Analgesics for farm animals 2019-10-03T13:01:22.943Z
Animal-Welfare Economic Research Questions 2018-12-22T01:10:24.697Z
Outreach to Farmers 2018-11-23T05:08:36.336Z


Comment by Monica on Ask Me Anything about parenting as an Effective Altruist · 2022-09-27T15:58:28.588Z · EA · GW

N of 1 here, but FWIW this has very much not been my experience (gestating and breastfeeding aside).

Comment by Monica on Ask Me Anything about parenting as an Effective Altruist · 2022-09-27T02:02:04.471Z · EA · GW

I would love to hear any elaboration on how sleep deprivation is mostly avoidable.

Comment by Monica on Selfish Reasons to Move to DC · 2022-09-06T16:13:53.533Z · EA · GW

A counterpoint to the icy/slushy winters is that people and institutions here are EXTREMELY wimpy about winter precipitation and no one will expect you to go anywhere at the first sign of a flurry.  Schools close, telework is allowed, the garbage will not be collected. Get your cup of cocoa and curl up by a fire.

Comment by Monica on Valuing lives instrumentally leads to uncomfortable conclusions · 2022-09-06T15:32:52.500Z · EA · GW

Wouldn't health have the same problems as income? E.g. that it connects to a history (and continuing practice) of devaluing the lives of people who are not as healthy or able?

Comment by Monica on One Million Missing Children · 2022-07-12T18:53:19.055Z · EA · GW

I think there's a big difference between caring about the welfare of future people and caring about bringing future people into existence in the first place. I.e. I think this post is conflating the "totalist" view of population ethics where the morally relevant goal is maximizing the sum of all welfare (number of entities times the average welfare of entities) with the averagist view of population ethics where the morally relevant goal is maximizing average welfare for the entities that exist.

Comment by Monica on Marriage, the Giving What We Can Pledge, and the damage caused by vague public commitments · 2022-07-12T16:22:58.913Z · EA · GW

Honestly, I find the idea of making hyper specific public pledges off-putting for the reasons you mention. I don't view it as my community's responsibility to hold me accountable for anything and I don't view it as my responsibility to hold others responsible for their verbal commitments. I would very harshly judge someone for neglecting certain legal commitments like parenthood, but that is why I am grateful we have a legal system. I would not judge them differently if they did or did not make a public commitment to be a good parent. 

I  also don't take other people's marriage vows seriously because I am not privy to their private conversations and I assume that they have discussed the scope and nature of their commitment to each other in far more detail than they publicly state in their vows. Further, when their marriage falls apart, I am not privy to whether or not there was abuse or concerns for safety or any other circumstance. Even when I am close with one of more people in the relationship, I usually only get one side of the story. Similarly, I admire when people actually give large portions of their money to specific charities but put almost no stock in their public pledges or commitments. I would not even be privy to most people's financial situation or how much they continue to give,  and even if they were a good friend I would not think it appropriate to ask.

I certainly see the value of being able to make public commitments that you are held to but I just want to offer the alternative perspective that strong and credible public commitments are in tension with strong norms of respecting not only autonomy but also privacy. 

Comment by Monica on EA for dumb people? · 2022-07-12T15:27:46.853Z · EA · GW

One thing that I think is helpful is to do the best you can to separate "EA the set of ideas" from "EA the set of people." People involved with EA form something akin to a broad social group. Like any social group, they have certain norms and tendencies that are  annoying and off-putting. Being snobbish about intelligence is one of these tendencies. My advice is to take the parts of "EA the set of ideas" that work for you and ignore the parts of the community that you find annoying. Maybe for you that means ignoring certain kinds of forum posts or maybe it means not going on the forum at all. Maybe it means giving 2 percent of your income to an effective charity and not worrying that you don't give more. Maybe it means being on the lookout for a job where you could have a higher impact but targeting organizations that are not EA-branded. The bottom line is that you do not need to be involved in EA the community to take EA the set of ideas seriously. 


This is not at all to concede that you cannot do high-impact things while being engaged in the community. I am happy with the impact I have and I went to a state school with standardized test scores that were nothing to brag about. This is just to say that if you find the community annoying, you don't need it to "Do EA".

Comment by Monica on The Role of Individual Consumption Decisions in Animal Welfare and Climate are Analogous · 2022-06-10T20:44:44.645Z · EA · GW

This is an interesting post and I do think there is an underappreciated analogy, even if the effect size of each behavior is quite different.

One minor point: I very strongly encourage you not to adopt any concept of an "EA in good standing" based on how much good a person does and how effectively.

EA is a set of ideas and a movement. If we make it about a set of people, only some of who are "true EAs," it becomes at best a clique and at worst a cult. 

Comment by Monica on Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids · 2022-05-10T16:22:40.036Z · EA · GW

I think some of the ethics depends on the extent to which you believe we are at a "hinge of history". The effects of children on innovation are not just that your child specifically might invent something. It's also that younger societies tend to more innovative (culturally, politically, and technically). So if there are lots of young people at once the culture might be more dynamic, open to new ideas, and encouraging of risk taking. Ross Douthat lays out this argument in "the decadent society". Having kids now skews the demographic curve younger for a long but obviously finite time. So if you think it's more important that we have a lot of innovation this century rather than later on, I think that points in favor of having kids, but if you don't then maybe it matters less as far as innovation goes.

Of course I am not in the business of convincing people who don't want kids to have them or vice versa.

Comment by Monica on Should You Have Children Despite Climate Change? · 2022-05-03T12:38:54.870Z · EA · GW

I definitely agree about implications re: children. Scott Alexander also wrote what I think is a very sensible piece on the topic:

Comment by Monica on Project: bioengineering an all-female breed of chicken to end chick culling · 2022-05-02T19:09:25.134Z · EA · GW

The benefit is that half as many birds will be killed if some version of this technology is widely implemented because half as many will be born in the first place. Rather than the male chicks being born female, they just won't be born at all.

Comment by Monica on Should you do an economics PhD (or master's)? · 2022-04-20T15:27:31.893Z · EA · GW

Definitely agree ag econ is worth looking into. I have an ag econ PhD and have never had a time where I felt that I would have gotten an opportunity or job if only my degree was in general econ. I don't think it is looked down upon by general econ people except that it pigeon holes you into agricultural/environmental/development/natural resource issues. If you are sure that you want to work in those areas, then I don't see the down side. The caveat is that top programs in ag econ are considered worse than top schools in econ, so if you get into to Chicago/Yale/Harvard/MIT econ, that's definitely a better degree than ag econ Berkeley/Davis/Purdue/Maryland/etc. It also happens to be the case that some of the top ag econ schools have higher ranked econ programs (e.g. Berkeley econ is ranked higher than Berkeley ag econ). But Berkeley ag econ is still considered to be more prestigious than a lot of general econ programs, so I would not say that ag econ as a field is looked down on. Fwiw in my program, we took a lot of the same classes as the general econ and there was a nontrivial amount of cross-program advising.

Comment by Monica on Should you do an economics PhD (or master's)? · 2022-04-20T14:28:12.219Z · EA · GW

I have a PhD in ag econ. I came to my program with good but not exceptional math abilities. It was five incredibly grueling years of my life. I worked all the time and constantly felt stupid and inadequate in ways I have never felt before or after. I was frequently worried about failing out of my program. But then I got the PhD and it opened a lot of doors. I have what I consider a high-impact career in animal welfare doing what I love. I'm really glad I did it now that it's over with but it was no fun at the time.

This is definitely not the experience of everyone--I have friends who had a great experience in grad school. I also have friends who dropped or failed out.

I think it's very hard to predict what your experience will be like, but I think it's important to be aware of the range of common experiences.

Comment by Monica on Suggestion: Effective Animal Advocacy forum · 2022-02-01T00:14:34.079Z · EA · GW

Hey Saulius, Thanks for the thoughtful response! I definitely agree that we want to avoid making people feel pressured to engage with the forum, but I don't think that negates your initial impulse to think about what can be done to make it as accessible as possible to people who want to use it (with zero pressure towards those who don't). Personally, I enjoy using the forum. I don't know many people who are working on similar things as I am IRL and so it is nice to  meet others online. I also enjoy giving feedback to others when I feel qualified/inspired but since posts aren't really directed at anyone in particular, I never feel pressured to when I'm busy/not knowledgeable about the subject/not inspired. When I think about improving the forum, I imagine doing it for those like me who would (after the improvement) find the forum actively helpful/fun.

I did post something on the Facebook group (and tried to make clear I was only interested in how the forum might be improved and not trying to persuade anyone to use it). I didn't get a whole lot of responses but Jamie Harris, who moderates the group, said that they had considered cross-posting relevant forum posts themselves, but would prefer if authors did it themselves (I think to make sure the authors were okay with posting it). Jamie also provided a link and email address for people who specifically did not want their content cross-posted. Not sure on what future plans for that are, but Jamie would be the one to talk to about it.

Comment by Monica on The Liberation Pledge · 2022-01-30T00:17:03.056Z · EA · GW

I definitely agree that both of those differences are relevant and and I do understand why you might support one type of pledge but not the other due to these differences. But it's still the closest analogy I can think of for how non-vegans might feel in this situation, so I'm still curious about how you personally would react if someone you barely knew told you that wearing a particular set of brands was a precondition for meeting them. I personally would feel really put off by it and in all likelihood just wouldn't meet them because it would feel weird and controlling.

Do you think that your first reaction to someone insisting you wear something would be to look through your closet to try and accommodate or to think "ehh, do I really want to see this person after all"?

I wouldn't be surprised if you can in good faith say that you would first look through your closet. But even then, consider that you are clearly an outlier among the general population in terms of how much you are willing to change your personal behavior to reduce suffering and also in terms of how comfortable you are with norms around pointing out how others are contributing to suffering. If you can honestly say that you would look through your closet before reconsidering the meeting, I would even push you to imagine being asked to do something even more extreme (I don't know what "more extreme" would mean for you, but something more inconvenient for what seems to you to have a less obvious connection to morality).

I frequently have meals with colleagues and acquaintances that I don't know well. Some of my co-diners have eventually gone on to become vegan or even directly worked on animal welfare issues in some small part because of my influence. But if I had made this pledge I would just never have gotten to know them at all. More than that I think I personally would fail to accommodate closely analogous (e.g. the clothing) version of this pledge and would never learn more about the issue. Do you share that concern?

Comment by Monica on The Liberation Pledge · 2022-01-28T17:58:57.383Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your response, Nico. I'm not sure those differences are so significant. One reasonably clear-cut standard you could have for clothing is coercion of labor with violence. This standard would accept conditions of arbitrarily low wages, poor safety conditions, and abuse but would not accept conditions in which workers who tried to walk out the door were in any way physically hurt or restrained. There is an obvious problem of figuring out which clothing was produced in such a condition, but let's imagine for the sake of argument that there exists a list of brands that have been verified as not coercive and that this list is large enough to make it practical for most people to shop exclusively from it. I would not be remotely surprised to learn that such a list does in fact exist and that I am making a pretty substantial moral mistake by not consulting it before buying stuff.

Now let's imagine that I did not know about this list. I know that there forced labor exists, I am sympathetic to the idea that it is a bigger deal than I might immediately appreciate, and I am aware I might be contributing to it through shopping. But let's also say I imagine that searching is time consuming, that verified brands are too expensive to justify , that I have moral uncertainty about using my time and efforts in this dimension where they could be used elsewhere, and am I really so sure that forced labor is a widespread problem anyway? In walks my hypothetical acquaintance Bob.  Bob knows about this list, has answers and evidence to my questions about the prevalence of forced labor, and can give me tips about how to make shopping on my budget easy while steering clear of forced labor. On top of that, he can quietly demonstrate to me how well-dressed one can be while avoiding forced labor. It would be a real shame if Bob started the conversation with me by saying "Hey! I would love to chat with you, but I see that you are wearing a brand-X t-shirt, which is totally immoral, as brand X uses forced labor, so would you mind going and changing your shirt so that we can chat? It would be immoral for me to sit next to you dressed like that. Or maybe we can catch up online later?"

My relationship with Bob would be over, I would never learn about the easy ways to avoid forced labor in my shopping, I would never see how well Bob dresses on a day to day basis, and I would never get my questions about the prevalence  of forced labor answered. It would continue to be some out-of-sight and out-of-mind problem that I contribute to with my shopping. Doing anything about it would feel impractical. All this while in the hypothetical Bob is totally right! Avoiding forced labor while accepting other bad labor conditions is a reasonable binary standard, there are ways to avoid doing it, it is easier than I thought, and continuing to purchase items created by forced labor is wildly immoral. Too bad for me, for Bob, and most of all for the victims of forced labor though, because Bob sent me packing from the start.

Comment by Monica on The Liberation Pledge · 2022-01-28T16:14:53.386Z · EA · GW

I generally wear clothes that I buy from mainstream stores without looking into the labor conditions at the factory  in which they were made. I understand that there exist truly horrible sweatshops with coercive conditions, but I suspect the scale of the problem and the likelihood of my actions making an impact are such that my finite attention/time/money are better spent elsewhere. However, I am totally open to the possibility that actually, sweatshops with horrible/coercive conditions are more common than I think, that t-shirts I buy on Amazon are causing more suffering than I imagine, and that it's easier than I think to look up which brands are responsible in sourcing labor. 

I think if I had a conversation with an acquaintance who discussed these things with me in a non-judgmental way, I might change my behavior.  But if such a person demanded that I change clothes before I sat next to them, I would not be remotely interested in engaging with them.  I would also not really be that interested in continuing a conversation with them online, given that they were morally opposed to sitting next to me in person so long as I had on my questionably-sourced t-shirt.  It would just feel too controlling, alienating, and hypocritical (what is the likelihood that they have carefully researched every item they have ever used to filter out coerced labor anyway?). No amount of the other person being right regarding the large moral significance of my purchases would change this.

Eating is a little different than wearing clothes in that you are not eating all the time, but it is very limiting to a new relationship if you refuse to eat with the other person unless you have veto power over their food, particularly if (as seems necessitated by this pledge) you make clear you are refusing to do so on moral grounds. So for this reason, I am pretty strongly against this approach.

Comment by Monica on Suggestion: Effective Animal Advocacy forum · 2022-01-28T05:38:16.280Z · EA · GW

I'm not necessarily against this idea, but in the interest of picking lower hanging fruit first, I wonder if there are some easier ways of addressing the issues you raise. I also think that are are both substantial and cultural benefits to cross-pollination of ideas and to a lesser extent norms across cause areas, so if we can find alternative solutions to the issues you raise, I think that would be ideal.

Perhaps one place to start would be to start a conversation in the EAA Facebook group asking folks whether they read or post on the forum, why or why not, and if there is anything that would make the EA forum more useful for them. I would be happy to volunteer to start that conversation on Facebook if you think that would be helpful.

Comment by Monica on Is there a market for products mixing plant-based and animal protein? Is advocating for "selective omnivores" / reducitarianism / mixed diets neglected - with regards to animal welfare? · 2022-01-07T02:40:22.715Z · EA · GW

I've seen a few blended products. Perdue has a line of blended nuggets and there is a burger chain in the DC area called elevation burger that markets "half the guilt" burgers with one vegan patty and one beef patty. Not sure if it's a great strategy but I imagine it could be helpful if it were marketed more directly toward meat eaters and less toward reluctant omnivores.

Comment by Monica on EAA is relatively overinvesting in corporate welfare reforms · 2022-01-06T23:38:10.442Z · EA · GW

To be clear, it is entirely plausible to me that you are right and that there are large net moral gains to be had from CWRs. I only mean to bring up an area of uncertainty not to say I think it clearly comes out to CWRs=bad. 

The Humane League has some discussion of the relationship between broiler welfare, growth, and slaughter weight. While I agree that you might be able to find some slower growing breeds that get to the same weight eventually as some faster growing breeds, I would guess that if slower breeds were widely adopted, we would be looking at a 5-10% average difference in  slaughter weight. However, I certainly concede that the harms of the bird being unable to hold their own weight might far outweigh the harms from any increase in the number of birds.

As for the egg-laying case, I agree that 15% sounds like an upper bound to me and I suspect much lower.

Comment by Monica on EAA is relatively overinvesting in corporate welfare reforms · 2022-01-06T21:05:28.127Z · EA · GW

While I absolutely think CWRs have a lot of upsides, one thing I will add to the discussion of their downsides is that there is almost always a productivity tradeoff that causes more animals to be raised in factory farms under the more humane conditions. For example, slower growing chicken breeds tend to weigh less at slaughter than faster growing breeds, and switching from from fast to slow growing breeds may increase the number of chickens consumed. Obviously this may be partially offset by price increases but the net effect may still be more chickens living better but still not lives worth living. A similar situation arises with caged vs cage-free eggs. Even if you agree with this calculus, I completely understand thinking that it is a worthwhile tradeoff and I think that myself half the time, but I do feel torn.

Comment by Monica on Analgesics for farm animals · 2022-01-02T16:57:10.643Z · EA · GW

Hi Paul, I am absolutely with you in that I think factory farms are awful and would of course continue to be awful with the widespread use of analgesics. I fully support doing everything we can to eliminate them through some combination of developing alternative proteins and moving people and institutions toward eating the plant-based alternatives we already have. I in no way support mutilating animals even with analgesics. The reason I wrote this post is because I think it would be an improvement for animal welfare over the status quo of using no analgesics, and I think that this improvement is relatively achievable.

As a side note, my position has shifted a bit since I've written this based on new technological developments. I now think efforts in this domain should be more targeted toward adoption of drugs and genetic engineering that eliminate the need for the modifications in the first place. When I wrote this, those seemed a long way off but I no longer feel that way. But to be clear, even if we could completely eliminate all forms of direct mutilation that this post discusses I will still think factory farms are horrible.

Comment by Monica on Should EAs in the U.S. focus more on federal or state/local politics? · 2021-05-05T23:44:11.132Z · EA · GW

I agree with evelynciara that animal welfare in agriculture is highly relevant to EA and that most progress toward animal welfare laws are being made at the state and local level. I would add that progress towards national and global goals often starts at the local level--more states adopt a particular law (e.g. increased welfare standards in agriculture), and that sets an example for others to start a more national conversation. 

Other things that come to mind are scalable improvements in institutional and governmental decision making such as adopting approval voting. These are  important for similar reasons to animal welfare laws--they set an example and set the stage for a national conversation.

Local governments also fund universities and other research programs that might be high impact and in principal they could fund much more and much more effectively. They have jurisdiction over housing, zoning, and transport which have enormous environmental and economic impact. They have at least partial jurisdiction on mental health programs, policing, criminal justice, vehicle and pedestrian safety, lead abatement, and charitable grants.

With that said, no one can make much of dent in nuclear weapons policies by showing up to their local city council meeting, so there is plenty of work to be done on the federal level as well and where any individual should focus probably depends on their personal situation, skills, interests, etc. 

Comment by Monica on Are mice or rats (as pests) a potential area of animal welfare improvement? · 2021-04-28T13:55:10.130Z · EA · GW

There has recently been some really exciting progress on mouse and rat fertility control. There are several products already on the market that claim to reduce fertility but they could certainly use more development and third party rigorous testing to show effectiveness. I think that investing in developing, testing, and promoting fertility control methods is likely to have a high payoff. Doing so is also likely to be profitable to private companies and in the interest of various governments, so this is a good opportunity to leverage resources of larger non-animal-welfare focused institutions. 

Comment by Monica on AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy · 2021-02-25T16:28:46.705Z · EA · GW

Thank you for doing this AMA! I have three questions:

1) The FDA has approved at least one alternative to pig castration (the brand name is Improvest) that involves two injections behind the ears rather than surgery. Similar technology has been shown to work in cattle but I don't believe that has FDA approval. I've heard that this product works well and is cost-effective for farmers but that it has not been widely adopted because processing plants tend to reject in-tact pigs more or less out of inertia. Do you have thoughts on whether working to address this problem (at least for pigs) is tractable and cost-effective? 

2) What kind economic research do you think that plant-based food companies would find most useful? Do these companies typically have their own data analysts to privately answer common economic questions? If not, would they be likely to read relevant literature or change their strategy based studies in econ journals? Examples of the sort of research I had in mind might include: 

  • Prices: What is the price elasticity of demand for plant-based products? How much do temporary sales induce consumers to switch from animal products to plant-based analogues in the short-term? What is the cross-price elasticity of demand for these products? Do consumers who respond to sales subsequently purchase the analogues?
  • Packaging: Are consumers more likely to try a plant-based product if it is in a smaller, cheaper package? Do smaller packages causally induce a sustained customer shift towards the analogue?.
  • Partnerships: Industry groups representing input commodities (e.g. the National Rice Company) assist large purchasers to anticipate price and supply and to acquire supply contracts. Do similar opportunities exist to assist plant-based companies in their mission?

3) There has been significant recent progress in wild-animal fertility control, some of which is already being implemented (target species are often otherwise killed inhumanely). Do you think that this is an approach worth directly pursuing now or do you feel we need more information or research to see if this is a good idea? If you think we need more information, what kind of research would you like to see? 

Comment by Monica on A ranked list of all EA-relevant (audio)books I've read · 2021-02-21T18:44:12.606Z · EA · GW

Regarding your first point, I do worry that strong community norms against having book lists include only male authors risks the perception that female authors that do get included are only there to fulfill some imaginary quota rather than on their merits. Not saying that there isn't an important conversation to be had about fostering diversity of viewpoints and representation along gender or other demographic lines, but in my view that is at least a pretty strong downside to this approach.

Comment by Monica on Has there been much work on figuring out the impact of plant-based foods? · 2021-01-26T17:36:19.469Z · EA · GW

There is a ton of research tracking the environmental impacts of various crop products. See for example our world in data:

Tracking the animal welfare effects of crop products is much more difficult and involves thinking about very complex ecosystems. Brian Tomasik  has some work on this as does the Wild Animal Suffering Initiative ( ). I personally think that where you come down on the relative rankings of various foods will come down to your opinion about the probability and intensity of insect suffering. In my view that probability is quite low but the number of insects is large enough that it is certainly worth considering.

I would classify the next category of harms as "human conflict harms" which would include things like slavery in the production process or frequent violence over production disputes. These harms are very product specific and I have seen a lot of research and discussion about individual products but not a comprehensive list or ranking of various products. It is also worth noting there is a lot of heterogeneity within particular products. For example, chocolate has a problem with child slavery in the supply lines but some brands have done a great job transparently ensuring that no slavery occurs in their supply chains. I do think this is an area that could use a synthesis of the existing research to explain which foods are most problematic in this areas (and where applicable, what brands/countries avoid issues). One thing to keep in mind about this category though is that they are often not inherent in the production of any particular product. It just happens that certain foods are associated with these harms. If we launched a successful campaign to stop eating chocolate, for example, it is not clear to me that child slavers wouldn't just switch to forcing children to grow coffee. Seems like we need a more general approach like supply-chain certification and regulation for a lack of slavery (fair trade certification does this but also unfortunately has some other problems, so I would like to see a certification that is strictly limited to the lack of slavery). 

The author of the paper you mentioned also discussed some harms that are in my opinion non-issues. For example, the fact that global demand for quinoa has priced local growers out of eating quinoa seems like a net-good for them because now they have higher incomes and can afford more of other types of food.

I happen to think that the harms from animal agriculture are orders of magnitude higher than the harms from  plant-based food products on average, but I certainly agree with you that we should not consider transitioning society to veganism as the end-all fix to our food system (though it would certainly be a good start!).

Comment by Monica on 80,000 Hours: Where's the best place to volunteer? · 2021-01-25T19:05:59.347Z · EA · GW

At least in the US, it is very common for cities/counties/other local governments to have boards and commissions that advise the elected officials (and in some cases have certain direct decision making power). These are typically part time volunteer positions that you have to apply for to get, but are often not that competitive. If you volunteer for your city's charter review commission and advocate for instituting approval voting or volunteer for the environment commission and advocate for policies that promote plant based food (e.g. meatless Mondays in schools) or volunteer for the grants review panel and advocate for directing funds toward relatively more effective organizations, then that might be a good use of your time. Typically volunteering in this capacity means that you are also committing to spend time on projects and policies that you might be less excited about, but that means you might run into other opportunities to learn something new or have an influence that you haven't thought about yet. The specifics will vary by location and your own interests/strengths, but from what I can tell these types of opportunities are pretty common across the U.S.

Comment by Monica on FAQ: ACE's Animal Advocacy Research Fund · 2021-01-11T11:58:23.149Z · EA · GW

Oh sorry didn't realize that. Thanks!

Comment by Monica on FAQ: ACE's Animal Advocacy Research Fund · 2021-01-11T01:06:11.818Z · EA · GW

Thanks for posting this. You mention the importance of studies on plant-based food branding, consumer preferences, etc.  I'm curious if you have  spoken to people in the plant-based food industry on how useful such studies (and which kind) would be to them.

Although I am not interested in pursuing an AARF grant, I do work with retail scanner data and am pursuing a few projects that I hope will be helpful for animals. One issue I run into is that while it is fairly straight forward to predict which sorts of questions will be of interest to journals, it is far from obvious which types of research questions would be of interest to plant-based food companies. I assume that many companies are hiring their own data analysts to explore pricing and coupon policies, so I imagine that additional contributions on this front might not be particularly useful. I also assume that they have a pretty good grasp on how demand shifts with their own pricing, and that is likely to drive their decision making (more so than, say, the effects of a reduced price for a plant-based item on its animal-derived analog).  I'm not even sure if many companies are likely to engage with econ journal publications in any capacity. Of course there are other avenues by which such research might be helpful (policy, corporate advocacy, short term third party subsidizing, etc.), but I think of them as primarily for the benefit of industry. 

If you happen to have any insight from the industry on this, I'd be very interested.

Comment by Monica on Can I have impact if I’m average? · 2021-01-04T19:13:29.541Z · EA · GW

Being judgey toward oneself or others for being only able to contribute an average or below average amount is of course bad.  EA should  be about making the most efficient use of the resources (money, talent, etc.) that you have.  Any other attitude is plainly self-defeating.

I'm not sure how much I agree with the premise that only the top 1% of a field have a major impact though. I think we should all be humble about how much we really know about the influence we have. There are so many unknowns that it is possible that the "biggest impact" interventions will backfire spectacularly. Also, in some fields , the most prestigious positions (professors at R1 universities) are not always the same as the most influential (often in private industry or government).  The most talented people usually go for prestige over influence.  Similarly,  not-particularly talented people might find high degrees of influence in unexpected places. For example, mobilizing your local government to make a positive change can be achievable for many people who don't have any extraordinary skills and can be a catalyst for more widespread change.

Comment by Monica on [Feedback Request] The compound interest of saving lives · 2021-01-04T16:47:54.219Z · EA · GW

That makes sense, thanks Michael!  

Comment by Monica on [Feedback Request] The compound interest of saving lives · 2020-12-24T04:19:00.259Z · EA · GW

Michael, thanks for these links, I'm really enjoying reading both of them. Super interesting thesis! I am pretty puzzled by the idea of there being a single optimal population size though. Even under a totalist view,well being seems super dependent on who is alive and not just how many. E.g. if you had a world full of 20 billion people with a (learned or genetic) predisposition toward happiness, then that will look very different from a world with 20 billion people with a predisposition toward misery (and might look similar to a world with 10 or 30 billion people with a predisposition toward neutral moods). So it strikes me as strange to imagine a single inverted u function. Hillary Greaves' piece mentions that she is considering the optimal population "under given empirical conditions," but I'm not really sure what that means given that population could grow in any number of ways. I think that it refers to something along the lines of "the optimal population level taking the world completely as is and offering no interventions that change either who is born or how happy anyone is given that they were born" which I guess makes logical sense as an intellectual exercise but then doesn't tell us about the ethics of any particular intervention ( offering free birth control or subsidizing births or having a baby, for example, takes us out of the world of "existing empirical conditions" and changes both who is born and how happy existing people are). I'm sure both of you considered this point though--Would it be correct to say that you believe that these considerations just don't empirically matter that much for our practical decision making?

Comment by Monica on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T19:48:51.677Z · EA · GW

As I'm reading more,I'm realizing that multiplier organizations are not as much about evaluation as my post makes them out to be, so I will just say that I agree with the point in the post about wanting to give the single most effective charity rather than a mix, and not really understanding the value added of an intermediate organization.

Comment by Monica on What are the most common objections to “multiplier” organizations that raise funds for other effective charities? · 2020-12-09T19:15:03.546Z · EA · GW

I have very strong opinions on which organization in the cause area I care about is doing the most effective work, and I don't think that the relevant evaluating organization is any better equipped to opine on it than I am. I sometimes compare evaluating charities to doing a fermi estimation. If there are a sufficient number of steps to estimating a fermi problem or if you are sufficiently off on your intermediate steps, and you have a some idea about the general magnitude of the target that your are estimating, it becomes better to just directly take a guess on the end-estimate rather than attempting intermediate guesses to guide you.  It seems to me that even though evaluators are often very thorough and transparent, they end up making a ton of assumptions on top of high-error estimates (because one has to in order to make any progress, not because they don't do a great job given what they are working with). I am not at all suggesting I could do a better job of rigorously estimating which organization is better, but I don't think that is the right approach given the complexity of some of these problems. In other words, I'm far more convinced by the arguments and track record of the direct work charity that they are doing the most efficient work than I am by the evaluator charity that they should be trusted to make that evaluation.

Comment by Monica on Careers Questions Open Thread · 2020-12-09T16:50:27.090Z · EA · GW

I don't think this is fair or good, but I do think there is extraordinary degree bias in academia to the point that it is almost impossible to get a position without a PhD, let alone a bachelors degree. There are some who have managed (Derek Parfit, I believe, had a bachelor's degree but not  PhD), but they are the rare exception. If you don't want to go to school for a long time, I recommend finding an alternative outlet to academia. Maybe you could get a day job that supports you while continuing to publish independently and working to grow an independent readership? Or work as a research assistant? Or apply to non-academic organizations like non-profits or think tanks that might be more flexible about degrees than academia? Perhaps a specific option would be animal-welfare organizations that are interested in the subjective experience of animals such as sentience politics. Or go into an adjacent field that might also be interesting and high impact? But I think the only people who go into academia sans degrees are the very very top of their field, and even then it's rare. 

With that said, it doesn't hurt to try to apply again for a masters again now that you have a book published just in case, as long as you are working on a back up plan in the mean time.

Comment by Monica on Against anti-natalism; or: why climate change should not be a significant factor in your decision to have children · 2020-03-03T19:50:17.289Z · EA · GW

I find the ethics of procreation to be incredibly complicated. While I am skeptical of some of the particular arguments of this post, I agree that there are reasons to suspect that procreation is either morally good or morally neutral. Although I have substantial uncertainty about the moral goodness of procreation, I do strongly believe that many talented and altruistic people will be driven away from the EA community if anti-natalism becomes a big part of the cultural attitude. Many if not most people react to anti-natalism extremely negatively. They take it as an affront to their most personal choices, an insult to the people they most care about, and sometimes even a dangerous ideology that they inexorably associate with horrific human rights abuses. If there were real reason to believe with confidence that one of the best ways we can do good is lower the birth rate of people who actively want children, then that would be one thing. However, that seems so so so far from the current reality, that focusing on anti-natalist efforts just makes EA (or whatever other cause/group) look bad.

Comment by Monica on Introducing Animal Advocacy Careers · 2020-01-20T15:42:53.298Z · EA · GW

Sounds good, I'll email you.

Comment by Monica on Introducing Animal Advocacy Careers · 2020-01-12T16:58:44.511Z · EA · GW

Hi Lauren, This sounds like important work. I was wondering if you have plans to expand your focus beyond explicitly EAA organizations. Mainly I have in mind government and policy roles but this may also include corporate roles involved in expanding plant based food options or organizations that deal with wildlife research and management but don't have an EEA mission. Thanks for your work on this and good luck!

Comment by Monica on Analgesics for farm animals · 2019-10-07T12:12:47.499Z · EA · GW

Thanks, I'm glad to hear there have been some people looking into this. It's really unfortunate if in-fighting has stalled them.

Comment by Monica on Analgesics for farm animals · 2019-10-04T13:13:31.604Z · EA · GW


Comment by Monica on An integrated model to evaluate the impact of animal products · 2019-01-10T18:42:14.113Z · EA · GW

Thanks for putting this together! It's really great to see attempts at quantitatively prioritizing animal suffering, and I wish people would do more of it.

I do think you are misusing the word elasticities. The table you cite in compassion by the pound used the price elasticities of supply and demand to come up with their estimates, but these numbers they report are not elasticities, since that term usually refers to the change in demand or supply in response to price or income. 

This leaves me particularly confused as to your interpretation of what you call "cross-price elasticities"--a cross-price elasticity of demand refers to the percent increase in demand of commodity x in response to a percent increase in price of commodity y. You are using the term to refer to "the increase in other products which are purchased as substitutes by these other consumers." The reason this distinction is important is that traditional elasticities of demand account for individual consumers substituting one good for another due to price changes--they do not show the net change in equilibrium quantity of one good in response to a demand change of another good. Since you are basing this on your own assumptions rather than data, all I'm suggesting here is a rephrasing.

If you are truly looking for a cross-price elasticity of demand, these are well studied for most commodities and can be found here

My final comment is that I am puzzled by your conclusion regarding milk given that the welfare metrics you use are just scales from better to worse and do not have an interpretation for their absolute value. It could be that your metrics are exactly spot on, but milk products still impose enormous suffering on cows per pound. I'm puzzled by your conclusions regarding the relative importance of climate change for the same reason.

Anyways, thanks again for working on this. I hope my comments don't come across as too critical, as I think that carefully reasoning through these issues is really important. 

Comment by Monica on Animal-Welfare Economic Research Questions · 2018-12-29T19:00:06.563Z · EA · GW

Thanks! It seems like the big question I missed in my list that is in the article is "a full accounting of the externalities associated with animal agriculture" which I agree may be useful.

The article seems to take for granted that thorough research on the cost of production of welfare increasing practices would be good because the public assumes they are very high whereas in some cases they are actually not. I certainly agree that there are many interventions that are quite low cost, but I wonder if some of this research may backfire if the costs for certain interventions are quite high. I guess the animal ag industry already has a very good sense of this, and there is value in making this information public, but I'd be interested in others' opinions on this.

Comment by Monica on Animal-Welfare Economic Research Questions · 2018-12-22T14:08:09.981Z · EA · GW


Comment by Monica on EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers · 2018-12-03T15:13:02.525Z · EA · GW

Thanks for taking the time to look into this.

I think this highlights the issues with the nomenclature of effective altruism. I find the question "do you identify as an effective altruist" to be akin to "do you identify as a good person." No matter how much I donate to EA causes or how much good I do with my career, I would not answer yes because it comes off to me as a bit presumptuous and arrogant, and it insinuates that people outside this community are not as effective and altruistic. To be clear, I think the community as a whole does a ton of good and I'm grateful it exists--my concern (which I know others have raised as well) is only with the title.

I agree that looking at more concrete metrics of contribution (e.g. percentage of income donated) might be more informative.

Comment by Monica on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-12-02T22:31:15.610Z · EA · GW

I don't know off the top of my head--sorry. I heard this second hand from someone involved, so I will ask next time I see the person I heard it from.

Comment by Monica on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-12-02T19:19:25.396Z · EA · GW

I think the economics are definitely worth worrying about, but I also think they work out. There are a small number of large firms that contract out to farmers(eg Tyson's), but a large number of contract farmers. Farmers tend to stop producing more chickens at a point where the marginal cost of an additional chicken are increasing. If we can get the marginal farmer to stop producing, then we would expect that the farmers that would replace them would have higher costs and therefore produce fewer chickens.

Comment by Monica on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-24T23:36:55.663Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the link, that sounds great

Comment by Monica on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-24T23:35:30.297Z · EA · GW

I don't have great answers to alternatives, but dairy farms can be turned I to beer breweries or plant-based milk facilities, chicken farms can be turned to mushroom growing facilities, most farms can grow crops that are not typically used for feed, but which ones depend on the region. A small number of farms in certain locations can support touristy businesses like pick-your-own-apples and go-on-a-hayride but that is not scalable. I'm looking into pig farms but I'm not sure about how they might be repurposed.

More and more jobs offer remote work, and while this won't work for most farmers, I suspect a lot of (particularly young) would-be farmers underestimate the number of options.

I'm still thinking and will post if I come up with other ideas.

As for the anti-tobbacco lobbying goes, there was a group that was prominent in the anti-tobbacco movement that would go farm to farm educating farmers about crops that could be grown on the same land (peanuts and cotton as well as some corn and soy). Those crops were more mechanized than tobacco, so they would tell the farmers about how to get started. They framed it as "the tobbacco industry is not long for this world and we want to help you out." As far as I know (I'm hearing this all second and third hand, so I can't be sure) there was no insinuating that the growers were doing anything wrong.

Comment by Monica on Outreach to Farmers · 2018-11-24T23:06:31.063Z · EA · GW

Thanks, I am glad hear that they are working on that. It does sound a bit different than what I had in mind in that(judging only from the podcast you linked to) they are much more focused on welfare issues rather than economic ones. This surely has benefits that focusing on economics doesn't, but I wonder if in a separate project/film, they could reach a wider audience by making a mostly economic case