Jamie_Harris

Jamie Harris is a researcher at Animal Advocacy Careers, a charity that he co-founded which seeks to address the career and talent bottlenecks in the animal advocacy movement, and at Sentience Institute, a social science think tank focused on social and technological change, especially the expansion of humanity's moral circle.

As well as hosting The Sentience Institute Podcast, Jamie does a number of small projects and tasks to help grow and support the effective animal advocacy community more widely. He works on whatever he thinks are the best opportunities for him to improve the expected value of the long-term future.

Give Jamie anonymous advice / feedback here https://forms.gle/t5unVMRci1e1pAxD9

Comments

List of EA-related organisations

Cool list! I'm surprised there aren't more organisations on this list that meet at least one of your three criteria.

Some comments below and further examples that focus mostly on animal advocacy, because it's the area I'm most knowledgeable about, but could probably be applied similarly to other cause areas. I'm partly sharing these comments because we use similar criteria to work out which organisations to focus Animal Advocacy Careers' research on (e.g. our spot-check of nonprofit roles, and we have a survey we're going to send out in the next few weeks), and I'm interested in feedback.

 

I don’t think this is a useful or even possible distinction to make, since many organisations lie on a continuum of commitment to EA values.

Agreed. It get's pretty messy, whichever criteria you use, because all are subjective. I tend to think of the two main criteria as: 

(1) Explicit identification and alignment with the goals and principles of effective altruism.

(2) High cost-effectiveness.

Are currently recommended by GiveWell or Animal Charity Evaluators

This is one group's judgement on goal (2). For Animal Advocacy Careers, I've been using the slightly looser definition of any organisations  that are currently or formerly "Top Charities" or "Standout charities." This would add quite a few to your list.

  • Animal Equality
  • Compassion in World Farming USA
  • Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations
  • Humane Society of the United States Farm Animal Protection Campaign
  • L214
  • Mercy For Animals
  • New Harvest
  • Nonhuman Rights Project
  • ProVeg International
  • Sinergia Animal
  • Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
  • Vegan Outreach

If you wanted to broaden/loosen the criteria a bit further (but still use evaluations by external groups, rather than your own judgement), the next steps might be:

  • Including any groups that have received grants by Open Philanthropy (we're planning to include this criterion for our survey, notwithstanding a couple of other exclusion criteria)
  • Including any groups that have received grants by other highly EA-aligned grant-making bodies, e.g. ACE, EA Funds (we're not using this criterion, in part because both of these groups tend to make more speculative bets, including to smaller organisations, and in part just because it would probably give us a really long list of organisations to contact for the survey)
  • Something we umm and arr about is whether to include any/all groups who participate in the (The Humane League-coordinated) Open Wing Alliance. (Not including in our forthcoming survey.)

Have explicitly aligned themselves with EA

Similar to my (1) but your definition is a bit narrower, I think. I think that there are a large number of organisations that would fit this criterion to some extent. Groups from your list who fit this, in my opinion:

  • Veganuary
  • Sentience Politics
  • Global Food Partners
  • Aquatic Life Institute
  • 50by40
  • Credence Institute
  • Farmed Animal Funders

But also, most of the organisations on the list above of ACE current or former top or standout charities (perhaps especially Mercy For Animals, Animal Equality, and ProVeg). Again, many of the orgs in the Open Wing Alliance arguably fit this criterion.

Were incubated by Charity Entrepreneurship

Interesting. I guess this is a proxy for both my (1) and (2)? Credence Institute fit this criterion.

Have engaged with the EA community (e.g. by posting on the EA Forum or attending EA Global)

This seems veeeery broad and I imagine there are lots that would be added by this criterion. Personally I  wouldn't use it. Some that I can remember off the top of my head that fit this:

  • Pour l'Égalité Animale
  • Compassion in World Farming
  • Veganuary (again)

But I'm sure there are many more, I just haven't been tracking it.

 

Lower importance comment: Given that both 80,000 Hours and Animal Charity Evaluators are in "Infrastructure," I'd put Animal Advocacy Careers in that category too. Maybe also WANBAM and CEEALAR. I'd also reclassify Sentience Institute as "Far future" since that is our focus, even if our work to date has mostly focused on animal advocacy(e.g.s of two exceptions); we have forthcoming work on artificial sentience, for example.

What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies

Seems like we agree on a lot! I don't think I wrote my summaries and your re-phrasings seem to me to be very similar to what I intended.

I agree that looking at causes and factors influencing "beneficial outcomes" is interesting and useful, just a slightly different purpose from looking at the causes and factors influencing the successes of ally-based movements.

<<I'd also love to hear other constructive feedback/advice for doing better historical work in the future, if you have any off the top of your head.>>

I'm no expert and am hoping to start doing some more synthesis / comparison of our case studies so far soon, which is where some of these methodological considerations will come into play. Ive written about some of the methodological considerations here in some depth. https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/blog/what-can-the-farmed-animal-movement-learn-from-history

Some more "practical" tips which may or may not be useful and may or may not be obvious:

  • a few times I've come across numerous people asserting that a particular change was highly influential or that that X led to Y, but the citations trace back to inference from chronological order of events and maybe one or two supporting anecdotal comments. I'm generally pretty hesitant to make strong causal claims or to repeat causal claims made by others.
  • typing in the name of the movement you're looking at plus the word "history" into Google Scholar and then going through the results seems to be a decent way to start.
  • I think you'll often hit pretty rapidly diminishing returns on time invested after the first 2-5 books/articles you read on a particular topic, but you'll keep finding useful information (of strategic importance) and occasionally changing your view on something you were quite confident about earlier for quite a long time after that.
  • sometimes research gets a little siloed by discipline, but historians, legal scholars, sociologists, political scientists, and economists often each have something to add to the understanding of a particular movement or case study.
What Helped the Voiceless? Historical Case Studies

Thanks very much for doing this work. I’m glad to see other people taking an interest in historical evidence to inform questions about global priorities and to inform strategies for moral circle expansion.

I think this is an Impressive overview to have created in a short period of time. And I like the efforts to explicitly assess causation, resisting the ever-present temptation to tell a chronological narrative and assume causal relationships where there is little evidence to suggest them.

Most of Sentience Institute’s case studies to date have focused primarily on one country, or a comparison between two countries. I found the big picture, international consideration interesting. In general, I’m updating slightly towards the importance of international pressure in causing further change and a strategy of, as you suggest, concentrating resources in particular promising locations so that representatives of those countries might sooner become international advocates. I was finding tentative evidence for similar claims in my case study of the US anti-death penalty movement, which includes some comparison to Europe (and briefer comparison to the wider international situation). If you haven’t read that, you may find that interesting.

One other  thing I was quite excited about is the following comment:

Political short-termism usually works against future generations, but it can work for future generations if politicians’ and lobbyists’ concern with the short term keeps them from strongly opposing commitments to one day care about future generations... For future generations, this might look like advocating for policies, such as committees or funds for future generations, that will not be implemented for a decade or more.

I wasn’t quite sure how this followed from the historical evidence that you examine, but I thought it was a cool argument, and something I hadn’t thought about explicitly in terms of how longtermist moral circle expansion efforts might look different from neartermist work on animal advocacy or other cause areas that relate to MCE. If we care about, say, maximising the chances that factory farming ends, rather than helping animals as much as possible within the next 10 (or 100) years, then we might be able to effectively trade immediacy for increased radicalism (or durability or some other key priority).

————

Of course, with a post of this size, there are a lot of nitpicks and comments it’s tempting to offer. But I’ll avoid those and focus on what I think is my most substantial concern. Also, I'll note that I read this post spread over several evenings, so if this is a little incoherent or inaccurate at times, I apologise!

It seems like you’re pursuing two separate goals in this research:

  1. Identifying/assessing factors influencing the success of ally-based social movements (i.e. social movements whose intended beneficiaries are not the same as the advocates) in order to draw strategic implications for advocacy for future generations, which is an ally-based social movement,
  2. Identifying/assessing factors that affect the interests of future generations. 

Ideally, I don’t think you would mix these, e.g. in the inclusion criteria (i.e. the selection of the case studies), e.g. in creating a single model that blurs the two goals.

In line with goal (1), you have included several ally-based social movements: anti-slavery (mostly free people advocating for / deciding on the fate of slaves) and environmentalism (present-day humans advocating for / deciding on the fate of the environment). However, you also include movements that are not ally-based — oppressed peoples seeking to empower themselves through democratisation and people advocating for regulations on genetic engineering in order to protect themselves and human society more broadly. Since no justification was provided for the inclusion of democratisation, I was initially confused by this choice, but some clarity was offered by the justification for the inclusion of genetic engineering:

The governance of genetic engineering has reduced a significant threat to future generations: certain engineered pathogens could bring about human extinction, keeping future generations from existing.

Hence, I infer that goal (2) influenced the case study selection. This is supported by the justification for the inclusion of the environmentalism movement, which seems to mix (1) and (2):

environmental advocates have achieved significant successes for future generations, as well as other entities that have no direct political power: ecosystems.

I think this critique of the methodology is quite important, because it directly bears on one of the main arguments you advance in this research: "inclusive values" were not that important in driving change, which suggests that further MCE is not as likely as a simple extrapolation from the trend towards expanded moral circles in the past few centuries might imply.

Including a focus on movements that have only accidentally benefited future generations and then noting that the changes occurred mainly because they benefited powerful groups (present humans) rather than because people intended to help future generations seems tautological. (I think this might be a pretty uncharitable interpretation of your intentions; apologies if so, but hopefully it helps to make the point.) Hence, I think it's more valuable to evaluate movements by  their own goals, or at least by their effects on their intended beneficiaries (e.g. the environment rather than future generations for the environmentalism movement, e.g. present generations for genetic engineering).

By comparison, in selecting Sentience Institute’s case studies, we have focused on ally-based movements (with a secondary important consideration being chronological proximity). Hence, our case studies have been: Antislavery, anti-abortion, anti-death penalty, and prisoners’ rights (though the latter turned out to be less “ally-based” than I was expecting). I’ve also got one on the Fair Trade movement underway. These were chosen principally for comparability with the farmed animal movement but are similarly if not equally applicable to advocacy for future generations.

Although I see this concern as weakening the case that you put forward, I do think weak evidence is useful, and I’ve still updated my views a little away from the tractability of changing the course of history and likelihood of further MCE.

Thanks again for this very cool research!

Jamie_Harris's Shortform
Have you identified the key difference(s) between your calculation and John's calculation that leads to the different result? It might be helpful to call this out

No, I haven't gone through and done that. Actually, John's calculations still come out in favour of buying from a financial perspective, albeit by a much smaller margin than in my calculations; I think he was put off for other reasons.

Pretty minor point, but the 3.5% discount rate should decline over time and it doesn't seem you've factored this in (it shouldn't really change much though as you're not looking over a very long time scale)

I'm probably doing the maths completely wrong on that bit... suggestions for correct formula to use are welcome. Commenting on the sheet is currently on if you want to comment on directly.

It could actually be higher or lower depending on an individual's preferred cause area/underlying ethical views. The general point that you're making that buying a house only provides access to money when older, and therefore that this becomes subject to discounting is a very useful one though

Yeah I haven't got my head very thoroughly round the various arguments on this, so thanks for sharing. My impression was also that using 3.5% didn't make much sense and should probably either go lower than that (for "patient" reasons) or much higher (if you think opportunities for cost-effective giving will diminish rapidly for various reasons.


Some relevant context I probably should have added to the post was that I did this calculation because I was very surprised at John's overall conclusion and wanted to check it, and, despite this not being very thorough or anywhere near my research "expertise", I thought other people might benefit from these rough and ready efforts, so decided to share.

Jamie_Harris's Shortform

No, I didn't list the "other" pros and cons, this is just the financial perspective.

I don't have a good sense of how difficult it is to move houses. But my guess is that a decision to move for work or not wouldn't be that dependent on selling a house. E.g. you either want to stay, come what may, because of reasons like friends, family, partners etc, or you're personally happy to move, and wouldn't mind selling then renting?

Jamie_Harris's Shortform

Buying a house will probably save you lots of money, which you can later donate, but it might not make much difference (and may work out as negative) in terms of your ability to do good.

It seems like common sense that buying a house saves you from wasting money on rent and works out better, financially, in the long term. But earlier this year, John Halstead wrote a blogpost providing a bunch of reasons not to buy a house.

I had another look at John's calculations. I kept the basic calculations the same, but added a few considerations and re-checked the appropriate numbers for London (where I live). I also added various different tabs of the spreadsheet to compare things like variations in interest rates, property prices, timeframes for buying and selling, and other costs. In every scenario, unless there's a housing crash shortly after you buy, it looks like buying comes out as far, far better, from a financial perspective. In the best guess, realistic scenario, buying came out as about £550,000 better after 10 years. John has also had another look at his calculations since his post and seems more optimistic about buying. I haven't looked at figures and costs for countries other than the UK, but the differences are so large that I'd quite surprised if investing and renting came out as more favourable in (m)any countries.

This doesn't address the concerns about buying in John's blog post (e.g. that you will only be able access the money when you're older). But if you're interested in patient philanthropy, and are happy to donate more accumulated wealth in several decades' time (when you downsize or die) rather than having a strong preference for donating less sooner, then buying a house looks better. (For discussion, see "Giving now vs giving later" and "How becoming a ‘patient philanthropist’ could allow you to do far more good")

Despite the large raw difference between buying vs. renting and investing, these differences might mean surprisingly little, in terms of ability to do good in the world, if you apply a discount to the value of future money to calculate its net present value. If you apply a high discount rate, then the gains are practically zero. Indeed, some EA orgs express a strong preference for money sooner rather than later. I haven't worked this bit out properly, but if you take these numbers literally (and reject patient philanthropy) it might be better to just donate sooner rather than to save up for a deposit.

Getting money out of politics and into charity

You (the OP) could also think of collaborating with an existing platform as a lower cost test of the idea. If it works well in that situation and you later realise that the lack of a tailored platform is a barrier to scaling up, you could seek to create one at that point.

Another thought on the lower cost test idea: try to get buy-in from Republicans before spending as much time on outreach to Democrats. If you're failing to get interest from Republicans, the idea might not work.

(Also, like Sanjay, I really like the idea in principle.)

A Brief Overview of Recruitment and Retention Research

Thanks very much! The seemingly low importance of salary to recruitment and retention was one of my main updates from tbis project. I don't have a lot to add beyond that and what's in the post (If you're interested, I'd encourage reading the summaries of the relevant studies on the spreadsheet and maybe reading the full studies.)

What actually is the argument for effective altruism?

"The greater the degree of spread, the more you’re giving up by not searching." This makes sense. But I don't think you have to agree with the "big" part of premise 1 to support and engage with the project of effective altruism, e.g. you could think that there are small differences but those differences are worth pursuing anyway. The "big" part seems like a common claim within effective altruism but not necessarily a core component?

(You didn't claim explicitly in the post above that you have to agree with the "big" part but I think it's implied? I also haven't listened to the episode yet.)

How have you become more (or less) engaged with EA in the last year?

Exactly the same for me, minus the bit about people moving away.

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