Neil is a senior researcher at Rethink Priorities. He currently works in the farmed animal welfare team, with an expertise in European Union policy.

He holds a PhD in Political & Social Science at the European University Institute, an MPhil in European Politics & Society from the University of Oxford and a BA in International Relations from Dublin City University.

He has volunteered for Charity Entrepreneurship & Animal Charity Evaluators. Before joining Rethink Priorities, he was a political data manager for WeVoteUSA while it participated in Fast Forward's accelerator for tech nonprofits, held numerous research assistant positions at the University of Oxford, and acted as Strategy Associate for a behavioural science think tank, The Decision Lab.

Wiki Contributions


Please complete a survey to influence EU animal protection policies

Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said "this has reached today a record of over 40,000 contributions. I think you will all agree with me, dear members, that this clearly shows how much animal welfare matters to our citizens."
H/T Jan Sorgenfrei again

Where is a good place to start learning about Forecasting?

Just listing here the things I've found helpful and seconding some of them that have already been mentioned in other comments

Please complete a survey to influence EU animal protection policies

More than 10,000 EU citizens have completed the EU animal welfare survey in the last week alone. Good work!
H/T Jan Sorgenfrei for informing me about the response number update. 

Please complete a survey to influence EU animal protection policies

Thanks for adding that Anima link Peter. Following the video guide on that page is what I would suggest anyone filling in this survey do for the most impact, unless they have strong reasons to answer the questions differently. 

I'd also add that in the last section "14. Is there any other comment you would like to add?", which the video doesn't cover, one may want to use that space to address other issues such as requesting bans on octopus farming and fur farming (though I personally am a little sceptical the EU can/will outright ban an entire sector)

Please complete a survey to influence EU animal protection policies

Just want to flag that animal advocacy organizations in the Open Wing Alliance (OWA) and Eurogroup for Animals (EfA) networks have been trying to coordinate the responses to this survey to ensure a consistent ask is made.

I'd encourage anyone interested in filling out this survey to make contact with the OWA or EfA groups (or other effective animal advocacy organizations not in these associations) in your country for advice (the links above show who the member organizations in your country are). 

World's First Octopus Farm - Linkpost

Eurogroup for Animals (a European Union lobby group representing other animal advocacy organizations) has encouraged EU citizens to submit feedback in the EU's animal welfare legislative review  - though it is better to make a submission on behalf of an organization rather than as an individual citizen.

In addition to answering the multiple choice/tick-box format questionnaire prepared by the European Commission (which addresses cage-free hens and fish welfare among other issues), one can add in a request to ban/restrict such cephalopod farming under the section  "Is there any other comment you would like to add?"

Deadline: 21st January 2022 (Midnight Brussels time)

Eurogroup also has a report on "Decapod Crustaceans and Cephalopod Molluscs in EU Animal Welfare Legislation" and include the legal basis for banning such practices on pages 13& 14 of their white paper. I have not independently researched how strong this legal argument is. 

I also think much of what Kieran wrote above sounds right.

A Day in the Life of a Parent

Thanks for this breakdown. I'd be curious if other parents here have radically different experiences, especially for kids of different ages.
Also, just to flag that stay at home dads do extremely important work too!

Cultured meat: A comparison of techno-economic analyses

Thanks Misha. Can you share who the author of that document is? Looks like it might be Paul Christiano but I want to be sure.

What's the Theory of Change/Theory of Victory for Farmed Animal Welfare?

My assumption is that where effective animal advocacy has theories, they aren't explicitly modelling it around TAI.

The theories of victory/change I have seen articulated online, IMO, fall into these buckets (I don't have a sense of how popular or far along each of these are):

Farm & Food level

Turn factory farms into humane farms (no requirements about total meat consumption, but implicitly less occurs since we can’t humanely farm at scale) so that total suffering in factory farms is below X. Tactics could include:

  • Undercover investigations, corporate campaigns, legislative bans on worst practices
  • Expand and improve animal welfare certifications
  • Make CAFO meat more expensive than more humane alternatives (via bans on cheap inhumane practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns with most expensive reforms, meat taxes)
  • Shift dietary preference to animals easier to farm humanely
  • Genetically modify animals so they can be farmed intensively without suffering

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If welfare reforms don’t actually reduce suffering, just shift production to some new form of equal or worse suffering
  • If people increase meat consumption because they think it is more acceptable
  • If it’s too hard to source enough “humane” meat  but meat demand continues, and model collapses

End meat eating (everyone gets protein from plants and pulses, becomes vegan). Tactics could include:

  • Make meat less cool - increase moral outrage via undercover investigations
  • Make plant-proteins more cool - Vegan movement building
  • Give animals legal personhood, protection from all exploitation, expand moral circle
  • Make meat more expensive than alternatives (via bans on practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns, meat taxes)
  • Bankrupt animal farming. Pursue reforms raising the price of meat, divestment campaign, and the most expensive welfare reforms such that the animal ag industry goes bankrupt

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If the number of people not eating meat does not increase in response to these tactics
  • If we’re wrong about how moral circle expansion works
  • If there aren’t tractable ways to bankrupt animal ag

End farmed meat (meat comes from plants, cell-cultures, funghi, algae, etc). Tactics could include:

  • Invest in alternative proteins (mock-meats)
  • Pass legislation making it easier for consumers to identify these products as substitutes for meat
  • Make animal meat more expensive (via bans on practices, regulating externalities, removing subsidies, corporate campaigns, meat taxes)

Some ways it might turn out not to work:

  • If investment in alternative proteins doesn’t improve the axes consumers care about
  • If alt proteins can’t scale
  • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins


Hybrid approaches

  • Costly welfare + alt proteins: Use welfare reforms to increase prices on conventional meat so alternative proteins are competitive, people buy these instead of meat and causes a reduction in the number of animals farmed. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If welfare reforms don’t increase prices, or don’t increase them enough to cause switching to nonmeats. (Jayson Lusk probably has best work on this so far)
    • If alt proteins don’t scale
    • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins, especially at any price
  • High welfare + alt proteins: Use welfare reforms to reduce worst suffering of farmed animals until alternative proteins are competitive,people buy these instead of meat and causes a reduction in the number of animals farmed. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If welfare reforms don’t actually reduce suffering
    • If alt proteins don’t scale
    • If people don’t switch from meat to alternative proteins
  • Make veganism cool + end farming: Ignore welfare reforms unless they increase costs to the point of bankruptcy or increase opposition to animal farming, abolish farming, make animals legally persons, make veganism cool via movement building and/or alt proteins. Some ways it might turn out not to work:
    • If the number of people not eating meat does not increase in response to these tactics
    • If we’re wrong about how moral circle expansion works
    • If there aren’t tractable ways to bankrupt animal ag

Meta level

Inject evidence and reason into the animal advocacy movement

  • Tracking progress, estimating impact, prioritising asks, changing behaviour & beliefs based on evidence is relatively new to the farmed animal movement.
  • Create new organizations with this approach at their core
  • Provide research that influence existing orgs to adopt this approach
  • Go work for existing orgs and change their approach

Inject animal advocacy into the evidence and reason movement

  • Create scholarships, departments, labs, prizes for scholars & scientists to research FAW issues
  • Raise the profile of animal issues in the EA & Rationalist communities

Inject animal advocacy into policy sphere

  • Create FAW ombudsmen, ambassadors, envoys in national and regional governments and supranational organizations likes EU and UN
  • Get FAW people to try staff these positions

Inject animal advocacy into philanthropy sphere (maybe less needed given EA funding overhang)

  • Shift Open Phil’s/Farmed Animal Funders's/FAIRR's funding allocation towards the interventions in line with the theory of change
  • Create more things like Open Phil’s FAW department/Farmed Animal Funders/FAIRR

Inject animal advocacy beyond Anglosphere

  • Movement building abroad, especially where animal farming is concentrated

It’s unclear what percent of the problem we think each of these could actually solve alone. Not all farms can be made humane, not everyone will eat alternative meats, not everyone will give up meat eating. 

What level of suffering are we willing to accept? 0 animal lives at risk of suffering? Total animal suffering to be below X amount? A y% reduction in total animal suffering relative to a 2010 baseline? 

In all paths it’s not obvious whether to focus on one sector or many.  Should we focus on the animals where most of the suffering is occurring- plausibly shrimps or insect farmed for animal feed? Or move all egg-laying hens out of cages and into free-range or egg-replacers and go gung-ho on that until we stop making progress? Should we focus on any suffering so long as it is easy? (do cage-free hens, then do whatever is easier for fish, then whatever is easiest for insects, etc even if it is not tackling the largest sources of suffering which are harder to solve?).


We’re Rethink Priorities. Ask us anything!

I would break this down into a) the methods for getting research in front of government orgs and b) the types of research that gets put in front of them.

In general I think we (me for sure) haven’t been optimising for this enough to even know the barriers (unknown unknowns). I think historically we’ve been mostly focused on foundations and direct work groups, and less on government and academia. This is changing so I expect us to learn a lot more going forward.

As for known unknowns in the methods, I still don’t know who to actually send my research to in various government agencies, what contact method they respond best to (email, personal contact, public consultations, cold calling, constituency office hours?), or what format they respond best to (a 1 page PDF with graphs, a video, bullet points, an in person meeting? - though this public guide Emily Grundy made on UK submissions while at RP has helped me). Anecdotally it seems remarkably easy to get in front of some: I know of one small animal advocacy organization that managed to get a meeting with the Prime Minister of their country, and I myself have had 1-1 meetings with more than two dozen members of the UK and Irish parliaments and United Nations & European Union bureaucrats (non RP work) with relative ease (e.g. an email with a prestigious sounding letterhead).

My assumption is government orgs are swamped with requests and petitions from NGOs, industry, peers, constituents. So we need some way to stand out from the crowd like representing a core constituency of theirs, being recommended to them by someone they deem credible such as an already established NGO, being affiliated with some already credible institution like a prestigious university, and proving to them we can provide them with policy expertise and legislative intelligence better than most others can.

On b) I think have a better sense of what content would be more likely to get in front of them. Niel Bowerman had some good insights on this in 2014, and the “legislative subsidy” approach Matthew Yglesias favours in the US context seems useful.There was an interesting study from Nakajima (2021) (twitter thread) which looked at what kinds of research evidence do policymakers prefer (bigger samples, external validity extends to the population in their jurisdictions, no preference on observational-v-experimental) so I think we can explore whether the topics on our research agenda fit within those designs.

Update: wanted to add in this post from Zach Groff:

  1. Happily, evidence does seem to affect policy, but in a diffuse and indirect way. The aforementioned researcher Carol Weiss finds that large majorities (65%-89%) of policymakers report being influenced by research in their work, and roughly half of them strongly (Weiss 1980; Weiss 1977). It's rare that policymakers pick up a study and implement an intervention directly. Instead, officials gradually work evidence into their worldviews as part of a gradual process of what Weiss calls "enlightenment" (Weiss 1995). Evidence also influences policy in more political but potentially still benign ways by justifying existing policies, warning of problems, suggesting new policies or making policymakers appear self-critical (Weiss 1995; Weiss 1979; Weiss 1977).
  1. There are a few methods that seem to successfully promote evidence-based policy in health care, education, and government settings where they have been tested. The top interventions are:

2a) Education—Workshops, courses, mentorship, and review processes change decision makers' behavior with regard to science in a few studies (Coburn et al. 2009; Matias 2017; Forman-Hoffman et al. 2017; Chinman et al. 2017; Hodder et al. 2017).

2b) Organizational structural changes—If an organization has evidence built into its structure, such as having a research division and hotline, encouraging and reviewing employees based on their engagement with research, and providing funding based on explicit evidence, this seems to improve the use of evidence in the organization (Coburn and Turner 2011; Coburn 2003; Coburn et al. 2009; Weiss 1980; Weiss 1995; Wilson et al. 2017; Salbach et al. 2017; Forman-Hoffman et al. 2017; Chinman et al. 2017; Hodder et al. 2017). A few other methods for promoting research-backed policies seem promising based on a bit less evidence:

2c) Increasing awareness of evidence-based policy—Sending employees reminders or newsletters seems to increase research-based medicine based on two high-quality review papers (Murthy et al. 2012; Grimshaw et al. 2012). . Similarly, all-around advocacy campaigns to promote evidence-based practices among practitioners achieves substantial changes in one randomized controlled trial (Schneider et al. 2017).

2d) Access—Merely giving people evidence on effectiveness does not generally affect behavior, but when combined with efforts to motivate use of the evidence, providing access to research does improve evidence-based practice (Chinman et al. 2017; Wilson et al. 2017).

2e) External motivation and professional identities— Two recent RCTs and a number of reviews and qualitative research find that rewarding people for using evidence and building professional standards around using research are helpful (Chinman et al. 2017; Schneider et al. 2017;Hodder et al. 2017; Forman-Hoffman et al. 2017; Weiss et al. 2005; Weiss 1995; Wilson et al. 2017; Weiss 1980; Weiss 1977; Matias 2017; Coburn 2005; Coburn 2003).

  1. Interestingly, a few methods to promote evidence-based practices that policymakers and researchers often promote do not have much support in the literature. The first is building collaboration between policymakers and researchers, and the second is creating more research in line with policymakers' needs One of the highest-quality write-ups on evidence-based policy, Langer et al. 2016 finds that collaboration only works if it is deliberately structured to build policymakers' and researchers' skills. When it comes to making research more practical for policymakers, it seems that when policymakers and researchers work together to come up with research that is more relevant to policy, it has little impact. This may be because, as noted in point (1), research seems to influence policy in important but indirect ways, so making it more direct may not help much.
  1. There is surprisingly and disappointingly little research on policymakers' cognition and judgment in general. The best research is familiar to the effective altruism community from Philip Tetlock (1985; 1994; 2005; 2010; 2014; 2016) and Barbara Mellers (2015), and it gives little information on how decision-makers respond to scientific evidence, but suggests that they are not very accurate at making predictions in general. Other research indicates that extremists are particularly prone to overconfidence and oversimplification, and conservatives somewhat more prone to these errors than liberals (Ortoleva and Snowberg 2015; Blomberg and Harrington 2000; Kahan 2017; Tetlock 1984; Tetlock 2000). Otherwise, a little research suggests that policymakers in general are susceptible to the same cognitive biases that affect everyone, particularly loss aversion, which may make policymakers irrationally unwilling to end ineffective programs or start proven but novel ones (Levy 2003; McDermott 2004). On the whole, little psychological research studies how policymakers react to new information.

If anyone reading this works at a governmental organization, we’d love to chat!

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