11-19T19:37:27.159Z · EA · GW

Looking forward to seeing the results!  

Minor comment: there was a question that asked for "up to 1" response in each column, where I wasn't sure if this was a typo (and should have said row); I couldn't really make sense of it either way, with the two columns that were available.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on List of EA-related organisations · 2020-10-24T07:27:58.317Z · EA · GW

Cool list! I'm surprised there aren't more organisations on this list that meet at least one of your three criteria.

Some comments below and further examples that focus mostly on animal advocacy, because it's the area I'm most knowledgeable about, but could probably be applied similarly to other cause areas. I'm partly sharing these comments because we use similar criteria to work out which organisations to focus Animal Advocacy Careers' research on (e.g. our spot-check of nonprofit roles, and we have a survey we're going to send out in the next few weeks), and I'm interested in feedback.

 

I don’t think this is a useful or even possible distinction to make, since many organisations lie on a continuum of commitment to EA values.

Agreed. It get's pretty messy, whichever criteria you use, because all are subjective. I tend to think of the two main criteria as: 

(1) Explicit identification and alignment with the goals and principles of effective altruism.

(2) High cost-effectiveness.

Are currently recommended by GiveWell or Animal Charity Evaluators

This is one group's judgement on goal (2). For Animal Advocacy Careers, I've been using the slightly looser definition of any organisations  that are currently or formerly "Top Charities" or "Standout charities." This would add quite a few to your list.

  • Animal Equality
  • Compassion in World Farming USA
  • Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
  • Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection Campaign
  • L214
  • Mercy For Animals
  • New Harvest
  • Nonhuman Rights Project
  • ProVeg International
  • Sinergia Animal
  • Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
  • Vegan Outreach

If you wanted to broaden/loosen the criteria a bit further (but still use evaluations by external groups, rather than your own judgement), the next steps might be:

  • Including any groups that have received grants by Open Philanthropy (we're planning to include this criterion for our survey, notwithstanding a couple of other exclusion criteria)
  • Including any groups that have received grants by other highly EA-aligned grant-making bodies, e.g. ACE, EA Funds (we're not using this criterion, in part because both of these groups tend to make more speculative bets, including to smaller organisations, and in part just because it would probably give us a really long list of organisations to contact for the survey)
  • Something we umm and arr about is whether to include any/all groups who participate in the (The Humane League-coordinated) Open Wing Alliance. (Not including in our forthcoming survey.)

Have explicitly aligned themselves with EA

Similar to my (1) but your definition is a bit narrower, I think. I think that there are a large number of organisations that would fit this criterion to some extent. Groups from your list who fit this, in my opinion:

  • Veganuary
  • Sentience Politics
  • Global Food Partners
  • Aquatic Life Institute
  • 50by40
  • Credence Institute
  • Farmed Animal Funders

But also, most of the organisations on the list above of ACE current or former top or standout charities (perhaps especially Mercy For Animals, Animal Equality, and ProVeg). Again, many of the orgs in the Open Wing Alliance arguably fit this criterion.

Were incubated by Charity Entrepreneurship

Interesting. I guess this is a proxy for both my (1) and (2)? Credence Institute fit this criterion.

Have engaged with the EA community (e.g. by posting on the EA Forum or attending EA Global)

This seems veeeery broad and I imagine there are lots that would be added by this criterion. Personally I  wouldn't use it. Some that I can remember off the top of my head that fit this:

  • Pour l'Égalité Animale
  • Compassion in World Farming
  • Veganuary (again)

But I'm sure there are many more, I just haven't been tracking it.

 

Lower importance comment: Given that both 80,000 Hours and Animal Charity Evaluators are in "Infrastructure," I'd put Animal Advocacy Careers in that category too. Maybe also WANBAM and CEEALAR. I'd also reclassify Sentience Institute as "Far future" since that is our focus, even if our work to date has mostly focused on animal advocacy(e.g.s of two exceptions); we have forthcoming work on artificial sentience, for example.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies · 2020-10-22T21:34:17.088Z · EA · GW

Seems like we agree on a lot! I don't think I wrote my summaries and your re-phrasings seem to me to be very similar to what I intended.

I agree that looking at causes and factors influencing "beneficial outcomes" is interesting and useful, just a slightly different purpose from looking at the causes and factors influencing the successes of ally-based movements.

<<I'd also love to hear other constructive feedback/advice for doing better historical work in the future, if you have any off the top of your head.>>

I'm no expert and am hoping to start doing some more synthesis / comparison of our case studies so far soon, which is where some of these methodological considerations will come into play. Ive written about some of the methodological considerations here in some depth. https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/blog/what-can-the-farmed-animal-movement-learn-from-history

Some more "practical" tips which may or may not be useful and may or may not be obvious:

  • a few times I've come across numerous people asserting that a particular change was highly influential or that that X led to Y, but the citations trace back to inference from chronological order of events and maybe one or two supporting anecdotal comments. I'm generally pretty hesitant to make strong causal claims or to repeat causal claims made by others.
  • typing in the name of the movement you're looking at plus the word "history" into Google Scholar and then going through the results seems to be a decent way to start.
  • I think you'll often hit pretty rapidly diminishing returns on time invested after the first 2-5 books/articles you read on a particular topic, but you'll keep finding useful information (of strategic importance) and occasionally changing your view on something you were quite confident about earlier for quite a long time after that.
  • sometimes research gets a little siloed by discipline, but historians, legal scholars, sociologists, political scientists, and economists often each have something to add to the understanding of a particular movement or case study.
Comment by Jamie_Harris on What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies · 2020-10-20T20:01:21.111Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much for doing this work. I’m glad to see other people taking an interest in historical evidence to inform questions about global priorities and to inform strategies for moral circle expansion.

I think this is an Impressive overview to have created in a short period of time. And I like the efforts to explicitly assess causation, resisting the ever-present temptation to tell a chronological narrative and assume causal relationships where there is little evidence to suggest them.

Most of Sentience Institute’s case studies to date have focused primarily on one country, or a comparison between two countries. I found the big picture, international consideration interesting. In general, I’m updating slightly towards the importance of international pressure in causing further change and a strategy of, as you suggest, concentrating resources in particular promising locations so that representatives of those countries might sooner become international advocates. I was finding tentative evidence for similar claims in my case study of the US anti-death penalty movement, which includes some comparison to Europe (and briefer comparison to the wider international situation). If you haven’t read that, you may find that interesting.

One other  thing I was quite excited about is the following comment:

Political short-termism usually works against future generations, but it can work for future generations if politicians’ and lobbyists’ concern with the short term keeps them from strongly opposing commitments to one day care about future generations... For future generations, this might look like advocating for policies, such as committees or funds for future generations, that will not be implemented for a decade or more.

I wasn’t quite sure how this followed from the historical evidence that you examine, but I thought it was a cool argument, and something I hadn’t thought about explicitly in terms of how longtermist moral circle expansion efforts might look different from neartermist work on animal advocacy or other cause areas that relate to MCE. If we care about, say, maximising the chances that factory farming ends, rather than helping animals as much as possible within the next 10 (or 100) years, then we might be able to effectively trade immediacy for increased radicalism (or durability or some other key priority).

————

Of course, with a post of this size, there are a lot of nitpicks and comments it’s tempting to offer. But I’ll avoid those and focus on what I think is my most substantial concern. Also, I'll note that I read this post spread over several evenings, so if this is a little incoherent or inaccurate at times, I apologise!

It seems like you’re pursuing two separate goals in this research:

  1. Identifying/assessing factors influencing the success of ally-based social movements (i.e. social movements whose intended beneficiaries are not the same as the advocates) in order to draw strategic implications for advocacy for future generations, which is an ally-based social movement,
  2. Identifying/assessing factors that affect the interests of future generations. 

Ideally, I don’t think you would mix these, e.g. in the inclusion criteria (i.e. the selection of the case studies), e.g. in creating a single model that blurs the two goals.

In line with goal (1), you have included several ally-based social movements: anti-slavery (mostly free people advocating for / deciding on the fate of slaves) and environmentalism (present-day humans advocating for / deciding on the fate of the environment). However, you also include movements that are not ally-based — oppressed peoples seeking to empower themselves through democratisation and people advocating for regulations on genetic engineering in order to protect themselves and human society more broadly. Since no justification was provided for the inclusion of democratisation, I was initially confused by this choice, but some clarity was offered by the justification for the inclusion of genetic engineering:

The governance of genetic engineering has reduced a significant threat to future generations: certain engineered pathogens could bring about human extinction, keeping future generations from existing.

Hence, I infer that goal (2) influenced the case study selection. This is supported by the justification for the inclusion of the environmentalism movement, which seems to mix (1) and (2):

environmental advocates have achieved significant successes for future generations, as well as other entities that have no direct political power: ecosystems.

I think this critique of the methodology is quite important, because it directly bears on one of the main arguments you advance in this research: "inclusive values" were not that important in driving change, which suggests that further MCE is not as likely as a simple extrapolation from the trend towards expanded moral circles in the past few centuries might imply.

Including a focus on movements that have only accidentally benefited future generations and then noting that the changes occurred mainly because they benefited powerful groups (present humans) rather than because people intended to help future generations seems tautological. (I think this might be a pretty uncharitable interpretation of your intentions; apologies if so, but hopefully it helps to make the point.) Hence, I think it's more valuable to evaluate movements by  their own goals, or at least by their effects on their intended beneficiaries (e.g. the environment rather than future generations for the environmentalism movement, e.g. present generations for genetic engineering).

By comparison, in selecting Sentience Institute’s case studies, we have focused on ally-based movements (with a secondary important consideration being chronological proximity). Hence, our case studies have been: Antislavery, anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and prisoners’ rights (though the latter turned out to be less “ally-based” than I was expecting). I’ve also got one on the Fair Trade movement underway. These were chosen principally for comparability with the farmed animal movement but are similarly if not equally applicable to advocacy for future generations.

Although I see this concern as weakening the case that you put forward, I do think weak evidence is useful, and I’ve still updated my views a little away from the tractability of changing the course of history and likelihood of further MCE.

Thanks again for this very cool research!

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T10:57:59.157Z · EA · GW
Have you identified the key difference(s) between your calculation and John's calculation that leads to the different result? It might be helpful to call this out

No, I haven't gone through and done that. Actually, John's calculations still come out in favour of buying from a financial perspective, albeit by a much smaller margin than in my calculations; I think he was put off for other reasons.

Pretty minor point, but the 3.5% discount rate should decline over time and it doesn't seem you've factored this in (it shouldn't really change much though as you're not looking over a very long time scale)

I'm probably doing the maths completely wrong on that bit... suggestions for correct formula to use are welcome. Commenting on the sheet is currently on if you want to comment on directly.

It could actually be higher or lower depending on an individual's preferred cause area/underlying ethical views. The general point that you're making that buying a house only provides access to money when older, and therefore that this becomes subject to discounting is a very useful one though

Yeah I haven't got my head very thoroughly round the various arguments on this, so thanks for sharing. My impression was also that using 3.5% didn't make much sense and should probably either go lower than that (for "patient" reasons) or much higher (if you think opportunities for cost-effective giving will diminish rapidly for various reasons.


Some relevant context I probably should have added to the post was that I did this calculation because I was very surprised at John's overall conclusion and wanted to check it, and, despite this not being very thorough or anywhere near my research "expertise", I thought other people might benefit from these rough and ready efforts, so decided to share.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T10:50:13.721Z · EA · GW

No, I didn't list the "other" pros and cons, this is just the financial perspective.

I don't have a good sense of how difficult it is to move houses. But my guess is that a decision to move for work or not wouldn't be that dependent on selling a house. E.g. you either want to stay, come what may, because of reasons like friends, family, partners etc, or you're personally happy to move, and wouldn't mind selling then renting?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Jamie_Harris's Shortform · 2020-10-17T07:00:09.235Z · EA · GW

Buying a house will probably save you lots of money, which you can later donate, but it might not make much difference (and may work out as negative) in terms of your ability to do good.

It seems like common sense that buying a house saves you from wasting money on rent and works out better, financially, in the long term. But earlier this year, John Halstead wrote a blogpost providing a bunch of reasons not to buy a house.

I had another look at John's calculations. I kept the basic calculations the same, but added a few considerations and re-checked the appropriate numbers for London (where I live). I also added various different tabs of the spreadsheet to compare things like variations in interest rates, property prices, timeframes for buying and selling, and other costs. In every scenario, unless there's a housing crash shortly after you buy, it looks like buying comes out as far, far better, from a financial perspective. In the best guess, realistic scenario, buying came out as about £550,000 better after 10 years. John has also had another look at his calculations since his post and seems more optimistic about buying. I haven't looked at figures and costs for countries other than the UK, but the differences are so large that I'd quite surprised if investing and renting came out as more favourable in (m)any countries.

This doesn't address the concerns about buying in John's blog post (e.g. that you will only be able access the money when you're older). But if you're interested in patient philanthropy, and are happy to donate more accumulated wealth in several decades' time (when you downsize or die) rather than having a strong preference for donating less sooner, then buying a house looks better. (For discussion, see "Giving now vs giving later" and "How becoming a ‘patient philanthropist’ could allow you to do far more good")

Despite the large raw difference between buying vs. renting and investing, these differences might mean surprisingly little, in terms of ability to do good in the world, if you apply a discount to the value of future money to calculate its net present value. If you apply a high discount rate, then the gains are practically zero. Indeed, some EA orgs express a strong preference for money sooner rather than later. I haven't worked this bit out properly, but if you take these numbers literally (and reject patient philanthropy) it might be better to just donate sooner rather than to save up for a deposit.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Getting money out of politics and into charity · 2020-10-10T11:21:50.106Z · EA · GW

You (the OP) could also think of collaborating with an existing platform as a lower cost test of the idea. If it works well in that situation and you later realise that the lack of a tailored platform is a barrier to scaling up, you could seek to create one at that point.

Another thought on the lower cost test idea: try to get buy-in from Republicans before spending as much time on outreach to Democrats. If you're failing to get interest from Republicans, the idea might not work.

(Also, like Sanjay, I really like the idea in principle.)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research · 2020-10-07T20:58:14.398Z · EA · GW

Thanks very much! The seemingly low importance of salary to recruitment and retention was one of my main updates from tbis project. I don't have a lot to add beyond that and what's in the post (If you're interested, I'd encourage reading the summaries of the relevant studies on the spreadsheet and maybe reading the full studies.)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on What actually is the argument for effective altruism? · 2020-09-27T20:47:09.283Z · EA · GW

"The greater the degree of spread, the more you’re giving up by not searching." This makes sense. But I don't think you have to agree with the "big" part of premise 1 to support and engage with the project of effective altruism, e.g. you could think that there are small differences but those differences are worth pursuing anyway. The "big" part seems like a common claim within effective altruism but not necessarily a core component?

(You didn't claim explicitly in the post above that you have to agree with the "big" part but I think it's implied? I also haven't listened to the episode yet.)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year? · 2020-09-19T20:36:26.641Z · EA · GW

Exactly the same for me, minus the bit about people moving away.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Asking for advice · 2020-09-05T13:40:22.718Z · EA · GW

+1 for writing a concise document outlining your needs. +1 for personally liking knowing someone is taking notes on what you're saying.

I find it's helpful to be especially clear about the stage of completion that something is. E.g. I've given detailed feedback on draft documents beforehand, only to realise by the end that the document was intended more as an incomplete brainstorm than a finished product. And I've failed to make that clear to others before and received unnecessarily specific feedback.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Cause/charity selection tradeoffs · 2020-08-28T22:54:19.628Z · EA · GW

Here is a bunch of tradeoffs that affect animal advocacy. This post provides others in EA more widely. (Apologies, this is kind of the opposite to what you asked for, but I thought it was worth leaving them here anyway just in case it was helpful.)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-17T07:49:33.409Z · EA · GW
It also seems that the report somewhat under-emphasizes the idea of lobbying equilibria where marginal increases by one side would be quickly countered, which would make it look like additional money could be effective when in effect it is not.

Thanks for sharing this. I'd be interested if you're aware of empirical evidence of this effect/reaction happening? Or is this largely a theoretical concern?

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-17T07:44:36.399Z · EA · GW
Groups that spend more relative to their opposition on a given policy are likelier to win... Although Baumgartner et al conduct an observational study, the size of their (to me, convincingly representative) sample to me suggests that if such an effect exists, it should be observable as a correlation in their analysis. The association they observe is pretty small.

I just skimmed this thread, so apologies if I missed a comment on this. But Baumgartner et al. don't argue that money doesn't matter. They believe that the reason there's little evidence in their study that money affects outcomes is because “the status quo already reflects the distribution of power in previous rounds of the policy process." I.e. they don't see large changes during their 4 year study period, because the situation at the start of their study period tended to favour the resource-rich groups.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on EA Forum feature suggestion thread · 2020-08-16T11:42:35.840Z · EA · GW

I like listening to articles on "Voice aloud reader." I think that the easiest way to use this is to open a PDF file. So some method of converting forum posts into PDF's might be useful, even if it stripped out images, graphs etc.

(Pretty low priority, feel free to ignore if not common. It's also possible I just haven't played around with Voice Aloud Reader and similar software enough)

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Animal Welfare Fund Grants – August 2020 · 2020-08-16T11:33:54.670Z · EA · GW

Good to see this reasoning! I had assumed that another reason was essentially that it enables lower-cost tests of the promise of particular ideas? I.e. EA Funds can support a number of small organisations to scale up slightly; if it goes well, then they might be candidates for funding from Open Philanthropy or other sources of larger grants.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on The extreme cost-effectiveness of cell-based meat R&D · 2020-08-16T10:53:30.626Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this! I had considered attempting some sort of back of the envelope calculation like this myself so I'm glad to see your effort.

I also found it interesting to see some of your guesses/assumptions, like "Suppose without cell-based meat, humans will use farm animals for another 10.000 years at 10^11 animals per year." I think that, if a more rigorous cost-effectiveness analysis was attempted, it would be good to survey experts on their intuitions on some big questions like that.


This sort of modelling is definitely not my forte, so apologies if I'm misunderstanding. Am I right in saying that the model currently assumes *no* diminishing returns? I.e. that the 100 millionth dollar donating to cultivated meat R&D is equal to the 1st dollar? I think that the value of additional contributions on the margin is the important (and difficult) thing to estimate.

Animal Charity Evaluators estimates a cost-effectiveness of around 10 farm animals spared per euro donated to its top recommended charities. This is an order 10 lower than cell-based meat R&D.

I'm not sure that ACE's CEAs should really be compared to your CEA. The methodologies are very different. E.g. ACE's CEAs exclude any uncertain, medium-term effects, whereas your CEA is essentially entirely based on those sorts of medium-term effects (I say medium-term to distinguish effects on farmed animals in the next few centuries from effects on other future sentient beings such as artificial sentience).


A couple of lower importance comments, for the main thrust of your post:

Based only on the responses of non-vegans who answered that they reduced their animal product consumption, it requires roughly 1000 leaflets for one equivalent conversion to veganism.

ACE's meta-analysis provides less reason for optimism than the study you refer to.

We can also estimate the overall cost-effectiveness of animal advocacy campaigns. The US population has an order of magnitude 10^8 people. Suppose meat consumption is decreased by 10% due to people becoming reducetarians, vegetarians or vegans. Suppose 10% of this reduction is due to animal advocacy campaigning... This means cell-based meat R&D is about 1000 times more effective than average animal advocacy.

I think that this misses most of the impact of most animal advocacy campaigning. I don't see the main effect of animal advocacy campaigning as being to cause diet change in the short-term. Apart from the indirect positive effects for future sentient beings such as artificial sentience (which could apply similarly to cultured meat R&D success and animal advocacy success), I see the main effects as being:

  • Attitude change (among decision-makers and/or the public), which makes transformative change in laws and regulations more likely. I.e. this brings the abolition of factory farming closer, and increases the likelihood that it will ever be abolished.
  • Wider momentum for further animal advocacy campaigning and moral circle expansion.
  • In the short term, there may also be a reduction of animal suffering from welfare reforms, which your model and comparison hasn't accounted for, even though most animal welfare organisations seem to see this as the main positive outcome.
Comment by Jamie_Harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-16T07:20:41.224Z · EA · GW

Yes to the first part! (I was also thinking something like: If you had read some of the other available evidence but not the historical case studies and had 70/30% credence, then reading the historical case studies might update your views to 30/70%. But that's a bit messier.)

And got it with the second; I think we mostly agree there.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Informational Lobbying: Theory and Effectiveness · 2020-08-09T17:10:49.818Z · EA · GW

Thank you for this review! Ever since I did a literature review of mostly political science literature on "Is the US Supreme Court a Driver of Social Change or Driven by it?" I've been interested in comparable reviews of legislative tactics.

I especially appreciate the summary of the empirical research. Some of those findings seem really impressive to me and that has increased my optimism about lobbying. I look forward to reading through your spreadsheet with summaries of other papers.

(80%) Well-resourced interest groups are no more or less likely to achieve policy success, in general, than their less well-resourced opponents.

I was very surprised by this claim... it was part of what spurred me to read the piece immediately rather than save it to my reading list. But I don't recall seeing evidence for the claim in the post. What has encouraged this high confidence in this claim (which seems very counterintuitive to me)? Apologies if I just missed it.

Yet in some cases there simply is no organized opposition, and a relatively small investment can meaningfully alter wording, put a policy on the agenda, or cause a bill to become law.

The suggestion for the spending strategy in the "Effective lobbying" section seems to rest on this claim. But again, I don't recall seeing much empirical support in the review; does this rest on the theoretical discussions that you summarise? Actually, Baumgartner et al. provide some contrary evidence to this hypothesis:

"The table [table 3.1, page 58] shows that a surprisingly large number of issues (seventeen cases) consist of a single side attempting to achieve a goal to which no one objects or in response to which no one bothers to mobilize. Ironically, the lack of countermobilization is a good predictor of failure. Many of these reflect efforts to put an issue on the agenda, but these efforts are either too early in the process for anyone yet to have reacted or they are clearly not moving so others have not gotten involved in the issue."

They discuss this a little more on the following pages. They note that 17 cases had only one side -- 15 of these were 1 opposing the status quo, none defending it. Unfortunately, from a quick look back, I can't see the proportion of these 15 cases that did result in a policy change.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-08T19:31:12.073Z · EA · GW
However, at least to my understanding of the current methods, they cannot provide causal identification, thus vastly limiting the magnitude of that update. (In my mind, to probably <10%.)

Interesting. Let's imagine a specific question that we might be interested in, e.g. do incremental improvements (e.g. on welfare of animals or prisoners) encourage momentum for further change or complacency? ~10% sounds about right to me as an upper limit on an update from a single case study. But a case study will provide information on far more questions of interest than this single question. And as we look at several case studies and start to compare between them, then I can imagine an update of more like ~40% from historical social movement evidence in general on any single question of interest.

One intuition pump might be that the health behavior literature undoubtedly contains scores of cross-sectional studies, which themselves could be construed as each containing hundreds of case studies

That may be so, but they would be providing evidence on very different types of cause and effect relationships. E.g. the effects of motivational interviews on dietary behaviour, vs the effects of incremental improvements (e.g. on welfare of animals or prisoners) on a movement's momentum for further change. When I'm thinking about the value of social movement case studies compared to RCTs, I'm also thinking about their ability to provide evidence on the questions that I think are most important.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Social Movement Lessons from the US Prisoners' Rights Movement · 2020-08-05T20:37:13.400Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the comments! It's great to see what was interesting / useful / confusing etc for people, and generally quite hard to get detailed feedback, so I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.


I would not say that either of these are more "fundamental" than the other.

Sure. This might just be a semantics/phrasing thing, or it might reflect a whole number of different assumptions we have.

I think you are saying that activists focused on the welfare of prisoners over the absolute number of prisoners, and that perhaps this was a mistake.

Yes! Another caveat is that it's very unclear whether focusing more on the "more fundamental political and systemic issues" would actually have been a more cost-effective way to help prisoners. (It could have just been intractable to affect those changes, for example)

But it sounds like maybe you don't think the evidence there is strong?

Correct!

I would be curious if you could give some kind of statement about how confident you are that this "legitimizing" consequence happened and/or how likely it is to happen in farmed animal welfare.

I could give some kind of statement on a number of things:

  • How confident I am that particular litigation in the prisoners' rights movement led to particular specific outcomes, e.g. that litigation in Costello v. Wainwright "encouraged prison construction, rather than improvement in the conditions of existing prisons."
  • How confident I am that, overall, the litigation in the prisoners' rights movement had some kind of entrenchment effect (regardless of whether it also had various positive effects)
  • How confident I am that, overall, the litigation in the prisoners' rights movement was positive or negative for advancing their goals, and some kind of ballpark guess at its net effects.
  • Comparable statements of confidence about social movements more broadly.
  • Comparable statements of confidence about the farmed animal movement specifically.

Because doing any or all of these things for any or all of the "strategic implications" i each case study could be very time consuming, I don't do it.

I'm hoping that at some point, I'll be able to do a bit more of a roundup / analysis post, where I look at some of the key themes and leanings from across several of our case studies. There might be more scope for making these sorts of claims or estimates in a post like that, though it still might not be worth the time. I'd be interested in your thoughts on that!

How receptive the legal system is to these challenges is clearly a crucial consideration for how effective they are, so I would be interested in thoughts/resources about the current legal climate.

I'm afraid I can't really help here. I did write "Is the US Supreme Court a Driver of Social Change or Driven by it? A Literature Review" and have interviewed Kevin Schneider of the Nonhuman Rights Project, but neither of these resources answer this very directly.

Comment by Jamie_Harris on Health Behavior Interventions Literature Review · 2020-08-05T20:17:16.611Z · EA · GW

Thanks Jacob! It's great to see what was interesting / useful / confusing etc for people, and generally quite hard to get detailed feedback, so I appreciate you taking the time to read and reply.

I'm sure we could debate these topics at length; that's a tempting prospect, but I'll just reply to some specific parts here.

I don't see reason to give up on trying to conduct high-quality studies

I still think RCTs have their uses. It's just that they can be limited in various ways and that other research methods have some advantages over them, as discussed in the "EAA RCTs v intuition/speculation/anecdotes v case studies v external findings" section you refer to.

To summarise my view update from this review in other terms:

Lots of money has gone into health behaviour research. I expected the health behaviour literature to come to some fairly strong conclusions about the value of some intervention types over others. This didn't seem to be the case, given various limitations and inconsistencies in the research. Hence, I'm less optimistic about the usefulness of conducting comparable research now, relative to other types of research that we could conduct.

It seems like social movement case studies are then limited generally, like most observational research, to understanding correlations and motivating causal theories about those correlations, rather than measuring causation itself.

I don't agree with this. I think that you can look for evidence that X caused Y in a particular case, rather than just that X preceded Y. (Of course, often the evidence is very weak or nonexistent that X caused Y.) I discuss that in more depth here. You then have the separate problems of How much weight should we place on strategic knowledge from individual historical cases? and/or How likely is it that correlations will replicate across movements? It's hard to describe answers to those questions in precise and unambiguous terms, but I'd answer them with something like "not a lot" and "quite likely," respectively.

have you considered the merits of regression discontinuity designs, instrumental variables estimation, propensity score matching and prospective cohort studies, for example

I have never heard of these things, let alone considered their merits! I don't think that invalidates the view update I describe above, though if I look into these things more, it might restore my confidence?