Thank you very much, Saulius and Will, for your interesting comments, and sorry we didn’t reply straight away as these are very busy weeks for us!
In your comments you raised a point that is unrelated to the content of this post but it’s definitely interesting to address. Among the reasons you mention for signing our publications as individuals, there are some that point to advantages of doing so that, we agree, are undeniable. But there are other reasons in favor of not doing that that we consider more important, so we sign our publications under the name of the organization we work with.
How people feel. One reason Saulius pointed out in favor of having individuals signing the pieces is that it matters to those individuals. We agree that how authors feel is important, so we will first comment on that before moving to other considerations.
We understand that many other people might feel as Saulius does, though we have not seen any evidence indicating that this is so for most people. There are also many people who don’t enjoy having public profiles. Others are uncomfortable with having their work attributed to them instead of to an organization, because they don’t want to work for the sake of personal recognition, but rather to make a change for the better.
Attributing work to individuals rather than to collective projects helps to build a culture where the ideal of personal achievement has a significant weight. We don’t really regard that ideal as an attractive one, and feel closer to an ideal of unselfish collaboration for a common end. Of course, we understand and respect that other people think or feel differently; but we don’t identify with that.
Attractiveness of a certain culture. Moving from how people feel to other reasons, it seems uncertain that, overall, fostering an ideal of personal achievement over one of altruistic disinterested collaboration may collectively end up having the best results. Fostering an ideal of personal achievement leads to shaping a certain profile for people participating in a certain movement, which can have several interesting advantages, but it also has disadvantages. It can attract some people at the cost of putting others off. Now, maybe those who are more attracted to that can make a more significant contribution than those who may not like that culture. In that case, it may be positive overall to cultivate that ideal because of this. Whether that is so or not can have an impact that can be much more important than other comparatively minor advantages or disadvantages of having the name of the authors of texts published or not. But there’s a lot of uncertainty here. Intuitively, the first idea that springs to mind is that those movements supporting altruistic behavior should favor unselfish disinterested action over personal achievement. But we’ve never spoken against doing things differently from this, as we understand that maybe the indirect considerations against this might end up dominating. Perhaps diversity is a safer option.
Fairness. Another consideration has to do with fairness. Something that we see as especially problematic with putting individual names on our texts is that it would create a difference within our team between people who write papers and people who do other things, such as outreach tasks, managing volunteers, managing social media, organization duties, graphic design, and many other things. To be sure, those people could be mentioned somewhere on the website, but there are many circumstances in which it would be odd, or impossible, to indicate that they have done a certain task. Mentioning some people every now and then (the writers) and not others would create an unfair difference in how we recognize the work of people on our team that would not correlate with their commitment or the number of hours invested.
Organizations doing other things in addition to research. In organizations that only do research work the point just made above may not be an issue, as there may be only people researching. In organizations that in addition to doing research also do other things (as in our case, since we do a lot of outreach work as well) this is very relevant.
Collective work. In addition, something that applies in our case is that our texts are never the work of just one person. It sometimes happens that one or two of us makes a rough draft and two others edit it very significantly. In other cases, more people are involved. We like this method as it allows us to exchange ideas and to produce a higher quality of work than one or two of us alone would have achieved.
Moreover, related to this, we regularly update our website texts with new information, and this is sometimes done by people other than the ones who wrote the first versions of those texts.
In fact, it just so happens that this piece about potential wild animal vaccination against different coronaviruses is an example of this, as a large number of people worked on it. Two people drafted it, two other people discussed it and edited it significantly, and someone else also lent a hand with the references. But this paper borrows lots of material from our main page about wild animal vaccination, to which yet another person also contributed. All this is setting aside that other people translated it into French, others into Spanish, others into Portuguese, others in making it visible in social media, etc.
Animal advocacy. If you look at the ways most animal organizations communicate, including the texts on their websites explaining what animals' lives are like, the reasons against using them or discriminating against them, etc., it’s common practice that organizations just sign them with the organizations’ names. This is different from what happens in EA, and some animal advocacy organizations have adopted the EA style of having people signing some of the texts on their websites. But many animal advocates, especially among those working in grassroots advocacy are unfamiliar with that. Many among them dislike it, and they see it as self-promotion instead of as altruistically helping animals. As an important part of the work of effective animal organizations is to influence those people, this is something to bear in mind.
These are very general considerations. Addressing all the other details involved would take us a long time, but here are some minor points we’d like to mention concerning points you raised:
Academic pieces. It’s absolutely right that academic papers should be written by recognizable individuals because of the way academia works. Due to this, there have sometimes been people who have wanted to collaborate with ideas or texts to be published by us, and we have encouraged them to try to publish in academic journals instead. Blog posts and website pages have extremely little academic prestige. Whether a blog post is signed by an organization or an individual is not going to make any significant difference: it’s not going to be an academically respected publication anyway (perhaps an exception may be a blog post by someone who is very respected already in academia, but even in that case it would be much less cited and respected than something published in a journal).
We encourage and help researchers in Animal Ethics to publish their individual work. All this is perfectly compatible with members of Animal Ethics publishing their own work with their own names, which of course they also do, for instance in the case of academic papers. That’s their individual work, which is different from the collective work done in Animal Ethics in which they can also participate. In line with the point made in the previous paragraph, we actually encourage them to publish such work.
Speaking with people who are competent in some field. If there is something Animal Ethics has authored that you’d like to talk about with us you can get in touch with us by email at info(a)animal-ethics.org. Or you can indicate that in a comment here if it’s about the content of a publication, and we’ll be happy to put you in touch with someone on our team who is knowledgeable about that.
Avoiding confusions. The average person from the general public or involved in animal advocacy typically views organizations as entities with a personality of their own, and expects them to subscribe to certain views. When these people see an article on the website of an organization, they will attribute the views of that article to the organization. To avoid confusion, we avoid publishing things that some people on our team really disagree with.
Considering all of the above, researchers with a primary interest in building a career may prefer to work in other organizations with a different culture instead of Animal Ethics. There surely are other organizations or initiatives where they can make significant contributions. Other people may prefer to collaborate with organizations like us.
Thank you for your excellent comment, Gavin! You highlight several important points, with which we agree. Concerning why viruses in general, and coronaviruses in particular, are so prevalent in bats, you're quite right, although on top of what you said there are other factors that can be considered too, which is why we argued that it could be a sum of "high genetic diversity (there are both many species and many individual bats), [and that bats are] long-lived, and they roost in large groups."
Thank you! Your points are very good ones.
Like you pointed out, many diseases that can be very virulent in humans (Ebola, Nipah, Coronavirus) are not so virulent in bats, so there would be many instances where a vaccination program will be very valuable for humans but have very little (and maybe even negative, due to side effects) effect on the wild animal population.
Yes, this is true to some extent, although it's likely that even if viruses that are virulent in other animals are less so in bats, they are nevertheless, if to a minor extent, harmful for them. Maybe to them the viruses would be like a cold would be to us. So in these cases it is likely to be beneficial. It will just be much less so than in the case of other diseases we considered here, like rabies or white nose disease.
In addition to these cases, these programs would benefit nonhuman animals other than bats who may be infected by them, and would also be beneficial in the other ways pointed out in the last section of the piece.
I don't know how much disease really impacts wild animal suffering
Available evidence suggests is pretty widespread unfortunately. See this piece.
Before vaccines we need surveillance
Yes! This is a reason why we think that promoting more research at the intersection of animal welfare science and the science of ecology is necessary. We've been funding work about this that examines different causes of death in wild animals in different countries, see here and here.
Monitoring is also needed after the vaccination programs are implemented.
Take into account that vaccine development involves a LOT of test subjects
You're right, and this is a very significant concern. It is true that right now, because of the urgency to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19, testing is being directly carried out in human subjects (see for instance here, here and here for some news pieces about this). There are also some research methods not involving animals (here and here are pieces with examples). But regardless of this, we agree this is a very serious issue. We would advocate for vaccination programs in cases where a vaccine is available already.
I'm really curious about the gel that was developed for bat white-nose syndrome!
Yeah! In addition to the references in the notes, these are other relatively recent papers about this method:
Hoyt, J.R., Langwig, K.E., White, J.P., Kaarakka, H.M., Redell, J.A., Parise, K.L., Frick, W.F., Foster, J.T. and Kilpatrick, A.M. (2019) “Field trial of a probiotic bacteria to protect bats from white-nose syndrome”, Scientific Reports, 9, a. 9158.
Cheng, T.L., Mayberry, H., McGuire, L.P., Hoyt, J.R., Langwig, K.E., Nguyen, H., Parise, K.L., Foster, J.T., Willis, C.K., Kilpatrick, A.M. and Frick, W.F. (2017) “Efficacy of a probiotic bacterium to treat bats affected by the disease white‐nose syndrome”, Journal of Applied Ecology, 54, pp. 701-708.
Hi ælijah, thanks!
Those questions are interesting, but the reason why we didn't ask them is that we carried out this study in order to learn what kind of research it would be better to promote in academia to help to establish work on wild animal suffering/welfare biology as successfully as possible. Due to this, we chose the scenarios that we expected to be more promising (based on our study of the literature, but especially on the results of this other study).
Yes, the survey was anonymous. At any rate, at this point we know of scholars who could carry out work on fields related to helping wild animals (right now we're funding welfare biology research in Canada, New Zealand, and Spain). The main constraint to getting work done is funding.
If you know of specific, comparable examples and are able to share their names/citations...
These are some examples, though it’s anecdotal evidence. It's also hard to say to what extent they are relevantly comparable:
Hi Jamie, thank you!
We did consider asking academics about that, but we finally decided against it as that could have distorted the results of the survey, and our primary goal here was to get the information we were looking for.
We have a similar opinion about the response rate. We were expecting it to be quite low, though not that much (we had initially planned to send 2,000-2,500 emails, and ended up sending almost 4,000). Other surveys among scientists do get much higher response rates, although they can vary a lot.