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.

Advertisements

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: 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.

Book Review: Nick Cooney (2011) Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach us About Spreading Social Change (Lantern Books: New York)

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

 

This book by Nick Cooney is an excellent resource for understanding how psychology affects our work in social movements. It draws primarily on external psychological studies, combined with Cooney’s personal advocacy experience, primarily for the Humane League (he had worked for or helped to found many organisations by 2011, and done so for more since then) and some strategic thinking and common sense.

The book is intended to be applicable to any social movement, with his examples frequently alternating between animal advocacy, environmentalism and other causes. This does not significantly detract from its value for animal advocates (even if some of the specific suggestions aren’t directly relevant), although I suspect that advocates for other causes might find that the book focuses on issues most pertinent to animal advocacy.

The structure of the book is simple. Chapters 1 to 3 lay out a variety of cognitive biases that affect how successful various types of advocacy efforts are likely to be. This section leaves you with the impression that successful advocacy is incredibly difficult, and that you shouldn’t rely on your intuitions.

After building up your sense of the gravity of the problems (in the manner of a successful salesman?), Cooney then moves on to demonstrating solutions for the issues. Chapters 4 to 7 all list a huge number of “Tools of Influence” to support our advocacy. The final three chapter then contain wider social scientific learnings and business strategy ideas which put the ideas from the rest of the book into context.

The book is therefore packed full of useful information. Here are some of those who might benefit, organised roughly in order of who I think would benefit most:

  • Advocates hoping to increase the effectiveness of their individual outreach, or increase their chances of success in discussions with corporate, institutional or governmental contacts, partners and targets
  • Those currently working for non-profit organisations who might want to read through to see if the ideas contained might help to streamline their work, and improve efficiencies.
  • Aspiring social scientists, EAA researchers, or those working in non-profits interested in measuring the impact of their own programmes, to read through the first few chapters to broaden their understanding of how cognitive biases might affect their research.
  • If you are already familiar with both psychology and the animal advocacy movement, you might not learn as much from this book, although I imagine that it might still piece some ideas together in ways that you had not already done yourself.

The wide appeal of the book necessarily means that it won’t be consistently 100% useful, word for word, for any one reader. It contains an overwhelmingly large number of useful new ideas for those new to the field of psychology, which makes the book almost intimidating to use.

For those under time pressure, I’d encourage you to follow one of these two strategies to get the most out of the book:

  • Read this list I have created of 23 of the different cognitive biases and 42 of the tools referred to in the book. This list cuts out much of the useful explanation and examples given in the book, but condenses the key concepts. You could copy and paste the information into a separate Excel/Google sheet and add an additional column for the relevance of the concepts to your work. I would advise also buying the book, so that you can look up the specific examples and relevant studies, as and when appropriate.
  • Flick through the book, looking at the clearly labelled subtitles, and stopping to read those strategies which seem most useful for you.

As usual for such books, the Kindle edition is relatively cheap, but the paperback is more expensive than most paperbacks. It gets 4*s anyway, because the book is so packed full of information, most readers would easily get their money’s worth!

For those looking for easier (i.e. less research-heavy) introductions to effective animal advocacy outreach, I’d recommend starting with Friedrich and Ball’s Handbook or Leenaert’s book.

Note, that whilst I am fairly unreservedly endorsing the helpful information and advice contained within Cooney’s book, I am not endorsing his personal conduct. Although I know very little about the issue beyond hearsay, this article addresses some of the concerns. It is a complicated issue, so if you are engaging with it, I encourage you to read to the bottom of the article, which includes some replies. The accusations are grave, but we should not stop benefiting from Cooney’s (otherwise unrelated) productive work – to do so would be to prioritise personal purity over effectiveness in reducing animal suffering.

An additional criticism might be that some of Cooney’s suggestions essentially accept (and therefore, implicitly endorse?) certain assumptions and prejudices. To reject these strategies in favour of challenging privilege might lead to reduced effectiveness in the short term, but might be considered important for the long-term health of the movement, or for its intrinsic value. I don’t have strong views on this issue, but if your views are stronger than mine then you might reject some of the advice in the book, although only a relatively small proportion of the book would be affected. Those interested in the topic might find Melanie Joy’s new essays on privilege useful.

There are some other reviews of Cooney’s book. This one has some interesting rough and ready estimates about the (meta level) impact that this book might have on the effectiveness of animal advocates.