Another possible difference between the startup world and the EA world is that startups have access to much stronger direct feedback loops than non-profits, i.e. trying to sell to customers and seeing what happens. This means that startups don't have to think through everything super carefully before executing.
I remember being surprised by the differing mindsets about operations when I transitioned to being more involved in the tech startup world after already being involved in EA. In the startup world you often hear things like "Ideas are cheap; execution is everything" which likely leads to operations feeling less low status. This is a major contrast to the EA world where many are highly intellectual, and place a high value on ideas. Given that startups tend to have more skin in the game than non-profits, perhaps EA non-profits could benefit from shifting more towards this mindset.
[Separating from my other comment, since it's a separate idea]
There's a fifth idea that activists might consider when taking conflicted omnivores seriously, although it's a bit ickier. Activists may be able to take whatever feeling is underlying the answers to these polls, and combine it with peoples' general lack of education around factory farming, and garner broad support for something that seems much less radical than it is. For example, imagine a ballot initiative that aimed to "ban artificial insemination" in the dairy industry. Given polls like these, people may be inclined to support it, despite being unaware that it could cripple the dairy industry.
Thank you for bringing attention to this phenomenon! I've seen a number of polls like this now, which makes me confident that this isn't a fluke, and actually points to something extremely important for the movement. Another cool study from Psychology Today shows animal rights was the least controversial of six causes considered, including sustainability.
It's a shame that in my experience, many activist are convinced that broader society doesn't care about animals at all. I think this is a major sort of disillusionment and burnout in the movement. According to polls like this, there's an important way in which this mindset is misguided.
I've also thought a bit about why we haven't already abolished factory farms given polls like these. Adding on to the points you've already brought up:
In the abstract, the highest impact scientific research you can do outside industry should focus on things that are important to long-term success, but are not necessary in the short term.
Companies already have a strong incentive to find alternatives to the largest cost-drivers so that they can begin to produce regularly at smaller scales without going bankrupt. For example, companies are likely already working on alternatives to using the most expensive growth factors, since at current costs, they can make even small scale production cost-prohibitive.
However, the long term success of cultivated meat will require innovation and cost reduction across the entire value chain. Many of these innovations aren't important for the short-term goals of the industry, so will likely get pushed off until later. This is where academic research can currently provide value.
One great candidate for this is developing ways to create dirt-cheap basal media from plants, e.g. using hydrolysates. Currently, basal media components are all sourced separately, and are often produced in inefficient ways. For example, individual amino acids are often produced via fermentation and then combined in a single media formulation. This is a much less efficient process compared to current meat production, where amino acids are sourced from soybeans and fed to animals. In the long term, it's likely that cultivated meat will need to move to a system where the main basal media components are grown via agriculture as opposed to biotech. However, it's likely difficult for companies to justify spending a lot of time on this, since basal media is not currently a major cost driver.
Wayne Hsiung, the co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) is running for mayor of Berkeley: https://www.wayneformayor.com/
He's running on a left-leaning platform that doesn't explicitly discuss animals, but he will likely focus on animal-friendly policies. For example, he wants to create a "solar powered, pedestrian-only, and plant-based Green District."
DxE has been fairly controversial in the animal advocacy world, but setting aside questions of their particular tactics, having someone so animal friendly in government could be very impactful. I just donated $50 to the campaign, which is the maximum individual donation.
Does anyone know much about Berkeley politics, and if it seems like he has a shot at winning?
I'm a big fan of what you're trying to do! It could be very impactful.
However, I notice that your advice seems to be greatly skewed towards non-profits. For example, in your M&L overview, you don't spend much time on food tech as a potential application of M&L skills. You also don't give any information on the skill gaps currently facing plant-based / cultivated meat. I think this is a missed opportunity, as the gaps in those industry are important, and could be well suited for people who aren't a good fit for management, fundraising, or advocacy.
Is this a purposeful decision? Are you planning to augment this later?
Thanks for all of your work :)
I'm thankful for this discussion. Previously, I was under the impression that most people who looked deeply into WAS concluded that there was definitely net suffering. However, now it's clear to me this isn't the case.
Brian - I'm wondering if you've explained elsewhere exactly what you mean by "extreme, unbearable suffering can't be outweighed by other organism-moments experiencing pleasure." Is this an expression of negative utilitarianism, or just the empirical claim that current organisms have greater suffering capacity than pleasure capacity?
I am a total hedonic utilitarian, and not negative leaning at all, so I'm wondering what conclusion this philosophical position would lead to, given all the empirical considerations.
Since most of the responders here are defending x-risk reduction, I wanted to chime in and say that I think your argument is far from ludicrous and is in-fact why I don't prioritize x-risk reduction, even as a total utilitarian.
The main reason it's difficult for me to be on board with pro-x-risk-reduction arguments is that much of it seems to rely on projections about what might happen in the future, which seems very prone to miss important considerations. For example, saying that WAS will be trivially easy to solve once we have an aligned AI, or saying that the future is more likely to be optimized for value rather than disvalue, both seem overconfident and speculative (even if you can give some plausible sounding arguments).
If I were more comfortable with projections about what will happen in the far future, I'm still not sure I would end up favoring x-risk reduction. Take AI x-risk: it's possible that we have a truly aligned AI, or that we have a paperclip maximizer, but it's also possible that we have a powerful general AI whose values are not as badly misaligned as a paperclip maximizer's, but that are somehow dependent on the values of its creators. In this scenario, it seems crucially important to speed up the improvement of humanity's values.
I agree with Moses in that I much prefer a scenario where everything in our light cone is turned into paperclips to one e.g. where humans are wiped out due to some deadly pathogen, but other life continues to exist here and wherever else in the universe. This doesn't necessarily mean that I favor biorisk reduction over AI risk reduction, since AI risk reduction also has the favorable effect of making a remarkable outcome (aligned AI) more likely. I don't know which one I'd favor more all things considered.
I overall agree that the argument isn't enough to move the needle.
I'll just say that I think 90% is too high for people who don't care about about how much meat they consume. I think people's views on the issue are more complicated. I think there's a large group of people who have a general notion that eating meat is unfortunate, but don't reduce their consumption because it's not a thing for their ingroup, and also they bristle at the notion about someone else telling them what to do. Kind of similar to how lots of people think that their clothing is made unethically in sweat shops, but they buy it anyways.
If I had to choose a number of number of people who don't care how much meat they eat, it would be closer to 55%-60%.