Posts

Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) 2023-03-15T22:44:39.310Z
Five tools that make our research lives easier 2023-02-20T00:50:53.033Z
Longtermism and animals: Resources + join our Discord community! 2023-01-31T10:45:57.079Z
Independent Office of Animal Protection 2022-11-22T12:00:38.881Z
Subsidies: Which reforms can help animals? 2022-11-10T15:28:27.511Z
The Challenges with Measuring the Impact of Lobbying 2022-10-31T16:32:15.284Z
CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses: Modest benefits for animal welfare 2022-09-27T14:50:31.232Z
A direct way to reduce the catch of wild fish 2022-06-21T10:09:33.276Z
Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics 2022-04-13T13:56:33.638Z

Comments

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-18T05:47:00.366Z · EA · GW

Thanks everybody for the discussion on this post. I'm glad to see it has inspired some thought and debate, and that other people are sharing their experiences.

I've reached my limit for engaging with these comments, so now I need to return to my main tasks (doing my best to prevent suffering + self-care) and I won't reply to future comments (but happy to correct objective errors). Thanks again everyone.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-18T05:34:44.910Z · EA · GW

Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like you found childbirth to be qualitatively more awful than your other experiences? I definitely agree with one of your takeaways - the fact that some experiences have been rates as even worse than this on the pain scale, for me, serves as a very strong motivation to reduce suffering in any way I can.

(I did ask around a fair bit before posting this article, and got the opinions of a number of people close to me who have gone through different painful experiences, both acute and chronic, many of which are mentioned on the pain scale graph. This is part of why I point out that the PRI scores I report aren't supposed to be taken as scientific or literal, emphasise that it's n=1, I'm untrained, definitely only moderate level, etc. But it does reinforce my point, which is basically "wow, all I did was mess around with a tattoo gun for an afternoon and it was this bad, that's all the more reason to do as much as we can to prevent others from experiencing actual pain.")

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-17T08:21:14.341Z · EA · GW

I mostly agree with what you've said, and I think that your view and my view are pretty much consistent. My main message isn't really "physical pain is worse than other types of suffering", rather: "I found even moderate physical pain to be really, really awful, which suggests that it's probably really, really morally urgent to prevent both extreme physical pain and other types of extreme suffering".

The hedonistic focus probably arose from the fact that I can subject myself to physical pain quite easily, but less so other types of suffering. I mention this in the limitations section.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-17T07:31:29.303Z · EA · GW

Sure, makes sense. Thanks for your reply.

If I wanted to prove or support the claim: 
"given the choice between preventing extreme suffering and giving people more [pleasure/happiness/tranquility/truth], we should pick the latter option"
How would you recommend I go about proving or supporting that claim? I'd be keen to read or experience the strongest possible evidence for that claim. I've read a fair bit about pleasure and happiness, but for the other, less-tangible values (tranquility and truth) I'm less familiar with any arguments.

It would be a major update for me if I found evidence strong enough to convince me that giving people more tranquility and truth (and pleasure and happiness in any practical setting, under which I include many forms of longtermism) could be good enough to forego preventing extreme suffering. This would have major implications for my current work and my future directions, so I would like to understand this view as well as I can in case I'm wrong and therefore missing out on something important.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-17T05:22:22.203Z · EA · GW

I'm happy to consider this further if there are people who would find value in the outcome (particularly if there are people who would change decisions based on the outcome). I think it would be tractable to design something safe and legal, whether through psychedelics or some other tool.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-17T02:57:03.564Z · EA · GW

Ah I wasn't aware Schmidt had recently died. That's a shame, he must have died after I wrote the first draft of this article. I read his book (The Sting of the Wild) which helped inform this article. Thanks for sharing this, I'll read the obituary.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-17T02:50:38.263Z · EA · GW

I think this is a fair point, if you believe that pleasure can outweigh really awful suffering in practice. I do not currently believe this, for all practical purposes. Basically, my position is that these other human values - while somewhat valuable - are simply trivial in the face of the really awful suffering that is very common in our world.

Do you know of any ways I could experimentally expose myself to extreme amounts of pleasure, happiness, tranquility, and truth?

I'd be willing to expose myself to whatever you suggest, plus extreme suffering, to see if this changes my mind. Or we can work together to design a different experimental setup if you think that would produce better evidence.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-16T10:53:34.988Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your positive feedback :)

I haven't thought too hard about specific charities. Since I work for a relatively young charity startup, I don't take a very high salary and it wouldn't make sense to increase my salary just to donate.

If I had a large amount of money to donate, I'd probably pick an animal advocacy charity with a strong, well-backed theory of change that focuses on reforms that a) are large-scale and b) prevent high-intensity suffering. Examples of this might include charities working on cage-free hen reforms, the Better Chicken Commitment, or fish slaughter reform. I suspect Fish Welfare Initiative and Shrimp Welfare Project would also fare well from this perspective. 

I haven't researched this question specifically, so there's a good chance my specific interventions/charities would change with further consideration.

Since my day job is in animal advocacy, I'm less informed about human charities. Other people probably have better-informed opinions on human charities for preventing extreme suffering than I could. A fair few people have written on the EA Forum about the importance of preventing extreme suffering, so those people might have some well-informed recommendations.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-16T10:00:04.244Z · EA · GW

Yes this should probably say "Hurtful". In my personal interpretation of the PainTrack categories, doing a day of work would only really be possible at "Hurtful" or less.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reminding myself just how awful pain can get (plus, an experiment on myself) · 2023-03-16T09:56:58.532Z · EA · GW

They felt awful, but I kept going with them voluntarily (albeit with some breaks). Under the definition of Excruciating-level pain, that would typically be impossible: "the threshold of pain under which many people choose to take their lives rather than endure the pain". So, there is no way that pain could be Excruciating-level, even though it hurt really bad.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Animal welfare certified meat is not a stepping stone to meat reduction or abolition · 2023-03-08T22:31:33.657Z · EA · GW

Thanks a lot for this post. I think it's really great to inform this debate with new data and a clever framework, as you've done - it's a useful contribution, and I hope similar experiments get conducted in other contexts.

Not directly related to this article, but I have a few broad thoughts on this general topic:

  • When I began working in animal advocacy, I was definitely on the abolitionist end of the spectrum. Since then, I've developed a much more diversified view. In general, the debate between abolitionism vs welfarism a) is very speculative, in that we have limited data to go on; and b) will profoundly affect the lives of millions or billions of animals living in extreme suffering. I think these are great reasons to have humility in either position.
  • Even if we never abolish animal exploitation (which I dearly hope we do), welfare reforms can bring about major improvements in farmed animals' lives. For example, Saulius's comment here briefly shows how much suffering can be reduced by corporate campaigns on broiler chickens.  I'm doing similar work at the moment, and I've arrived at similar findings to those of Saulius.

I've also enjoyed these two sources on this topic, which caused major updates in my thinking:

Comment by Ren Springlea on Why I No Longer Prioritize Wild Animal Welfare (edited) · 2023-03-02T03:01:07.301Z · EA · GW

I wrote the article on reducing catch shares, and just wanted to comment saying that I strongly agree with Saulius's analysis here.

Currently, implementing humane slaughter for wild-caught fish seems like a slam dunk.

Currently, reducing the catch of wild fish seems extremely ambiguous. My catch share article mostly concluded with "we should do more research on this to reduce these uncertainties". I also wrote a later article about subsidies - abolishing fisheries subsidies seems like a fairly easy way to reduce the catch. But in many cases, it would cause the population size of the target fish population to increase, causing more deaths by fishing over time even if effort remains low. (Plus, the effects on other wild animals...)

So I strongly agree with Saulius that:

  1. Humane slaughter seems fantastic, and
  2. We probably shouldn't try to reduce the fish catch yet because we don't know if it's good or bad - though I do believe that dedicated research could quite readily make substantial progress on this question.
Comment by Ren Springlea on Five tools that make our research lives easier · 2023-02-20T01:37:00.023Z · EA · GW

Thanks, I've changed the language to make it clearer (possibly my Aussie vernacular getting the better of me)

Comment by Ren Springlea on Why I No Longer Prioritize Wild Animal Welfare (edited) · 2023-02-16T22:30:07.861Z · EA · GW

The consequences on the welfare of all affected wild animals seem nearly impossible to determine, even with a lot of research. Also, research in one ecosystem might not generalize to other ecosystems. 

However, this is the same as the concern of cluelessness that applies to all causes. To me, cluelessness seems a bigger problem in WAW because first-order effects are usually dwarfed by second and third-order effects. For example, vaccinations may increase the population of that species, which could be bad if their lives are still full of suffering. But overall, I’m confused about cluelessness.

 

I wanted to emphasise this point and how important I think it is. I feel that cluelessness about the effects of wild animal interventions (particularly as it relates to wild animal population dynamics) is one of the most important topics in EA that could be resolved by further research.

Cluelessness about wild animals comes up a lot even in my research on farmed animals - e.g. the effects of reducing meat consumption on fish caught for fishmeal, or the effects of reducing fisheries subsidies on wild fish and other wild animals.

These dynamics are extremely non-intuitive (e.g. catching fewer fish does weirdly seem bad for fish in many contexts under some philosophical views). And they're strongly context-dependent. But with some dedicated research in ecological  modelling and experimental ecology, I do think that we could make substantial progress on understanding this topic.

Comment by Ren Springlea on On Living Without Idols · 2023-01-16T02:25:30.806Z · EA · GW

But what if we stopped putting the community on a pedestal? It's kind of disorienting, but it might be freeing, as we could individually embrace the ideas of EA without feeling the need to defend the EA movement as much.

 

This is well-expressed, and puts into words something I've been reflecting on a lot lately. One person's answer to the question "How do we do the most good?" does not always have to mean being  deeply involved with other members of the community who are trying to answer that same question.

Comment by Ren Springlea on [Cause Exploration Prizes] Farmed Animal Welfare in Sub-Saharan Africa · 2022-12-06T00:00:20.492Z · EA · GW

Thanks, this is a super useful article.

In case readers of this article are interested: we recently completed a collaboration with Animal Welfare Competence Centre for Africa, a new charity based in Uganda. Our recommendations centred on both welfare reforms and limiting the spread of industrialised farming practices. Our write-up is available here: https://www.animalask.org/post/farmed-animal-advocacy-in-uganda

Currently, we (Animal Ask) are also doing some research on the trajectory of animal agriculture in developing countries and how moldable it is, as the author mentions.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Independent Office of Animal Protection · 2022-12-04T22:14:40.007Z · EA · GW

This is exciting to see. I definitely agree - sometimes getting your foot in the door, either at the local level or with a more limited version of the policy, can let you expand the policy later when people have seen the benefit. And your scorecard approach is similar to what Australian Alliance for Animals has recently done: https://www.allianceforanimals.org.au/victorian-election-2022

Comment by Ren Springlea on Subsidies: Which reforms can help animals? · 2022-11-15T03:44:55.979Z · EA · GW

Very roughly, yes.

If you assume that bringing a wild fish into existence is bad (and outweighs the benefits from not catching fish), then  fishery subsidy reform looks bad. The assumption of net negative lives is one position from which you can arrive at this conclusion. There are other positions from which you can arrive at this conclusion too.

If you think that bringing a wild fish into existence is good or neutral, then fishery subsidies reform looks more promising.

In practice, we don't know whether bringing a wild fish into existence is good, bad, or neutral, and there are plausible arguments supporting all three of these. But it does seem that a large proportion of the moral value of fishery subsidy reform comes from bringing additional wild fish into existence. Since it's unclear whether that is good or bad, we are not able to recommend this as a clearly good intervention.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics · 2022-11-11T04:46:24.323Z · EA · GW

Thanks a lot, I've sent you a message :)

Comment by Ren Springlea on Subsidies: Which reforms can help animals? · 2022-11-11T04:27:30.889Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the feedback :)

No, that was probably poorly expressed on my part. What I'm saying is: if you catch reducing fishing effort now, you catch fewer fish in the short-term, but many more fish in the long-term. This means that the total number of fish being caught (and thus suffering) could increase.

Comment by Ren Springlea on CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses: Modest benefits for animal welfare · 2022-10-03T23:36:45.246Z · EA · GW

Yes - all else being equal, a higher probability of detection is a good thing, as it would lead to a stronger deterrent effect (as long as the authorities respond to violations with clear, effective enforcement actions)

Comment by Ren Springlea on CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses: Modest benefits for animal welfare · 2022-09-30T11:34:42.409Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the positive feedback :)

If you consider on-farm (rather than slaughterhouse) CCTV, the welfare benefits increase significantly, as you're monitoring a much longer period of each animal's life. However, the tractability of an on-farm CCTV campaign would probably* be much lower. Farmers often have closer, more personal relationships with their farms than slaughterhouse owners do with their slaughterhouses. Proposing to install CCTV on farms would likely trigger a lot of backlash from farmers (particularly given the common public image of the 'family farm').

*Admittedly, this is mostly speculation (although speculation that we checked with experts). It could be the case that an on-farm CCTV campaign is more tractable than we think. If somebody tests a campaign and finds it to be tractable, then yes, my opinion of such a campaign would increase significantly. That would start to look like a highly impactful campaign. But you would first need to show that the campaign is tractable, which I don't have high hopes for. I could imagine that you might be able to increase the tractability by only focusing on industrial/factory farms, which would capture almost all of the impact for animals anyway.

Comment by Ren Springlea on CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses: Modest benefits for animal welfare · 2022-09-30T11:28:05.042Z · EA · GW

Hey Fai! According to the crime research, the deterrent effects of CCTV depend on the slaughterhouse workers' perceived  probability of detection, not the true probability of detection. So, in principle, it's possible for CCTV to have a meaningful deterrent effect even if the videos aren't watched 100%.

For example, a government could identify which slaughterhouses have the highest risk of non-compliance and focus on those footage, then very quickly and clearly respond to any incidents they do detect. These visible, rapid responses would help convey the impression to slaughterhouse workers that the feeds are being monitored, which would increase the perceived probability of detection despite not all feeds being watched.

Comment by Ren Springlea on CCTV cameras in slaughterhouses: Modest benefits for animal welfare · 2022-09-30T11:24:56.395Z · EA · GW

Thank you for the positive feedback :)

Comment by Ren Springlea on Incentivising people to learn about plant based eating by paying them. · 2022-09-08T11:57:12.568Z · EA · GW

Intriguing idea, thanks for sharing. In general think it's worth at least doing some tentative exploration all ideas to increasing the popularity of plant-based diets.

There seems to be an implicit assumption in your post that courses/coaching on plant-based eating will either increase the probability that somebody adopts a plant-based diet, or increases the probability that they stick with it. Has this assumption been tested, to your knowledge? It could also be that this intervention would mostly reach people who are keen on plant-based eating anyway, which is why I think it'd be good to test these assumptions in reality (pilot study or similar).

You might also get some useful feedback by sharing this idea with the RECAP group (https://www.recapresearch.org/join-recap) or Faunalytics, if you haven't already, as both of those groups have people thinking along these lines. I also mention this because - in my opinion - we should be focusing on whatever plant-based interventions appear to work the best. So, for this idea to be deserving of resources (in the long-term, after the idea is tested) it would also need to be shown that this idea works as well as, or better than, other plant-based interventions available to us. (Admittedly, I'm not sure what the best plant-based interventions are right now, but Faunalytics has loads of research on this.)

Comment by Ren Springlea on Reducing aquatic noise as a wild animal welfare intervention · 2022-07-20T10:26:36.082Z · EA · GW

I find this post subjectively very cool. I did my PhD in a marine biology lab which had other scientists doing research on ocean "soundscapes" - which includes reducing the types of noise you talk about here, but also increasing the types of noises that are beneficial for wild animals (from a purely conservation perspective). For example, one colleague had a project where they installed underwater speakers, playing recorded reef noises, on a newly restored reef and showed that this increased the settlement of juvenile invertebrates onto the reef. This sort of work wasn't the focus of this article, but it might have implications for the welfare of wild juvenile invertebrates and does seem pretty tractable. This wasn't the focus of my own work (which was in a different area in marine policy) but happy to chat further over DM if anybody reading this article is feeling inspired.

Comment by Ren Springlea on A direct way to reduce the catch of wild fish · 2022-07-04T05:28:22.706Z · EA · GW

Hey Michael, thanks for your thoughts. Would you agree that these risks could apply to any intervention that seeks to reduce the amount of commercial fishing that happens? In that case, it seems to me that these would be two important crucial considerations for the wild fish advocacy movement, and hence very important to research further.
I think we've discussed these points briefly before - let me know if you're keen to talk about them further, I'd be interested in collaborating on some questions like these in the future.

Comment by Ren Springlea on A direct way to reduce the catch of wild fish · 2022-07-04T05:26:45.710Z · EA · GW

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm somewhat familiar with these issues from my background in fisheries management and wildlife biology.

It seems to me that your concern is that what you could call the "indirect effects" (e.g. giving money to the wrong people, encouraging policies that harm other animals) might be worse than the "direct effects" (saving the lives of the specific animals). I think this is a valid concern, and somewhat similar to the risks I raised in my post.

In my experience (limited to a few developed countries), fisheries catch shares work a bit differently to how you've explained hunting licenses. In most cases, the government uses catch shares to limit how much fishing can happen - so catch shares are not so much a product that is sold to consumers, but rather a tool used to limit the amount of fish that the commercial industry can take.

In most cases, we would be buying the catch shares off of the commercial fishers who hold them. This would give money to those fishers, which might be used for harmful things (e.g. fishing in another fishery instead), and I list that as a concerning risk in my post. But I don't think this would be as obviously bad as providing money to a hunting program.

I agree with your point about raising fish for release. This could plausibly be a bad thing in fisheries where fish are raised for release, although it'd be possible to do research to understand the size of this risk, given a particular fishery.

Comment by Ren Springlea on A direct way to reduce the catch of wild fish · 2022-07-04T05:12:22.893Z · EA · GW

Thanks for engaging with my ideas and my post. I think we seem to be in agreement that farmed fish experience avoidable suffering at a very large scale and therefore should attract serious attention from animal advocates. I nevertheless believe, at the same time, that wild-caught fish advocacy should still be a top priority, alongside farmed fish advocacy. Would you agree?

Even if it is agreed that fish in aquaculture appears to involve more avoidable suffering than cause wild-caught fish (a claim I do currently agree with), there are reasons why the effective animal advocacy movement might want to commit some amount of resources to wild fish advocacy, alongside farmed fish advocacy:
1. Someone (e.g. an EA looking for a cause to work on) could have a moral theory that cares about things other than only suffering. The most compelling of these, to me, are theories that recognise animals’ right to life. Another popular view are those that invoke “naturalness”, the integrity of biological communities, and so on - I personally find such views uncompelling, but they are very popular, particularly among environmentalists. Under either of these views (an interest in life, or environmentalist-type ideas), wild fish could be far more compelling to work on, even if it is agreed that wild fish experience less avoidable suffering.
2. An advocate looking for a cause to work on might have a particular skillset, live in a particular country, have particular connections, etc, such that a decision to focus on wild-fish advocacy may have the higher impact in that advocate's context.
3. An organisation or the EA movement wants to diversify its portfolio of causes, worldviews, etc, for either philosophical reasons (e.g. worldview diversification) or practical reasons (e.g. attractiveness to donors). This idea seems widely accepted among the EA community to me.
4. The movement may do the most good in the long run by looking out for new ideas and experimenting with ones that could conceivably have extremely high impact, even if most of these experiments are expected to fail.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Critiques of EA that I want to read · 2022-06-20T02:26:57.746Z · EA · GW

I think in particular not working on insect farming over the last decade may come to be one of the largest regrets of the EAA community in the near future.

This is something that I find myself thinking about a lot. If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you implement? I'm aware of Rethink's work to incubate the Insect Welfare Project - with that in mind, do you have any recommendations for other EAAs to help out with insect work in the meantime, even if this requires a large commitment (like starting a new org)? (I am aware of your past research on insects and that of other Rethink staff.)

Something to note - the other thing that keeps me up at night is whether the EAA movement is missing out on the impact from animal-inclusive longtermism, which is something else you've argued for and I agree with. I'm currently chatting to some people in that space about possible ways forward.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics · 2022-04-21T02:17:24.553Z · EA · GW

I had a quick look at EA grant makers at the beginning of the SA state campaign. I found that every EA grant maker I checked (can't remember which ones) had a clause saying that they won't fund political parties or campaigns. So I imagine there'd have to be a conversation with grant makers first about their policies - which may, understandably, be a tricky conversation.

The Australian government website says: "In late 2018 the Parliament passed legislation to ban political donations of $1,000 or more from foreign sources. ... The new rules ban donations from foreign donors: a person who does not have a connection to Australia, such as a person who is not an Australian citizen or an entity that does not have a significant business presence in Australia."
So yes, that could be a hurdle. But perhaps this idea could still work for parties in countries that do not have a law like this, or the funding could come from EA orgs or grant makers based in Australia.

I'm in two minds about the party being funding constrained. To be funding constrained would mean that extra funding would translate to either a higher vote or a better outcome in some other measure of influence. I haven't seen any evidence to either support or refute that claim. The SA state campaign's spend in 2022 was $100,000 and resulted in a vote of 1.5%, while in 2018 the spend  was $18,000 and resulted in a vote of 2.17%. Obviously that's just a single comparison, and the contexts varied wildly between those two years, but it's not obvious to me that extra spending would increase the vote (or other measures of influence). I previously looked at obtaining data from state branches on this question, but I don't believe I went ahead with that project.

Comment by Ren Springlea on Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics · 2022-04-19T11:32:32.777Z · EA · GW

Thank you for offering your thoughts. It's great to hear about similar work in other countries.

I read on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animalist_Party) that the Animalist Party got 2.16% in the 2019 European Parliament. Is that right? It seems like a solid result and similar to the results the Animal Justice Party typically gets in Australia - and, as you say, a way to build the legitimacy of animal-related issues.

Good luck for some positive outcomes in the future elections, both French and EU. I'll keep an eye on the results!

Comment by Ren Springlea on Minor political parties as an advocacy strategy: The case of animal politics · 2022-04-19T02:39:40.887Z · EA · GW

Thanks Lucas - good question. If Farrer's theory is on the right track (which I think it is), then traditional orgs and political parties are substitutable strategies to achieve any particular policy goal. The most effective strategy would depend on the goal and the context. Given this, it would make perfect sense for EA grant makers to also consider funding political campaigns by minor parties. I've seen that grant makers often explicitly exclude political parties, which I gather is an understandable concession to optics.

An argument against this is neglectedness - at least in my experience with the AJP, the party can readily generate its own funds through fundraising around election time. The government also provides funding for parties that achieve a particular threshold (not sure if this happens in other countries). Since minor political parties have access to these two sources of funding, this is a good reason why grant makers might choose not to fund political parties.

To me, it would make sense for EA grant makers to consider funding campaigns (subject to optics considerations of course), but it would also make sense for grant makers to require a strong argument why the political party in question can't get its funding from sources like these.