Book Review: Jacy Reese (2018) The End of Animal Farming (Beacon Press: Boston, MA)

Price: ***
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: *****
Value for EAA pros: ****

Disclaimer: I work full-time for Sentience Institute. This post represents entirely my own views, rather than those of  my employers. Given that I work with Jacy, I am not the best person to write a review of the book, but I thought it was worth including the book on But Can They Suffer, so that the site can continue to list reviews of books from members of the EAA community.

To some extent, The End of Animal Farming has a dual audience: 1) animal advocates seeking to integrate the perspectives and insights from the Effective Altruism community and its research into their advocacy; 2) those otherwise not deeply engaged in animal advocacy, who can benefit from understanding how animal advocacy interacts with the wider goal of moral circle expansion, with the effective altruism movement, and with current technological developments. I would guess it would be slightly more useful for the former than the latter.

The book uses research from Sentience Institute and the wider animal advocacy community. It covers much of the same ground as the foundational questions summaries and research posts, but the insights from previous work are integrated into a narrative form. In this sense, it is a comfortable and enjoyable read, which helps to familiarise the reader with some of the current research insights, but also with many of the key “scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists” involved in the predicted end of animal farming.

Due to the more narrative style than most of SI’s materials, the book tends to read slightly more like a statement of Jacy’s current beliefs in some key issues in animal advocacy than as a neutral list of all relevant arguments. Counterarguments are still included, however, and the book remains balanced and fair.

I would recommend TEOF as a fantastic introduction to effective animal advocacy, above Cooney’s book, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change. Cooney’s book is very useful, but is quite narrow in its focus and is dense with psychological studies. TEOF has a broader focus and is more readable. Aside from the notes – which are often worth reading – there’s only 164 pages.

For many already involved in animal advocacy, the book will likely include some evidence from less familiar sources (from historical social movements to psychology studies) or broader perspectives on the farmed animal movement which incorporate wild animals and longer-term future considerations. If you are already very up-to-date with effective animal advocacy research and Sentience Institute’s work, there may not be many particularly surprising insights in the book, although you will likely enjoy reading it. You may also find some of the discussion and re-phrasing of familiar issues to be useful, or gain insight into less familiar issues (for me, a good example was a discussion of how to frame messages to appeal to more conservative audiences).

Overall, an excellent book for a variety of audiences.

If you’d like to see a more critical, external review, see here, although I’ll note that I don’t really agree with the criticisms.

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Event Review: Effective Altruism Global: London, 26th to 28th October, 2018

Price: ***
Ease of use: ***
Value for EAA beginners: ****
Value for EAA pros: *****

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

I previously reviewed Effective Altruism Global (London, 2017) here. I also attended EAG in 2018, and I wanted to update the review. If you’re interested, read the 2017 review first for context on how EAG works; this additional review is intended to add further comment after EAG has had time to change and develop and after I have been involved in the EA community for a further year, including taking on a full time role at Sentience Institute. Note that other people have written better guides about how to make the most out of EAG, such as here. These posts cover my own perspective and experience, mainly to help people decide whether it is worth them attending an EAG conference or not.

In summary, I found the 2018 EAG more exciting and less demoralising than the 2017 EAG, and I suspect that it was also more useful for me. This was primarily due to changes in my own approach to EAG, rather than changes in the structure of the event. Otherwise, my broad recommendations remain the same: “I would encourage interested people to attend, but to make the most of your networking opportunities while you are there and to prepare some ideas and questions [and meetings] in advance.”

The main difference in my experience came from additional preparation for the event. Last year, I turned up on the Friday with very little idea of what to expect and having done no preparation. This year, I booked in several meetings in advance, and arranged extra meetings as the conference progressed (12 scheduled meetings this year, compared to none last year). This was partially with the help of a new system implemented by CEA to support one-to-one conversations. One-to-ones often seem form the most useful part of many EA events that I attend, and EAG 2018 was no exception. As well as making the conference more useful, I also found that this made me less stressed, because I prefer structured events with clear plans to lengthy periods of unstructured conversations.

Last year, I wrote that “some of the most useful conversations that I had were with those who shared a primary focus and interest in reducing animal suffering.” This year, I think that I gained more from conversations, meetups, and talks involving researchers working in areas beyond animal advocacy. This is because I had clearer career similarities with them, which led to fruitful conversations about productivity tips and research habits or approaches. In this sense, a key difference also came from my personal increased clarity regarding my own career, and deeper involvement in the EA community; this enabled me to prioritise conversations like this.

It’s worth noting that I think that I underestimated some of the long-term benefits that I gained from meeting others involved in animal advocacy in 2017. Some of these conversations have been useful in terms of organising events in London and in terms of being more able to contact others for advice or to share thoughts. Some of these connections almost led directly to career opportunities for me too.

Practical notes

This year my ticket was cheaper because I booked earlier. Given that discounts are also available, I’ve improved the price rating.

I didn’t feel (notice?) that there were major changes to the organisation or style of EAG this year compared to last year. There were slightly fewer workshops and there were more “meetup” events. I actually found these meetup events to be slightly more structured than I would have liked; I probably would have preferred more unstructured networking, perhaps focused around a wider array of topics.

I’ve upgraded the “ease of use” rating. I think that as long as you make use of the app and information provided beforehand to plan your time at EAG, it’s self-explanatory and easy to use. Gaining maximum value out of the event probably does depend on being proactive, though. There were also some technical difficulties with the Bizzabo app this year that I didn’t notice previously.

Event Review: CEVA Training

Price: ****

Ease of use: ****

Value for EAA beginners: ****

Value for EAA pros: ***

As ever, this post reflects my own views, not those of my employer.

On the 1st and 2nd of September, I attended a two-day training session by the Center for Effective Vegan Advocacy, hosted by ProVeg UK. The training was led by Melanie Joy and Tobias Leenaert. You can see the agenda here. Many relevant resources – either similar to the talks themselves, or recommended as relevant to the content – can be found here.

The talks

Tobias kicked off the sessions with an excellent, concise summary of some of the key principles of Effective Altruism, and how these might apply to animal advocacy in broad terms. His talks on the second day were mostly either summarising some of the key ideas in his book, How to Create a Vegan World, or adding some supplementary ideas, which he shares at various points on his blog (and which mostly repeated the talk he had given in London last year, on the same title as his book). These talks were all excellent for those unfamiliar with EA and EAA (if this applies to you, then see this list of introductory materials), his book and blog, although for those who were already aware of these ideas, they had little to add.

Melanie Joy spoke about effective communication. This is a topic that I find people who are new to veganism or to EAA are often keen to talk about or find additional resources on (hence why I wrote this post). A lot of the talk focused on theories of ways to break down, understand and reflect upon communication in general. This was then supplemented with some more practical tips. For example, one idea which many attendees seemed keen to focus on putting into practice was the idea of whole messages. In discussions going forward (whether about veganism or not!) I plan to try and focus on consistently implementing a simplified version of this, where I lead with neutral, objective observations before explaining my interpretation or feelings arising from that observation, and before moving onto any relevant requests or suggestions for my audience. Indeed, some of these ideas are likely as useful for personal communication as they are for communication about veganism. Melanie’s talks did not drill down much into the evidence-base of her claims and suggestions. This made the talks more accessible for practical advice on communication, but made them less persuasive if any of her views about the foundational questions in EAA differed from your own; speaking to a few individuals in the breaks, they were unhappy with some of the suggestions to focus on tactics which fell short of an explicit, comprehensive “vegan” ask, and there was little evidence in the talks which might have changed their minds.

Melanie also gave a talk about sustainable activism. I did not take any notable lessons away from this talk; it felt as if the purpose was simply to reinforce the importance of not burning out as an activist. Melanie did recommend some resources for further use, however, such as the book Trauma Stewardship, and these could be useful for many individuals.

Other benefits

An additional benefit of the training is in building connections, community and communication between the attendees themselves. For those new to animal advocacy or interested in becoming active as advocates for the first time, the training offers the chance to meet other advocates, and perhaps to find out about opportunities for engagement. For those more heavily involved in animal advocacy, the event could provide great opportunities to meet others and to build up relationships which support more coordinated action. This might especially be the case if the training has not been run in your area before or if your country does not have a very established or well-connected animal advocacy community. CEVA could possibly have made more of these potential benefits: perhaps by formally hosting a meetup or discussion group around the main events, for those working in animal advocacy (although Tobias suggested to me that they do do this sort of thing for countries with a less well-established animal advocacy community); perhaps simply by providing a list of attendees before the event itself, so that attendees could see if there were particular individuals or organisations that they wanted to connect with at the event (this would have been very useful for me).

Summary of benefits for different types of attendees

Those new to animal advocacy will probably benefit most from the talks, especially Tobias Leenaert’s introductory content. The only potential negative of the training for newcomers, apart from the reasonable fee and the time commitment, is that by focusing on “communication”, it focused inevitably on individual discussions about veganism, which may reinforce the assumption (which I would argue is mistaken) that individual vegan outreach is an effective use of marginal resources (see here for a summary of that debate).

For those working in animal advocacy organisations but unfamiliar with the concepts of Effective Altruism and pragmatic approaches to animal advocacy, Tobias’ talks would be very useful. For those who work directly in communications about veganism (whether that be in designing materials, in marketing, or in corporate outreach), then Melanie’s talks may have been very useful. For those well acquainted with EA ideas and not involved in work requiring “effective communication”, then the talks of the training don’t offer much of direct value.

The training weekend probably offers decent value in terms of community-building and networking for all attendees, although to varying extents, depending on your personal and professional situation. For the reasonable price to attend, this probably makes attending worth it for many people.

Personally, as someone who works full time in EAA research, I found it a vaguely productive use of a weekend where I otherwise wouldn’t have done much work relating to EA. I also thoroughly enjoyed the events and socialising in the evening. That said, I wouldn’t have attended if I had had to sacrifice working days to attend.

Research review: Animal Charity Evaluators Social Movement Case Studies

Price: Free
Ease of use: **
Value for EAA beginners: *
Value for EAA pros: ***

Disclaimer: From tomorrow, I will be working full-time as a researcher for Sentience Institute, who conduct social movement studies themselves. The views expressed here are exclusively my own.

In February 2018, ACE announced that they were discontinuing their social movement project. Apart from resource constraints, ACE also admitted that the social movement case studies that their interns had created were of variable quality. Although I believe these case studies are useful (more on that below), some are better researched, analysed and explained than others. The case studies are all freely available here.

Summaries of the Individual Case Studies

Unnamed intern at ACE (Unknown date) “Environmentalism”: This case study evaluates the impact of three features of the environmentalism movement. Firstly, the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and secondly, the widespread promotion of Earth Day, are both credited with playing an important role in pushing environmentalism into the American (and to a lesser extent, global) political mainstream. The author does not really attempt to rigorously distinguish coincidence and correlation from historical causation; they have several paragraphs recognising this difficulty, but seem to proceed on with some perhaps overly confident analysis about the importance of these works. Further research would be needed for me to update my views particularly strongly in favour of these sorts of interventions in the way that the author recommends them. Nevertheless, some of the specific reflections are useful, such as on how the credibility of the author can affect the impact of their works. The third section considers the growth of recycling. The analysis is short, but the discussion of moral licensing effects is useful, since this might imply that individual consumer change is less impactful overall than it might appear.

Amanda Lueke (2014) “Fat Activism”: This post is the shortest of the ACE social movement case studies. It focuses primarily on summarising the Fat Activism movement’s features. The analysis of which tactics have been most helpful for the movement is anecdotal and intuitive. The author proposes some lessons for EAA from the Fat Activism movement – that blogging is a useful entry point for activists, and that coordination with other social movements can increase reach and support – but I did not find the analysis convincing enough to update my views much for either of these issues.

Allison Smith and unnamed ACE intern? (2015) “Social Movements Case Study: Children’s Rights”: I found this to be the most useful of the ACE case studies. The analysis focuses on several different sections. Firstly, on the context of 19th to 20th century British children’s rights legislation. This section mostly takes the form of a chronological narrative, and there is relatively little evaluation, or consideration of causation. This section is therefore not particularly useful in its current form, although I suspect that further research here could be valuable. The second section focuses on the outlawing of corporal punishment for children in Sweden, and the effect that this had on other countries. The analysis here is much clearer, as it draws on wider social science research on the subject. There is a clear effort to distinguish the impact of the legislation from the counterfactuals, which leads the author to tentatively conclude that changing legislation “might spur on opinion change by legitimizing the view it represents”. The analysis also suggests that opinion change correlates at least partially with behaviour change, and that legal change can influence legislation in other countries too. The final section analyses the more recent success of campaigning for similar legislation in New Zealand, with a focus on the activism tactics. Although the lessons are not all clear cut or directly transferable to EAA, this section suggests some methods of institutional advocacy which can be impactful even without widespread public support, including building coalitions of supporting organisations, and lobbying politicians directly.

Unnamed ACE intern (unknown date) “The British Antislavery Movement And The Abolition Of The Slave Trade In 1807”: This analysis is less useful, purely because it has largely been superseded by a more detailed study by Kelly Witwicki of Sentience Institute (see my summary here). The ACE analysis does have some elements not considered in SI’s analysis; the first section establishes the importance of abolition as a “social movement”, rather than as an inevitable economic change. Otherwise, the two analyses share many similarities, such as noting that the British antislavery movement suggests the importance and tractability of legislative change. Like the Fat Activism case study, the author of this analysis also sees historical evidence for the importance of diversity in EAA and of alliances across social and moral causes.

Use of the case studies within ACE

In ACE’s February announcement, Toni Adleberg wrote that “we feel that evidence from other social movements can (and should) be incorporated in our other research programs: our intervention research, foundational research, and experimental research.” Indeed, ACE’s revised intervention report methodology incorporates a section for “Evidence from the Social Sciences”, which includes reference to social movements. The leafleting intervention report hardly focused on this, dealing with it in a couple of short paragraphs and bullet points. The intervention report on protests, however, focused much more on the evidence from a variety of related academic fields. The evidence from social movements play an important part, being referred to 29 times, although they don’t explicitly reference the work of their own interns.

Wider uses of the case studies

Social movement studies provide qualitative evidence which is most useful for macro questions and wider EAA strategy. They have, for example, made me feel that it could be more tractable to secure far-reaching restrictions on factory farming than I had previously believed, and that the EAA movement should therefore prioritise building towards such legislation (see my post on this here). They also suggest that individual consumer action is less valuable than we might otherwise assume.

Social movement studies can also offer more specific lessons for particular interventions, such as how best to implement legislative efforts, or what sorts of dangers might arise. Steven Wise of the Non-Human Rights Project has, for example, extensively studied the 1772 Lord Mansfield case in order to inform his efforts to secure legal personhood for non-human animals. The author of the ACE children’s rights case study had suggested that further study of the legal struggles in that social movement might reveal similar insights.

In all of these situations, we must be wary of the many differences between the social movements being studied and the EAA movement today, of course. The specificities of the past should not be applied in a simplified, thoughtless manner to the differing problems of today. When considering wider questions and macro strategy, social movement studies may only provide weak evidence; but weak evidence can be useful. Even if these case studies by ACE are imperfect, at the moment they are some of the most thorough write-ups we have (in terms of directly linking the movements towards EAA) and so their importance should not be undervalued. If they are all superseded by more thorough analyses, this will be a good thing, but I would encourage the EAA movement to cautiously use these case studies in the meantime.

Although the case studies are fairly intuitively laid out, with clear sub-titles, I have ranked ease of use poorly because the varying quality of the case studies means that I would not encourage readers to take the lessons at face value, without reading the material and engaging with the information there critically.

Podcast review: Cultured Meat and Future Foods Podcast

Price: Free
Ease of use: ***
Value for EAA beginners: **
Value for EAA pros: **

If you haven’t heard of clean meat (called here “cultured meat”) before, it refers to real meat created without the factory farming or the slaughterhouses, which will be grown in facilities resembling breweries or fermenters. See this list for further reading.

The Cultured Meat and Future Foods podcast currently has 11 episodes available, with most episodes being around 30 minutes long. They are with a variety of people involved in clean meat production, research and advocacy, including employees of New Harvest and The Good Food Institute, plus Paul Shapiro, author of Clean Meat, as well as founders of for-profit companies in the area. The podcast considers “future foods” in general, but so far has focused almost exclusively on clean meat and other forms of cellular or acellular agriculture.

For those who have heard of clean meat but are otherwise new to the topic, then listening to one or two of the first few podcasts will probably act as an interesting introduction.

For those who have read about clean meat already, the greatest uses of the podcast are probably to get a sense of the views and actions of different organisations in the field and to get the occasional insider insight.

One disadvantage is that I feel that the podcasts cover quite introductory content, and discuss similar issues with each podcast. This seems a shame, given that many of the interviewees work in quite specific areas; it would have been more useful for listeners to get more specific insights into their specific roles.

There is also no particular guidance from the producers as to the content of each podcast, beyond a short, introductory paragraph. Time stamps for different questions would make the resource much easier to access and use for those more familiar with the field. On a practical level, the ability to speed up the podcast to anywhere between 1x and 2x speed is helpful, however.

Research review: Kelly Witwicki (2017) “Social Movement Lessons From the British Antislavery Movement” on Sentienceinstitute.org

Price: *****
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: ***
Value for EAA pros: *****

Disclaimer: I will be working full time for Sentience Institute from the 1st of August.

Sentience Institute’s research is available here, and the report is available here.

I had previously summarised Kelly Witwicki’s British Antislavery study for Faunalytics here, so I thought I would just add it to the blog to keep the reviews in one place.

As I note in the section “uses of this study” on my summary for Faunalytics, “this report, and its implications, can be useful for all animal advocates.” I think the report is most useful for thinking about the tractability and best strategies for multiple different intervention types. It has the effect of making legislative change seem more tractable, and individual outreach seem less so.

Although the report is long, it is very easy to access. The key findings are listed at the start, and so if you are happy to trust Witwicki’s analysis, then reading through this section will only take a few mintues.

Relatedly, I think social movement studies are undervalued for evidence and insight into EAA issues. For one explanation of why it can be useful, see this post by Jacy Reese of Sentience Institute. I am aiming to make a post soon reviewing the social movement studies for Animal Charity Evaluators.

Research review: J. Mohorčich (2017) “What can nuclear power teach us about the institutional adoption of clean meat?” on Sentienceinstitute.org

Price: *****
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: *
Value for EAA pros: ***

Disclaimer: I will be working full time for Sentience Institute from the 1st of August.

Sentience Institute’s research is available here, and the report is available here.

Recently, I posted a review of Sentience Institute’s technology study on the adoption of GM foods. I had previously summarised J. Mohorčich’s previous technology adoption study for Faunalytics here, so I thought I would just add it to the blog to keep the reviews in one place.

The nuclearisation study is much shorter than the GMO study, but possibly equally useful to those interested in clean meat. I think it has fewer implications for intervention prioritisation, however so is perhaps less useful for EAA beginners.