Effective Altruism for Animals: Consideration for different value systems 2017-10-24T09:51:27.717Z
Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? 2017-08-31T13:50:30.073Z


Comment by KevinWatkinson on Hit Based Giving for Global Development · 2019-02-09T09:22:33.610Z · EA · GW

Then it ought to be the case that they are addressed somewhere by the relevant organisations.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Hit Based Giving for Global Development · 2019-02-07T15:07:58.336Z · EA · GW

ACE does largely work in relation to institutional change compared to individual change. But not really systems change, at least not in a more radical sense. Most of the work is about mainstreaming change through a dominant capitalist system, which is something that foundations seem to be pretty comfortable with. So it doesn't challenge the roots of the issues but seems to cut away at the branches in a fairly single issue type way. The organisations that effective altruists tend to support are generalist, particularly engaged in welfare and "veg" approaches, not those engaged with educating around speciesism or taking broad based justice approaches. Perhaps EA Funds will do more work around these issues and maybe ACE is going to as well, though i feel there is a general sense that direct work around justice issues is considered too demanding, which is why incrementalism from within systems is preferred. However, almost inevitably effective animal advocacy has reflected some aspects of these harmful systems.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments? · 2019-02-02T10:50:06.541Z · EA · GW

Shaming tactics are used, but the issue i'm raising here is how they impact relations between the campaigning organisations and the businesses themselves. If it is the case that relations are impacted negatively through the "stick" then this is going to create issues going forward if organisations want to be part of business decision making or advisory groups.

In relation to McDonald's the line from mainstream organisations has been to celebrate their commitments and their one or two veg offerings, until it seems the moment they go back on a pledge (though we don't really know how this compares to what else they are planning to do). It seems a lesser matter compared to the various reasons people boycotted McDonald's over McLibel. So I would think boycotting and the THL style of McCruelty campaigning ought to be a last resort because it appears to demonise the business over this one issue, but it seems to me that isn't a very compelling issue on its own. I guess we'll see what changes, and i'm sure there are many different tactics being used, but likely this will attract the most attention and it seems this would broadly be supported by the Open Wing Alliance. So it isn't as if business would consider it just the approach of one organisation.

I also think it would be nice if there is broader consultation with the animal movement before some decisions are made. It is much easier to get people on board if different perspectives are openly included in decision making, and even if there was a unilateralist decision made on this (as wouldn't be unusual) at least different perspectives would have been heard.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Will companies meet their animal welfare commitments? · 2019-02-01T14:35:26.504Z · EA · GW

Traditionally the approach taken by welfare seems to have been corporate engagement and building positive relations around "win wins", so a commitment in exchange for good publicity upfront.  So i'm not really sure about a shift toward “shaming” strategies as an enforcement approach, i'm uncertain that enough power exists within the welfare movement to use this particular tactic, whilst going forward it seems uncertain how it would impact relations with large businesses.  If for instance The Humane League pursue a shaming campaign against McDonald’s now, then how is that going to impact their work with that business in the future?  Presumably there will be other welfare campaigns to consider that McDonald’s will need to sign up to?  

Whilst it is also worth noting that McDonald’s and other large fast food enterprises are under pressure from an environmental perspective, and it seems that slow growing chickens are likely to exacerbate that particular issue, so i'm not sure whether competing demands might also be behind some of the reluctance here.  It seems to me the Chicken Sustainability Advisory Council is partly constructed to consider these issues, and it is worth noting that Temple Grandin is part of that set up.

I would also be concerned about how some of the welfare commitments are being marketed, for instance the Better Chicken Commitment talks about choosing "happy chickens" which seems disingenuous. This is one of the key disagreements that rights advocates have with welfare approaches, in that they fail to represent what actually happens in the process, relating only to "welfare" designated "improvements" rather than describing the reality of animal farming.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Farmed Animal Funders Custom Shallow Review: On Selecting Funding Strategies In General And On Focusing Funding On Open-Access Scientific Research For Plant-Based Alternatives · 2019-01-25T12:34:49.718Z · EA · GW

I think the diversifying approach has been somewhat underexplored, and up to now many of the recommendations have involved filling capacity for welfarism / general advocacy / some for product promotion.  This has caused some issues for diversity because the preferred approach has given weight to certain aligned organisations in the movement space.  This has sometimes been justified as “effectiveness” but I think in reality it has disproportionately pressed smaller organisations and allowed some larger groups and their associated ideologies to dominate.  This wouldn’t be important in terms of considering the differences between a cat rescue and farmed animal advocacy, which really don’t interact in any meaningful way, but in terms of the farmed animal movement space, particularly in terms of different worldviews or moral theories that are often overlooked then it is certainly important.

I would welcome more consideration of this area, and believe that safeguarding diversity has significant value in terms of maintaining a healthy movement / maintaining a sense of competition rather than co-operation among a small group of in-group leaders.  For one thing I believe it would be useful for ACE to split its recommendations into different areas (maybe around general / wild / welfare / rights / vegan / veg / social justice / product), and that the Open Philanthropy Project ought to diversify its approach from being centred around conventional welfarism / HSUS.  I think even with EA Funds there are issues with taking a default approach too closely aligned to “pragmatic” ideology over a more diversifying approach.  In some ways this is the type of consideration that ought to have taken place at the foundation of EAA, but I'm not aware of whether those discussions took place or how they played out, instead i get the impression it was all a bit rushed.  They are however long overdue, but I think partly because people think they are time consuming / would potentially disrupt present donation strategies / disrupt the political state of EAA they are neglected.  

Comment by KevinWatkinson on An integrated model to evaluate the impact of animal products · 2019-01-09T15:55:13.055Z · EA · GW

“The EA community should not push veganism except insofar as a milk exception is considered weird and difficult to communicate.”  

This could be a utilitarian position within effective altruism but it wouldn’t reflect a rights position.  Overall i don't think EA could take a position of not pushing veganism.  Not that it pushes veganism anyway, and never has done, instead the preference has been for the “rational pragmatism” of Shapiro, Friedrich and Ball. 

If veganism were to be promoted then it would challenge the conventional position of welfarism favoured by most leading utilitarian EAs.  Whilst we could point to some veg promotion this tends to exist in opposition to “extreme” rights views of non-exploitation and is viewed as compatible with welfarism, indeed one way to ensure that welfare standards aren’t violated is to have less domesticated animals to violate. 

I think even in terms of where we might argue that dairy is necessary for nutrition, then rights advocates would look to promote alternatives and address inequalities in terms of accessibility to plant based nutrition.  Also worth noting that Open Philanthropy funded charities RSPCA and CIWF have been promoting rose veal as a way to discourage farmers from killing calves at birth or live exporting them. 

Overall though cross-price elasticity would seem interesting for rights advocates in terms of how it might affect a shift to plant based products or alternatively toward animal products (if people are of the mind they are merely consuming products).  Though as a general matter rights advocates are addressing cultural speciesism rather than nudging consumer behaviour within systems of exploitation.     

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Animal Welfare Fund AMA · 2018-12-20T10:09:58.563Z · EA · GW

Given the EA animal welfare fund appears oriented around two organisations (Effective Giving also utilises research from Open Philanthropy and ACE to find exceptional opportunities to do good), what efforts are being made to include different value systems and perspectives that are found in effective altruism more generally?  And how ought those perspectives be valued?

What are the similarities and differences between the new ACE fund and the EA animal welfare fund?  

It also seems to me that some of the organisations that receive EA funds could graduate to multi-year funding from Open Philanthropy.  So i wonder what progress is being considered there?

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Non-Consequentialist Considerations For Cause-Prioritzation Part 1 · 2018-12-03T20:14:02.540Z · EA · GW

Non-consequentialist considerations aren't really part of animal welfare. They aren't taken seriously as part of the Animal Welfare Program at the Open Philanthropy Project and neither are they factored into the work that ACE does in relation to "top" or "standout" charities. It's difficult to wonder about how rights advocates would think about prioritisation when they wouldn't agree with how effective altruism has constructed "effective animal advocacy". To consider how non-consequentialists would think about different causes we would first need to think about how they would conceptualise those areas and what they would do. However, to do so would mean undertaking a review of the foundational work of "effective animal advocacy" in order to reflect on those considerations. Up to now there has been little institutional appetite to prioritise consideration of rights views, perhaps because they are considered too difficult and controversial to deal with, and it would certainly challenge the conventional EAA epistemology.

The greater the priority EA has placed on animal welfare as it stands, the more marginalised rights views have become, so it would be somewhat absurd for rights advocates to argue for prioritisation of animal welfare, indeed if those views are going to be further marginalised by the comparative weight of Open Philanthropy resources (for instance) then deprioritisation ought to be emphasised. Though given how little value rights views have in EAA, it would be a largely meaningless act.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on 2018 ACE Recommendations · 2018-11-28T09:22:20.511Z · EA · GW

In terms of cost effectiveness it's relevant to consider that ProVeg set up a UK operation despite the organisational space appearing relatively saturated in the UK. It's an interesting situation because as far as i can tell The Vegan Society has largely been directed on ProVeg grounds since co-founder of ProVeg International Jasmijn de Boo was CEO of The Vegan Society (2011-2016), it seems to me it has largely continued along those lines. I'm also not sure what level of consultation took place in relation to VeggieWorld London, the veg festival space isn't operated by the larger conventional organisations, so i would wonder what sort of consultation took place there or whether it was something more speculative.

Separate to that there remain issues as to why ProVeg (at least Tobias Leenaert, Melanie Joy and Sebastian Joy) set up the ideological ProVeg organisation Centre for Effective Vegan Advocacy (CEVA) under Beyond Carnism rather than ProVeg or VEBU (as it was formerly known). This organisation is supported by several of the other top and standout charities and seeks to influence the animal movement more broadly. There is no assessment of the impact of this organisation on EAA generally or the animal movement.

I would also disagree that ProVeg is medium to long term. It's ideologically short term around promoting "veg" and focussing on "mainstreamness". It doesn't reflect or promote a broader and inclusive perspective in relation to speciesism or animal rights. ProVeg seems to believe it is too soon to talk about such issues, so focusses on short term gains (in a de-politicised way), whilst stressing the medium to long term approaches more commonly found in the grassroots animal rights movement. But there has been no consultation here.

I have more to say about how ProVeg functions within the broader animal movement, but these types of issue aren't given much weight in decision making terms. Something which in my view functions to undermine the recommendation process. Overall i remain sceptical of the value of a "top" and "standout" charity system and would favour compartmentalising recommendations in relation to the approach of organisations, and then making meaningful comparisons between those organisations, whilst weighting the different compartments. There isn't really any discussion about the utility of different systems of recommendation as far as i can tell. Presumably this happened originally with 80,000 hours, but i'm not sure if it has been reviewed.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-24T20:05:30.775Z · EA · GW

The Vegan Society has its Growing Green campaign which springs to mind. There is also an article here about how Oatly helped a farmer shift more of his oat crop from animal feed to Oatly, so that is quite interesting from a business perspective and the article also discusses some of the tensions between Oatly and animal farmers. Some of these issues were also covered in the Rotten series that netflix produced, one of the episodes looked at chicken farming in the USA and how the industry functions, so that may be interesting if you haven't seen it. But i agree this type of approach doesn't receive as much attention as it could.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism Making Waves · 2018-11-22T22:01:51.835Z · EA · GW

In relation to short / medium term, i am saying that short term gains are more geared toward welfarism and *veg* approaches rather than projects such as rights / anti-speciesism in terms of anti-exploitation. So whilst we could view conventional EAA interventions as part of a bigger picture, we're not exploring these issues as part of how they fit together in a broader context, particularly in terms of different moral theories or how it is that different perspectives aim to reduce suffering. In the sense of what is funded / emphasised through effective altruism then there are conflicting overarching ideas which in my view need to be considered and resolved in order to be inclusive / representative.

For most organisations which already fit with "pragmatism" this is a bit of a non-issue. However, for those which are more politicised they can be marginalised in relation to how funding is allocated and how powerful alliances are constructed around ideology. This i would argue has happened with most of the large considered to be EA aligned organisations. This to me overlooks how narrow the framework for intervention actually is. To illustrate this point we can look at where problems have arisen with organisations ACE has considered evaluating such as A Well Fed World.

"Declined to be reviewed/published for the following reason(s):

  • They disagree with Animal Charity Evaluators’ evaluation criteria, methodology, and/or philosophy.
  • They do not support Animal Charity Evaluators’ decision to evaluate charities relative to one another."

Despite this outcome they don't appear a good fit for conventional EAA because the work they do is difficult to measure and the groups they support as part of their work so small it is difficult to measure their impact going forward (positive or negative). However, that potential impact is diminished (in terms of including different perspectives) further by favouring resourcing conventionally aligned organisations over those not part of the EAA family (which isn't to say they don't tacitly accept EA principles) which then grow at a much faster rate potentially crowding out other ideas and organisations. For those resourced and largely ideologically aligned i'm thinking of Animal Equality, The Humane League, Good Food Institute, Mercy for Animals, ProVeg, Reducetarian Foundation, Albert Schweitzer Foundation, Open Cages, Compassion In World Farming.

What happens here is that EAs tend to point toward funding directed toward cat / dog rescues over farmed animal protection, and it is correct to note how egregiously disproportionate that continues to be. However, within the somewhat delicate and nascent space of farmed animal protection, funding a small number of ideologically aligned groups has been disruptive in the movement as a whole (for instance affordability in terms of conferences, sponsorship, outreach and so on), and this impact hasn't been factored in (though it remains to be seen whether the new ACE Effective Animal Advocacy project will address some of these issues, though perhaps only implicitly). A further issue would arise that if it doesn't happen and if EA Funds doesn't shift beyond Lewis' general considerations then the new panel for EA Funds will present a missed opportunity. Lewis might be concerned about whether people would be a good fit and could agree on certain issues, but it seems unfortunate that conclusion was drawn before an attempt made to really challenge the foundation of EAA, for instance in relation to normative uncertainty. However, here it depends on what time Lewis would have to oversee that, and i suspect not enough to make it a viable possibility which i think illustrates the reason that underpins the new approach.

Traditionally, organisations that are more challenging to the "mainstream" have often struggled for funding (so therefore by the lights of many aren't very successful), and are often too small for Open Philanthropy to consider, or EA Funds at least up until now because of the time constraints involved in doing so (time spent per dollar donated). Indeed, it is challenging to present a case for many organisations, other than it is important to have multiple perspectives / organisations in a movement format, though, as Lewis pointed out in relation to EA Funds he also worries about discord. But this isn't a reason not to do that more challenging work, and neither are time constraints. If anything, these are fundamental considerations that ought to have been incorporated at the inception of EAA and the Open Philanthropy Animal Welfare Program, but it doesn't appear to me they ever really were. Partly because it appears EA leaned heavily on conventional organisational leaders of the larger animal organisations prior to EAA, and there isn't much evidence those leaders took those types of considerations onboard either. Particularly i'm thinking Paul Shapiro, Wayne Pacelle, Nick Cooney, Bruce Friedrich, Matt Ball who largely preferred an agenda and approach grounded in "pragmatism", something which was quite appealing to many utilitarians but not to rights advocates, who became unflatteringly associated with terms such as extremist, fundamentalist, absolutist, puritan, hardliner in the associated rhetoric. Their value further diminshed because a lack of pragmatism seemed to become equated with a lack of effectiveness.

None of this is to say that it is "wrong" to fund any of the top or standout ACE charities (for instance) from an EA perspective, but taken together it's a stretch even for effective altruism. So from my view funding is disproportionate, but this also reflects the view of the EAA trust network presumably. If we had a better idea of who exactly that was, including who the CEA was consulting then it would be easier to point out where adjustments could be made, so we might have diversity of viewpoints and representation within an EA framework, or we could at least consider how it is that it could function differently given a variety of scenarios / counterfactuals. Otherwise we have no real idea of how effective we are being collectively, we are instead looking at things from a fairly conventional EAA view, which from my perspective is loaded toward de-politicised short terms gains associated with "veg" and welfare approaches.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism Making Waves · 2018-11-22T21:51:33.486Z · EA · GW

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism Making Waves · 2018-11-17T16:07:19.024Z · EA · GW

I think with EAA waves have been made in quite a depoliticised way. We can point to how GFI has supported investment and promoted products, but we can also look to the costs of this general approach. Going "mainstream" often seems to mean that we are adopting and replicating the characteristics of that mainstream and nudging within it (or just aligning with it) rather than challenging it. This has informed much of effective altruism and how donations are made to larger organisations, particularly as issues of rights, anti-speciesism and veganism have been considered and often pushed aside. For instance, i doubt there are many rights advocates in the ACE top charities, or generally associated with effective altruism. Those perspectives are largely missing throughout EAA and neither are they sought out or particularly welcome as far as i can tell.

The emphasis for me has been a race to make short term gains whilst medium to longer term projects have been marginalised or just not considered in favour of approaches aligned to dominant ideologies around welfarism and "pragmatism". Particularly associated with Bruce Friedrich, Paul Shapiro, Nick Cooney, Matt Ball and favoured by Peter Singer.

Another concern is how effective altruism continues to break issues down between individualism (or atomisation) and corporate campaigning from organisational perspectives, something which overlooks the nature of the general animal movement. I'm pleased that plant based burgers are more readily available these days, but this is perhaps not so much due to GFI but more to do with how people have helped promote them generally.

We can find positive things to consider about effective altruism, but there is a tendency to overlook some underlying issues which are important to think about in terms of a more complex form of effectiveness, and it is rare to see these types of issues considered and discussed. Perhaps not least because EAA has become somewhat distorted by a mainstream it has attempted to engage and influence.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-11-04T11:05:55.456Z · EA · GW

Hi Amy, is there any progress in terms of presenting who is on the advisory boards? Or if people don't want to be named that would be useful information too.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Announcing new EA Funds management teams · 2018-10-29T07:50:09.364Z · EA · GW

I appreciate the clarification of where people are presently working. More information is available in the bios.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Announcing new EA Funds management teams · 2018-10-28T20:20:48.362Z · EA · GW

I would like to know a bit more about the reasoning behind bringing in people from ACE and Sentience Politics to contribute to the Animal Welfare Fund.

From my point of view ACE is already heavily represented in terms of decision making in relation to animal organisations, particularly distributing funds to organisations affiliated to the "pragmatic" ideology favoured by most utilitarians in EAA.

Bringing more people onboard to the Animal Welfare Fund is a good idea but seems to have offered an opportunity to take on a variety of perspectives to inform decision making (from people who hold them), and to be more representative in terms of theory, but instead seems to bolster a fairly narrow view associated with EAA. This is at least indicated by the track record of ACE and associated EAA organisations which have historically marginalised organisations and perspectives through not accounting or valuing them, particularly in relation to rights theory / ecofeminism.

I look forward to seeing how this develops, particularly if there is direction in terms of funding grassroots organisations and projects aligned to EA principles but working from the ground up*. Whilst i presume donations to ACE will now shift back to the Open Philanthropy Project rather than be directed through EA Funds.

*In relation to this i would like to see funders active in the animal movement space jointly allocate resources to convene a conference representing neglected views from people who hold them. With the particular aim of assessing the impact of EAA funding on the broader animal movement, and to explore possibilities and limitations.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Concerns with ACE research · 2018-09-10T11:52:05.807Z · EA · GW

Wouldn't referring to other groups likely confirm that it is the only game in town? If they were working on similar issues then there would be cross referencing and a greater degree of accountability. But it seems that hasn't happened at least in some cases and it may or may not be the case there are further issues to be examined elsewhere. In my view there are around moral theory (particularly managing more polarising issues), whilst i would disagree with Jc that meta evaluation isn't useful. Likely it would provide some useful information to consider in one sweep if other organisations aren't doing that work or people too time constrained or just willing to trust in the process. I think it would at least be worthwhile seeing whether it has value in this context and it could also give people more confidence in the process.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on How to make an impact in animal advocacy, a survey. · 2018-08-27T08:17:36.001Z · EA · GW

I wonder whether it would also be useful to take a broader movement view on these issues alongside EA professionals, because effectiveness considerations are likely to be weighted toward organisations rather than movements. For instance one concern for me is that saying animal rights in the generic way overlooks animal rights theory and immediately minimises those considerations. This for me is a survey more related to animal welfare, which is to centre use within a system of exploitation whereas rights is focussed on freedom from exploitation and justice and would relate to thinking effectively in relation to that theory.

Taking the above approach could be indicative of the strong belief that vegan outreach is a poor strategy, and i would agree with that, i believe it is a poor strategy for EA animal organisations because it is difficult to take a position against animal exploitation and then reify various forms of exploitation through welfarism or reduction through speciesism. Various attempts to neutralise vegan advocacy for pragmatic / strategic or effectiveness reasons have also had negative consequences for rights advocates, particularly through the authentic representation of those ideas.

It may at the end of the day suit EA to have a generic system for core ideas but it will also likely result in limiting diversity and creativity within EA and animal organisations more broadly. So this could be specifically addressed with animal related EA surveys. At the very least it would give researchers the opportunity to consider different viewpoints, frameworks and value systems, some of which could at times function as more insightful than more generic identifiable animal related EA.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on CEA on community building, representativeness, and the EA Summit · 2018-08-21T11:29:52.599Z · EA · GW

In terms of representation then my own opinion in relation to the animal welfare cause area is that it could relate to moral theory. At present the dominant ideology (rational pragmatism) favoured by many utilitarians has functioned as a way for people to associate with one another, and offers a fairly easy way to become part of EAA through adopting certain organisations and ideas. This is an ideology which in my view has been dismissive of rights based approaches by diminishing their value / relevance to effectiveness thinking.

To address this issue i believe rights based thinking ought to be valued and represented at various levels rather than dismissed in favour of the preferred ideology. This isn't to say anything about which organisations or approaches are "most" effective but dismissing moral theory in favour of an ideology seems to be weak at both representativeness and integrity (particularly where it hasn't been agreed upon but is more unilateral).

I tend to think that addressing issues of representation in cause areas will have better follow on results in the community at large (informed from below rather than from above). However, the problem here is that unrepresentative cause areas are more likely to be resistant to representation, because they are likely to gravitate toward that norm rather than away from it unless significant efforts are made, particularly where it has become institutionalised. Whilst it is unclear whether some EAA leaders would think that a lack of representativeness (as i am stating it) or plurality would be a bad or concerning thing anyway as it can instead be associated with increasing utility, particularly through simplifying the cause area.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-08T15:09:22.065Z · EA · GW

I think what conference attendees most want to hear about but also worth considering what potential attendees would want to hear about. Personally i would prefer more diversity within the cause area to look at various challenges to conventional EAA whilst focussing more on philosophy and demandingness. I think in this way people could become somewhat more familiar with the broader cause area rather than in my view a tendency to focus on a fairly narrow group of organisations and individuals.

Would it be possible to say who is on the advisory board?

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Problems with EA representativeness and how to solve it · 2018-08-05T14:07:23.221Z · EA · GW

Thanks for that link, it's an interesting article. In the context of theory within the animal movement Singer's pragmatism isn't particularly demanding, but a more justice oriented approach is (along the lines of Regan). In my view it would be a good thing not least for the sake of diversity of viewpoints to make more claims around demandingness rather than largely following a less demanding position. Though i do think that because people are not used to ascribing significant moral value to other animals then it follows that anything more than the societal level is therefore considered demanding, particularly in regard to considering speciesism alongside other forms of human discrimination.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on The EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds Lack Transparency and Accountability · 2018-07-27T13:27:18.822Z · EA · GW

Yeah, this was a good step but i think probably not enough, particularly in relation to having two former HSUS staff members which is useful for implementing the current programme but less so when considering or assessing the value of different areas of the animal movement.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on The EA Community and Long-Term Future Funds Lack Transparency and Accountability · 2018-07-23T14:04:23.822Z · EA · GW

I would agree, there's more scope beyond how the Open Philanthropy Welfare Fund presently operates so EA Funds has more potential utility there, but my own view is that the full range of possibilites aren't presently explored / considered because of time constraints alongside the low value of some disbursements alongside potentially having to spend more time justifying fairly unconventional grants.

In some ways i think it is the unconventional / marginal organisations which need more consideration as bringing potential value to the table over what is generally considered. Particularly in the way that a narrow funding focus could develop associations with particular organisations / ideas and so there could be issues of gravitating toward type.

I'm not sure what the solution is, perhaps another project worker at the Open Philanthropy Welfare Fund, maybe a small set of volunteers could be managed / empowered to work on building cases. It's difficult to know, but i do sympathise with the time constraints.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Advertising and Animal Charity Evaluators · 2018-06-14T11:41:53.955Z · EA · GW

I think it depends somewhat on the concept of giving effectively. Whilst i think it can be argued that people could give more effectively by shifting their giving from animal shelters to farmed animal advocacy, it depends somewhat on precision. For people who are already donating to animal organisations which aren't shelters then it isn't necessarily better to give to "effective" organisations as put forward by ACE because there aren't sufficient comparisons that can be made between organisations they are already supporting, and there is also the issue of further marginalising organisations which aren't deemed a more mainstream fit (something which seems somewhat at odds with effective altruism).

As an example, I continue to wonder why someone would necessarily believe it is better to give to GFI over an organisation doing pluralistic work in the animal movement? One is well supported by various foundations and is far from underconsidered or neglected, whilst others that work on more meta level questions of plurality and inclusivity tend to be marginalised, particularly through not reflecting a favoured "mainstream" ideology. Another issue is that ACE doesn't account for moral theory in relation to rights or utilitarianism thus largely presenting a fairly unfortunate picture in the animal movement in terms of utilitarian = effective and rights = ineffective. This isn't something which would be reflective of effective altruism. (I'm aware that NHRP is a "standout" charity and could be seen as an exception, yet their legal work is fairly separate from the more mainstream charities that work within / tend to reify speciesism in various ways).

As a general matter at least some of my time is spent on social media informing people of the reasons why they ought to be sceptical of "top charity" recommendations when they have shared them from ACE, because non-EAs sometimes have a tendency to accept them at face value because they haven't particularly looked into the issues or wondered about ACE reasoning or process. However, the same can also be said of many EAs who likely somewhat give to ACE on the basis of its EA association. I support the idea of evaluation by ACE but i'm sceptical that the claims that ACE tend to make sufficiently reflect the work that has taken place, or that there is enough transparency in terms of the underlying values and beliefs that ACE tend to represent. I continue to believe that some form of external meta-evaluation would be useful for ACE in order to thoroughly consider this type of issue, whilst donation matching and the sharing of cute animals could form a part of that.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Animal Equality showed that advocating for diet change works. But is it cost-effective? · 2018-06-07T09:31:17.194Z · EA · GW

Interesting. It would be useful to know what people did instead. So in the AE study if people are eating less pork then what are they doing instead? If people are reducing animal flesh consumption across the board in the reducetarian study then what are they consuming instead? Whilst some sort of comparison with industry promotion could be interesting. So how does the cost / impact of reduction messaging compare to increase messaging of the industry? For example.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Why EAs in particular are good people to start charities · 2018-05-31T09:34:53.893Z · EA · GW

Connections in the field seems to be quite an important foundational issue, but whilst it may be a weak area generally, i think it can be an area where insufficient time is spent considering the importance of plurality. So if a certain group of people were asked to be part of the experts in the field then it could become fairly self recommending from there on in, particularly if it were resourced / various benefits flowed from it. I tend to view this as a bit of an issue within EAA, particularly at both ACE and the Open Philanthropy Project where approaches have a tendency to not be given equal consideration, instead some are valued highly (particularly those aligned with direct utilitarianism) over others.

I think this can then lead to other issues in terms of internal evaluation. So in-group bias wouldn't be challenged because external evaluation has been devalued. Creating a bit of a problematic loop.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Hi, I'm Holden Karnofsky. AMA about jobs at Open Philanthropy · 2018-04-14T08:45:41.610Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the response, yes I was wondering about conformity in the sense of prevailing thinking within a particular cause area. Is there an expectation for talent to conform to prevailing thinking to a certain degree and would this then reinforce that idea of being talented, or could talent be more related to a set of core values or principles?

I think some cause areas seem to have fairly high expectations of conformity toward in-group / out-group identity, so if this is the case then talented people may conform or not (given the assumption that not all talented people would necessarily be in-group thinkers), but it seems to confer various advantages on those that do.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Hi, I'm Holden Karnofsky. AMA about jobs at Open Philanthropy · 2018-04-13T18:01:32.507Z · EA · GW

How does Open Philanthropy weigh conformity against talent?

Comment by KevinWatkinson on How to improve EA Funds · 2018-04-04T11:39:29.040Z · EA · GW

The March 2018 animal welfare fund update is here if you would like to add it.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on 2017 LEAN Impact Assessment: Qualitative Findings · 2018-01-07T12:37:55.677Z · EA · GW

Hi Richenda,

I guess it depends on what the thinking and doing is about. My concerns are more around how ideas have been evaluated and analysed at the highest levels, particularly in relation to EAA. For instance, I haven't found too much evidence for how the ideas adopted by many EAs have been contextualised and considered in relation to different moral theories. I can understand that many utilitarians might be satisifed and be keen on doing, but in relation to others i think the ideas need more work before doing is put into practice.

For instance i believe the assessments on the animal movement of both the Open Philanthropy Project and ACE ought to be published so we can consider how it is they view the landscape with which they are traversing. From my own observation within EAA i believe there is a tendency toward viewing things through a utilitarian lens, particularly weighted by Singer's considerations of 'effectiveness', so we need to check that we are accounting for pluralism, and are not taking a one dimensional view that doesn't afford us sufficient scope to address certain issues.

I personally believe we need to be more certain before proceeding (particularly in relation to EAA), and this will be beneficial to doers, who are as always on the front lines of having to deal with scepticism.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on 2017 LEAN Impact Assessment: Qualitative Findings · 2018-01-04T15:43:26.808Z · EA · GW

I note the mention of Peter Singer. I don't know a great deal about different areas of EA, but he features quite heavily in the EAA space (he is often considered a parent of EA as he is considered a father of the modern animal movement). Perhaps it would be worthwhile emphasising and working on areas where there is overlap between different moral theories. I tend to think this doesn't happen enough, but it could be a worthwhile area in which to allocate more resources that could help mitigate some of those issues.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism for Animals: Consideration for different value systems · 2017-10-28T17:13:57.416Z · EA · GW

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism for Animals: Consideration for different value systems · 2017-10-27T13:08:56.085Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Effective Altruism for Animals: Consideration for different value systems · 2017-10-25T11:07:17.744Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on The Effective Altruism Equality and Justice Project · 2017-10-09T11:59:59.811Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on The Turing Test · 2017-09-18T13:14:49.145Z · EA · GW

I just listened to an interesting one with Brian Tomisik here:

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-09-02T08:21:01.268Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your comment.

This is what ACE say in relation to the criterion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-09-01T12:47:19.153Z · EA · GW



You could consider other ACE top charities or standout charities.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-09-01T12:46:40.573Z · EA · GW

Hi Peter, thanks for those comments.


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-08-31T19:09:26.009Z · EA · GW

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

Maybe it would be Animal Equality. I think generally it could depend how concerned we would be about how they could have benefitted from Top Charity status. Jon Bockman wrote the following article:

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

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

The blog discussing fundraising restrictions, and how ACE will distribute funds if they exceed $1m.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-08-31T17:39:18.078Z · EA · GW

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

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

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

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Should EAs think twice before donating to GFI? · 2017-08-31T17:08:14.652Z · EA · GW

I don’t doubt it is cost effective (ACE have said it is). What I am saying is that its financial needs are likely met, for instance Lewis Bollard says about GFI in relation to EA Funds “I’m also excited about the Good Food Institute’s work in this space, but I think that big funders (including Open Phil) will fill GFI’s funding needs in the medium term.”

So I’m saying there isn’t much value in considering it as a viable donation opportunity if its needs are met. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be funded, instead I am saying what could happen when we start to look elsewhere.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Reading recommendations for the problem of consequentialist scope? · 2017-08-04T13:14:28.370Z · EA · GW

I don't have any reading recommendations on this subject, but i'm interested to learn more about the issue (i'll check out the links people have suggested below).

I generally believe that non-profits should be doing some of the work themselves when it relates to becoming a top EA recommended charity. I guess we might go further than they do, but i believe they ought to demonstrate the basis for being recipients of funding, rather than say, relying on external evaluation which can be time consuming and highly selective.

If we are comparing two charities that haven't been considered before, i would wonder about the reasons they might be neglected, and the justification for that. Some of the reasons can be quite wide ranging, including scepticism of EA, or they operate outside the general range.

I think larger groups ought to have the resources to complete fundamental work, and it ought to be part of sound process (the framework for selecting interventions for instance) smaller more promising groups could be allocated funding and support to do more of this work.

I'm presently fairly uncertain that EA supported non-profits are completing fundamental work in terms of EA values (in the animal movement anyway, of which there seems to be some scarcity of evidence) and so i think there could be reason to do more work in establishing the present. Though that isn't an argument against considering the future, or working out how to do it better, but it is difficult to consider the future if we are not sufficiently aware of the present.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on An argument for broad and inclusive "mindset-focused EA" · 2017-07-20T06:28:08.102Z · EA · GW

On the face of it, the idea does sound quite good. However, we need to place it into a broader movement context and look at how it has been evaluated to consider how effective it is likely to be, and what other impacts the approach has that aren’t immediately clear.

A central issue with EA is that it says for instance, that we need to consider scope, neglectedness and tractability, but meeting this criteria doesn’t then lead to effectiveness, or optimal outcomes, it just flags that it is an approach worth more consideration.

Consequently, we can note the ‘pragmatic’ trend in EA support for animal related groups, but this trend isn’t well understood, and neither is it contextualised. Where we are trying to be inclusive and encourage more people into EA then this is the type of thing we need to consider, so we need to consider things like ideology and organisational / movement culture when determining how groups inter-relate and what impact this has. I think for many people who are looking at different aspects of EA, they don’t have the time to do this, and expect EAAs to do this work, but there isn’t any evidence this form of evaluation has been taking place up to now. My own observation of the movement is that this is a neglected area, and will likely be quite important in terms of inclusion.

In terms of EA, the trade off would be making EA look more appealing by diminishing it in terms of elitism, specifically where a certain ‘lower’ section of EAs were to say they aren’t like the ‘higher’ ones. The corollary in the animal movement is to claim veganism is extreme, all or nothing, fundamentalist, angry, crazy, puritan, dogmatic, absolutist, hardline and so on. These are stereotypes that Matt Ball, Tobias Leenaert and Brian Kateman have played on in order to centre their pragmatic (or not vegan) approach. I think people who have paid attention to what they say are likely to recognise this (see in particular Matt Ball’s recent Vox video), it is just that rights activists are more sensitive to it because it infringes on our work.

I think it is possible to claim the work of the mainstream groups hasn’t been contextualised, or even criticised from within EA, it has largely been encouraged and supported by EAs and other mainstream animal activists because it either sounds good on the face of it, or it hasn’t caused any issues for the work they are doing, or it is simply expedient to go along with that flow. We can also look at the divisions created and perpetuated and ask whether we really want to replicate the behaviour of some EAs within the animal movement and transfer that into EA. I think the answer would be no, however, we would then still need to consider whether we ought to be validating that work in the organisations that EAs support, and I would say no to that as well.


Disrupting the animal movement:

Focus on Fish: A Call to Effective Altruists:

Utilitarian equivocation and moral consistency:

Comment by KevinWatkinson on An argument for broad and inclusive "mindset-focused EA" · 2017-07-18T08:23:48.405Z · EA · GW

This can be an issue, but i think Matt Ball has chosen not to present a strong position because he believes that is offputting, instead he undermines the strong position and presents a sub optimal one. However, he says this is in fact optimal as it reduces more harm.

If applied to EA we would undermine a position we believe might put people off, because it is too complicated / esoteric, and present a first step that will do more good.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on An argument for broad and inclusive "mindset-focused EA" · 2017-07-17T11:36:24.343Z · EA · GW

I think first we would need to ascertain whether low level (maybe foundational) EA were taking place, otherwise we could risk creating a divide within the movement around consistency. So we would need to see the evidence for where process has been applied. Perhaps there could be a scheme that could grade how much EA process has been applied, and direct us to where we could locate that information. Maybe it could also be undertaken by an external group that is neutral to EA.

I think we ought to be fairly uncertain around how much process is presently applied by EA backed organisations (particularly in EAA, i don't know so much about other areas), and be cautious about getting too far ahead when groups may have further to go in order to meet what may reasonably be considered a foundational level.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on The marketing gap and a plea for moral inclusivity · 2017-07-11T11:19:03.578Z · EA · GW

I favour the idea of inclusivity, and being upfront about the different areas that are prioritised. I think within these areas, there are certain ideas that could be held back, that people might think are fairly unusual issues of consideration. However, this does also mean that if an idea is put forward it doesn't then become a priority in itself. For example, where factory farming is put forward, not factory farming isn't necessarily the most effective way to reduce harm, instead harm can be shifted onto non-factory farming, which is another form of animal exploitation (often with a different set of harms) that would then need to be addressed. However, at that point it might fall off the EA radar, or be a reduced cause option because of a perceived decline in suffering has meant another general cause is more important.

However, the impact of animal consumption on the environment and human health are also strong reasons for prioritising the animal issue, and are even exacerbated by non-factory farming, particularly on the issue of the environment. So it might appear that reduction of animal consumption overall ought to be the priority. Then it might be more realistic to say that EA is interested in reducing harm to other animals, but this can also frame the issue in the harms that take place, and this can be notable in terms of further normalising those harms through trading one off for another, particularly when some people in the animal movement are ideologically opposed to the responsible systems.

However, I think it is ok to introduce the idea of factory farming, as long as the variety of approaches within the animal movement that address this issue are articulated later on (within EAA). Other issues such as wild animal suffering are also given time here. However, this brings up the issue of inclusivity of ideas, and i think it is fairly recognised that EAA is dominated by utilitarian thinking on the issue of animal exploitation. I think this is a cause of some concern because it tends to lead to a certain interpretation of ideas that are consequently prioritised over others, seemingly because they might fit with the idea the group has of itself, rather than because they have been thoroughly evaluated.

It seems to begin with EAA drew its expertise from a not particularly diverse form of 'mainstream' thinking that exists within the animal movement, and henceforth struggled (or uncharitably has been disinclined) to include different perspectives. This could largely be the result of traditional leaders in the animal movement having little incentive to include areas they know little about, or that would suggest their work may need to be adjusted in order to be more amenable to a more inclusive EAA. This also includes the concern that other perspectives may become increasingly favoured and their position diminished, or their favoured groups receive less funding overall.

In this sense an ingroup / outgroup situation can be created and perpetuated. So i would say the idea of being more inclusive is a good thing, but whether the idea of including is one that people want to engage in is another. In this sense it could highlight a previous (and ongoing) less than optimal approach, and this is quite a difficult situation to deal with. Both for people within EAA and for those who are interested in EAA but don't see their ideas included in conterfactual considerations, instead they might be generally ignored or dismissed because they don't fit with the view the organisation has constructed.

I think that going forward there need to be some changes in the way EAA works in order for it to grow, and for it to claim that it is indeed doing the most effective thing. As it stands there are too many ideologically similar groups whose ideas are prioritised and perpetuated and that have either resisted scrutiny, or the consequences of scrutiny. So it seems to me there is quite a challenge ahead if inclusivity is going to be the path people wish to take.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Getting to the Mainstream · 2017-07-05T10:10:50.515Z · EA · GW

Maximising impact wouldn't necessarily rely on messaging that undermines other groups in the broader animal movement. I don't think it is a good thing to take such an approach either in relation to Effective Altruism or in the broader animal movement.

Matt Ball's recent vox article stated that people love animals and hate vegans and that we need to act on this. I think this isn't a good thing, particularly where someone as respected as Matt Ball is equating vegans to hezbollah through someone as dedicated to animal exploitation as Bourdain. This of course is quite an extreme example compared to what many 'pragmatists' (for instance Tobias Leenaert) have been doing for some time. Yet it has become a dominant theme in Effective Altruism, and it isn't justified. Instead, i would argue it is actually quite harmful.

In terms of where we should be aiming, then i believe we ought not be undermining veganism on an institutional basis, as Reducetarianism and One Step put forward (so they shouldn't utilise a misrepresentation of veganism to privilege their approach). Neither would recycling anti-vegan rhetoric or irrational justifications for animal consumption reflect well on the integrity of Effective Altruism, nor is there any evidence for it being a particularly 'effective' approach, beside it being popular among people who have been conditioned to exploit animals. However, popularity need not be pursued through the replication of carnism, or the utility of the carnist system, there are other values and methods with which to make appeals.

It's also really not a question of superiority, this is something which is generally brought up to dismiss the issue. Instead it is a question of integrity, responsibility and consideration. I think these are all central values of Effective Altruism, and they need to be applied.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Getting to the Mainstream · 2017-07-03T14:09:49.266Z · EA · GW

First of all we would need to accept there are different approaches, and consider what they are before evaluating effectiveness.

The issue with Effective Altruism is that it is fairly one dimensional when it comes to animal advocacy. That is it works with the system of animal exploitation rather than counter to it, so primarily welfarism and reducetarianism. In relation to these ideas we need to view the subsequent counterfactual analysis, and yet where is it? I've asked these sorts of questions and it seems that people haven't applied some fundamental aspects of Effective Altruism to these issues. They are merely assumed.

For some time it has appeared as if EA has been working off a strictly utilitarian script, and has ignored or marginalised other ideas. Partly this has arisen because of the limited pool of expertise that EA has chosen to draw upon, and this has had a self replicating effect.

Recently i read through some of Holden Karnofsky's thoughts on Hits-based Giving and something particularly chimed towards the end of the essay.

"Respecting those we interact with and avoiding deception, coercion, and other behavior that violates common-sense ethics. In my view, arrogance is at its most damaging when it involves “ends justify the means” thinking. I believe a great deal of harm has been done by people who were so convinced of their contrarian ideas that they were willing to violate common-sense ethics for them (in the worst cases, even using violence).

As stated above, I’d rather live in a world of individuals pursuing ideas that they’re excited about, with the better ideas gaining traction as more work is done and value is demonstrated, than a world of individuals reaching consensus on which ideas to pursue. That’s some justification for a hits-based approach. But with that said, I’d also rather live in a world where individuals pursue their own ideas while adhering to a baseline of good behavior and everyday ethics than a world of individuals lying to each other, coercing each other, and actively interfering with each other to the point where coordination, communication and exchange break down.

On this front, I think our commitment to being honest in our communications is important. It reflects that we don’t think we have all the answers, and we aren’t interested in being manipulative in pursuit of our views; instead, we want others to freely decide, on the merits, whether and how they want to help us in our pursuit of our mission. We aspire to simultaneously pursue bold ideas and remember how easy it would be for us to be wrong."

I think in time we will view the present EAA approach as having commonalities with Karnofsky's concerns, and steps will be taken to broaden the EAA agenda to be more inclusive. I think it is unlikely however, that these changes will be sought or encouraged by movement leaders, and even within groups such as ACE i remain concerned about bias within leadership toward the 'mainstream' approach. Unfortunately, ACE has historically been underfunded, and has not received the support it has needed to properly account for movement issues, or to increase the range of the work it undertakes. I think this is partly a leadership issue in that aims and goals have not been reasonably set and pursued, and also an EA movement issue, where a certain complacency has set in.

Comment by KevinWatkinson on Getting to the Mainstream · 2017-07-02T22:13:54.067Z · EA · GW

I have some doubts generally about the principle of mainstreaming. It seems to me that it utilises dominant ideologies 'strategically', thus reifying them. In terms of the animal movement this is very much the case in regard to One Step for Animals, Pro-Veg and The Vegan Strategist. All these groups and organisations have adopted a mainstream 'pragmatic' approach which concurrently undermines social justice.

This is of course one approach, but i do not believe there is sufficient evidence to pursue it, or that it stands to reason. It would be far better for these mainstream groups to avoid social justice issues completely, so that would include rights and veganism (the cessation of exploitation), rather than essentially undermining them to privilege their approach.

For example, i think it is deeply unfortunate Matt Ball recently said that we need to utilise the idea that people hate vegans in order to appeal to non-vegans and 'help' animals. I would question the ethics of this, and also whether it is in fact true that 'people' hate vegans, or that forming and perpetuating this idea would be a good thing anyway. This is one example, but in my view mainstreaming sets forth a cascade against people that are trying to do good pro-intersectional social justice work, and it is i believe also true that groups involved in 'mainstreaming' have not sufficiently evaluated their approach, so it seems unworthwhile to support it, even whilst many EAs seem to do just that.