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.

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.

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.

Research review: J. Mohorčich (2018) “What can the adoption of GM foods teach us about the adoption of other food technologies?” 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.

This report from Sentience Institute looks at the history of Genetically Modified foods and draws lessons for advocates of clean meat (and to a lesser extent, plant-based meat technologies).

The report is very easy to access and read through. The “introduction” and the “summary of implications and findings” are mostly similar in that they summarise the key takeaways of the report. If you are happy to trust Mohorčich’s analysis, then reading these sections will only take a few minutes, and will give you most of the main ideas.

The report starts with a summary of the history of GM foods and the contrast between their adoption in the USA and rejection in Europe. The analysis then clearly lists “analogies” to clean meat, as well as “disanalogies” and points of “unclear relationship”.

Overall, the report may have the effect of making the successful implementation of clean meat (which completely or nearly completely eradicates the use of traditional animal agriculture) seem less tractable. This is mostly through the analogy to the “two-phase industry model”. Initially, GMOs were supported and developed by optimistic startups who wanted to change the world and deal with environmental issues, which were backed by venture capitalists. This phase looks very similar to the situation clean meat is in at the moment. Later, however, the optimistic startups underwent mergers and acquisitions from larger companies, which led to a variety of issues and fears around corporatization and centralization of the food industry, which reduced consumer acceptance of GMOs.

If the analysis makes EAA readers less optimistic about clean meat, it also suggest important actions that could be taken, and serves as a useful warning to the startups and to clean meat advocates. For example, one lesson from the failings and difficulties of the proponents of GMOs is that “clean meat advocates should probably [focus] on developing a robust industry advocacy group in each market they plan to enter”.

Another key finding of the report is that concerns around unnaturalness were insufficient to prohibit adoption of GMOs; it was a broad coalition of concerns which led to reduced support in Europe and caused problems elsewhere. Furthermore, “constant discussion of safety concerns, even if to answer these concerns in a technically-sound manner, tends to displace positive framing of an issue and reinforce the idea that there is something to fear.” Accordingly, advocates should focus on the positives (especially the ethical positives) of clean meat, rather than focus on responding to dangers. This also fits with the implications of Eva Vivalt’s studies, which found that “embrace naturalness” messaging was more effective at encouraging support for clean meat than messaging which tried to disprove claims about its unnaturalness. Interestingly, her conclusion on the tractability issue, much like that of “Mohorčich”, is that “clean meat is not a panacea”.

Those newer to the topic may like to start with the resources recommended here, or by reading Paul Shapiro’s book, Clean Meat. For those involved in the clean meat space or considering intervention prioritisation within EAA, however, this analysis is essential reading.

Book Review: Erik Marcus (2005) Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money (Bio Press: Boston, MA)

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

This book is divided up into several different “parts” or sections, each of which fulfils quite a different function and would appeal to different readers.

  • The first part, “Animal Agriculture”, pages 1-60, covers the state of animal agriculture as it was in 2005, with some statistics in chapter 1, some descriptions of the suffering of various types of animal in chapter 2 and some suggestions for possible reforms in chapter 3. This will likely be a useful resource for newer advocates.
  • The second part of the book , “Dismantlement”, pages 61-126, analyses “the three existing movements for animal protection” – “the vegetarian movement”, “the animal rights movement” and “the animal welfare movement” – and suggests the creation of a fourth movement, to unite these various parts – “the dismantlement movement”. This is primarily a call for a shared proactive approach to helping farmed animals, including both institutional and individual outreach. The idea was proposed a while ago, and does not seem to have been taken up (a Google search revealed nothing obviously relevant, except a single reference back to the book itself), even if some elements of Marcus’ ideas are now fairly commonly held views in the EAA community. Nevertheless, some more experienced EAAs might be interested in the term as a potential driver of progress and unity within the movement. For instance, if we think that more consistent messaging is a priority for animal advocates, might this be the sort of term that they could unify behind?
  • The “Activist Essays”, pp. 136-178, summarise various intervention types, but some are outdated from an effectiveness perspective. For instance, the EAA community has shifted away from a focus on leafleting. They may, however, be useful for those seeking motivation – reading about the actions of others may inspire you to act too.
  • The appendices, pp. 179-232, focus on discussion of some issues related to the animal advocacy movement. These may be useful starting points for advocates, although there are a variety of free websites which address these issues equally well. Many animal advocacy non-profits cover such information in their “why” or “about” sections online. Additionally, some of the data may be a little dated now, though I only skim read these sections.

The book is therefore partially intended as a “go-to” introductory resource. It could still serve this function, but some content is outdated now. It is also partially intended as an argument in favour of specific suggestions for reforms to animal advocacy. This is primarily through the idea of the “dismantlement movement”, but contains some other core ideas, such as the note that individual outreach hasn’t been very successful to date, an emphasis on increasing the use of institutional outreach, and support for measures which might decrease trust in the animal agriculture industry, to pave the road for more radical reform at a later date. Some of the ideas are quite well-supported among more experienced EAAs, while others may prompt a little reflection.

As with the recently reviewed book by Ball and Friedrich, the book is notable for sharing some ideas which later became associated with the EA and EAA movements, despite being written before these movements were established. For example pp. 93-4 attempts some rough and ready charity evaluation (although it misses the EA focus on cause prioritisation), with quotes reminiscent of the story of the foundation of GiveWell: “donating is, after all, simply a form of investing – with the payback being social progress rather than money”. Pages 112-119 give some career advice similar to that of 80,000 Hours, including a focus on “dabbling” and career exploration.

At many points, the book touches on some of the key questions that face the EAA movement today. For instance, chapter 9 on “the militancy question” is similar to the confrontation vs nonconfrontation debate (and reflects a common EAA perspective), though it is more about use of illegal tactics compared to outreach.

The book starts by providing some useful statistics about the animal agriculture industry in the USA, but as a whole is based mostly off personal experiences and intuition. References to external research are few and far between after first two chapters. There is some reference to evidence from historical social movements on pages 81-82, though this is neither thorough nor well-explained, and as such is potentially more misleading than helpful.

The book is very easy to navigate, with a clear contents page, and is available very cheaply on Amazon. I think the title is misleading, as only a relatively small portion of the book focuses on the “meat market” or on the role of “money”. Discussion of “ethics” is also quite limited.

Book review: Melanie Joy (2008) Strategic Action For Animals (Lantern Books: New York)

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

This is a book which focuses on strategy for organisations advocating for animals, but which also considers many ideas about individual activism and effectiveness. By the end of the book, Melanie Joy summarises that the book has “examined how social movements evolve and win; the difference between animal liberation and human liberation movements and how this impacts animal advocacy; the divide-and-conquer counterstrategy that makes the movement kill itself; how to maintain a strategic organization and run strategic campaigns; why and how to start your own animal liberation organization; how to be a strategic advocate for animals; and how to make sure your activism is sustainable.”

The book, consisting of 147 small pages with large font, does indeed consider all of these topics, though without much depth. The book primarily consists of some common sense thinking and some checklists of ideas to consider for each of these respective issues. The checklists may be useful if you are having to consider any of these issues, for instance tips on pages 44-46 about holding valuable “strategic meetings”, or ideas for ensuring that your campaigns have a clear goal and focus on pages 56-68. The disadvantage is that these checklists seem to be based primarily off of common sense and past experience, with only occasional reference to external literature, and no explicit reference to any particular kind of research. As a result, the checklists act more as toolkits and lists of ideas that you might like to consider, rather than as a go-to guide for the most important research or factors for each particular area.

The book is clearly subtitled – if you are soon to face any of the issues described, and don’t have much experience in the area yet, then you might find the checklists useful. A Google search might provide similarly useful information, although at least with this book you can have faith that the reflections come from an experienced and intelligent animal advocate. As with the animal activists’ handbook, this book is old enough to pre-date the majority of effective altruism writings and EAA research; whilst I am sure it was an excellent resource for its time, I probably would not recommend this book to anyone who didn’t have a specific need that I thought the book was particularly focused on.

I have copied photos of the contents below, in case any parts of the book seem particularly relevant to your needs.

Joy contents