Detecting Morally Significant Pain in Nonhumans: Some Philosophical Difficulties

Other humans merit moral concern. We think many nonhumans merit moral concern too. But how do we know? And which nonhumans? Chimpanzees? Chickens? Bumblebees? Protozoa? Roombas? Rocks? Where and how do we draw a line?

What would it take to justifiably believe that some nonhuman experiences pain (or pleasure) in a morally significant way?1 This is a tough question, but it is incredibly important to get right. Humans constitute a very, very small fraction of the animal kingdom. If other vertebrate animals experience morally significant pain, then much of our engagement with these animals is deeply immoral. If invertebrate animals experience morally significant pain, then, given the sheer number of invertebrates,2 an almost incomprehensible amount of morally significant suffering occurs beyond the ken of normal human attention. And if the capacity to experience morally significant pain is not restricted to organic entities, then human civilizations of the future may be capable of producing exponentially more sentient entities than presently exist.

On the other hand, if many, most, or all nonhumans do not experience morally significant pain, then it could be a waste of resources to try to change their condition. Given that there are millions of humans currently experiencing morally significant pain (for whom these resources would be a great aid), the opportunity cost of wasting time, talent, and money on nonhumans appears tremendous.

Figuring out where and whether to allocate resources to help nonhumans is of significant interest to Rethink Priorities. This post is our first in a series on morally significant pain in invertebrates.

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Our plans for 2019

The effective altruism movement is allocating hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of person hours per year to improve the world. Rethink Priorities is a research organization aimed at uncovering actionable insights across different EA causes, improving the effectiveness of this time and money. We’re guided by our founding values– we care about transparency, tractability, short feedback loops, actionability, and impact assessment.

Rethink Priorities is an independent project of Rethink Charity, founded in January 2018 by Peter Hurford and Marcus A. Davis to figure out how to better allocate our time and money toward doing more good. We recently expanded to a team of ten and have an exciting research agenda for 2019. Our 2019 budget is $447K (see table below for details) and we are looking to raise $294K more. If you’re interested in funding Rethink Priorities, or for more information, email Marcus A. Davis(marcus@rtcharity.org).

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EA Survey 2018 Series: Donation Data

Summary

  • Median donations were slightly higher than in 2016 and total donations much higher

  • A small number of very large donors account for the majority of the totals donated

  • A majority of EAs report donating less than they would like due to financial constraints

This post explores donation data in the 2018 EA Survey, investigating how much people are donating, where they are donating and what influences their donations.

1891 out of 2607 (73%) self-identified EAs in our sample offered data about their donations. This is a significant increase from the 2017 Survey where we had donation data from 1019 EAs out of 1853 (54.9%).

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EA Survey Series 2018: Subscribers and Identifiers

Summary

  • In this report, we will explore the difference between those who self-identify as effective altruists versus those who say they broadly subscribe to effective altruism but do not self-identify. As there is variation in levels of involvement in the effective altruism movement, we were interested in assessing people who are outside the scope of the typical analysis.

  • Past reports in the EA Survey Series have exclusively reported only on respondents who are aware of effective altruism, subscribe to effective altruism, and describe themselves as effective altruists.

To perform this analysis, we used three questions* to classify people into two segments – “subscribers” and “identifiers.”

  • Subscribers are defined as those that are aware of effective altruism and broadly subscribe to the ideals, but do not identify as effective altruists

  • Identifiers are defined as those respondents that are aware of effective altruism, broadly subscribe to the ideals, and identify as effective altruists

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EA Survey Series 2018 : How do people get involved in EA?

Summary

  • Where people first hear of effective altruism (EA) has changed over the years: 80,000 Hours is now much more influential, and Giving What We Can (GWWC) much less so.

  • Personal Contacts, books, articles and blogs (other than those by major orgs) and 80,000 Hours seem to now be where most people first hear of EA.

  • Peter Singer is sufficiently influential that he should probably be his own category

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EA Survey 2018 Series: Community Demographics & Characteristics

Summary

The EA survey provides an annual snapshot of the EA community. Although it does not sample randomly from all effective altruists, it does provide an important glimpse at demographic attributes among those who have taken the survey. From these respondents, we observe that the majority of effective altruists look demographically much like those in past years. After cleaning the data and limiting the data set to those who declared that they self-identified as effective altruists, we sampled a total of 2,607 valid respondents for this report. In total, we surveyed 3,537 people. More people took the effective altruist survey than ever before, and this additional data enables us to look at the demographics of the effective altruism movement in more depth. In this report, we also aim to explore the characteristics and tendencies of EAs, including diets, political beliefs, careers, and relationships.

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We're hiring researchers

Applications are now closed

We’re excited to announce we are looking to hire junior and senior researchers. We think our research is well-placed to make a difference and we’re looking for part-time and full-time researchers to help us do new research to dramatically improve this impact throughout the effective altruism movement.

If you’re interested we’d strongly encourage you to apply by clicking one of the roles and following the instructions there.

Announcing PriorityWiki: A Cause Prioritization Wiki

Locating and keeping up to date on all of the information in all every cause worthy of attention is time-consuming work, and a task we think is likely to be duplicated many times over by individuals and organizations. It’s very useful when deciding what interventions to spend your time or money on to know what work has already been done in the area.

However, much research is done and then lost to the sands of time, buried on some webpage somewhere. It takes significant effort to remember where all the relevant research lives. It would be nice to synthesize all of this research into one place.

This is why we’ve created PriorityWiki, a cause prioritization wiki anyone can edit which categorizes particular interventions within broader causes.

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Animal Equality showed that advocating for diet change works. But is it cost-effective?

Animal Equality and Faunalytics put together a field study testing individual video outreach on belief and diet change. They found statistically significant results on both. Together with the Reducetarian study, we now think there is sufficient evidence to establish that individual outreach may work to produce positive change for nonhuman animals. However, evidence in this study points to an estimate of $310 per pig year saved (90% interval: $46 to $1100), which is worse than human-focused interventions even from a species neutral perspective. More analysis would be needed to see how individual outreach compares to other interventions in animal advocacy or in other cause areas.

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