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

Wiki Contributions

Comments

Intervention options for improving the EA-aligned research pipeline

True! I'd forgotten about that page. I think some sort of fairly minimal infrastructure might notably increase the number of people actually doing it though.

Non-humans and the long-term future

Ah sounds like most of those things relate to questions around maximising good experiences of future nonhumans rather than minimising bad experiences. That makes sense, not sure why I didn't think of that, might have been having a mind blank. So thanks for explaining.

Fwiw it seemed obvious that this tag was in principle broader than the MCE tag, I just couldn't think of instances where this tag would apply but neither the MCE nor s-risk tag would apply. (And I already feel there's a lot of overlap between tags, e.g. should I tag something I write about farmed animals as being about MCE and s-risks)

Intervention options for improving the EA-aligned research pipeline

Just came here to comment something that's been on my mind that I didn't recall being suggested in the post, though it partly overlaps with your suggestions 1, 2, 4, 11, and 19.

Suggestion: Paid literature reviews with some (relatively low level) supervision.

Context: Since working at Sentience Institute, I've done quite a few literature reviews. (I've also done some more "rough and ready" ones at Animal Advocacy Careers.) I think that these have given me a much better understanding of how social sciences academia works, what sort of information is most helpful etc. A lot of the knowledge comes in handy in places that I wouldn't necessarily have predicted, too. This makes me feel like the benefits might be comparable to the sorts of benefits that I expect lots of people get from PhDs -- some methodological training / familiarity, and some useful knowledge. It wouldn't give you  some benefits of PhDs like signalling value, familiarity with the peer review process, or close mentorship relationships, but if you tried to get the literature reviews published in peer-reviewed journals, then that would add some of those benefits back in (and maybe help to improve the end product too).

Lit reviews can be quite time-consuming, but don't necessarily require any very special skills -- just willingness to spend time on it and look things up (e.g. methodological aspects) when you don't know or understand them, rather than plowing on regardless. Obviously some methodological background in the topic would be helpful, but doesn't always seem necessary; I'm a history grad and have done literature reviews on subjects from psychology to ethics to management.

It might be quite easy to explicitly offer (1) funding and (2) facilitation for independent researchers to be connected to potential reviewers of the end product. It could be up to the individual to suggest topics, or to some centralised body (as in your suggestion 7).

 

I'm not sure whose responsibility this should be. It could be EA Funds, Effective Thesis, or individual research orgs.

 

Caveats

  • I have found review + comments from colleagues helpful, so some supervision may be necessary, but these have tended to cluster at the start and end of projects with the vast majority of the work being independent.
  • To do rigorous systematic reviews, you generally want more than one person actually checking through the data, coding decisions etc, which would require more coordination. But this is not always necessary. Indeed, one of my lit reviews is currently going through the peer review process (and looks likely to be accepted) and didn't use multiple author checks on these decisions. And less formal/systematic literature reviews can still be valuable, I think, both for the researcher and the readers.
Non-humans and the long-term future

I've just seen this tag. What's the intended distinction between this and the moral circle expansion tag? Is it just that some actions that affect non-humans in the long-term future might not be via moral circle expansion? If that's the case, then what's the distinction from the s-risk tag? (As much as I welcome lots of discussion about these topics!)

Key Lessons From Social Movement History

Why should the farmed animal movement be different in this regard?

You might be right that, as a general rule this possibility might benefit animal agriculture more than animal advocates at the moment. I can imagine this could work for some more technical or behind the scenes issues (e.g. funding for animal product alternatives R&D being diverted from funding for other more popular seeming sciencey things) or working for more major institutional changes in the future if there was substantial elite opinion change (as seems to have happened with the death penalty in Europe)

Ozzie Gooen's Shortform

If you're happy to share, who are the longtermist academics you are thinking of? (Their work could be somewhat related to my work)

[Link] Reading the EA Forum; audio content

I'm keen on the idea in principle. 

I’d like to encourage others to also narrate/record forum posts. Any takers?

I have quite a good mic which I use for the Sentience Institute podcast, and would probably be willing to record myself reading a few posts, if there is no urgent deadline.

Feedback welcome, of course. Worth continuing?

One relevant data point is from Animal Advocacy Careers' experience.

We have a number of "skills profiles" which discuss career paths people could pursue. We have offered each of these in three formats: a detailed version with longer text and citations, a short version in a slightly more casual style, and an audio version (me reading out the brief version). We've found that the brief versions are most popular and the audio versions least popular, by quite a long way.

For example, in the first month we launched them (July 2020), across the 3 different profiles, the detailed versions averaged 62% the number of downloads as the short versions, and the audio versions averaged 6% of the number of downloads of the short versions. 

(Caveat that the accessibility of the audio versions wasn't great when we first launched, but I've improved it since then and the audio versions are still far less popular than the written versions.)

So there might be a little less interest than you expect? You could also ask 80k about how many listens the articles that they read aloud on the podcast get relative to (1) other podcast episodes, (2) page views on the articles. They've only done a handful, and not for a while, so I'd guess the numbers were low. (I'd be interested in their answer though, as I've considered doing the same with the SI podcast.)

 

[Edit, I just realised that you've literally already done this, so feel free to ignore the below]

However, it's worth noting that it might be possible to turn the audio into a podcast and reach a new audience, in addition to providing the additional format for regular readers of the Forum. If you've already recorded the audio, it's not much more effort to add some sort of short, standardised intro+outro, and maybe create a free website (e.g. using Wordpress' basic version) where each time you just post a link to the episode and a link to the original forum post.

For the SI podcast, we use Buzzsprout as the hosting platform, which disseminates your content to all the usual podcast streaming services for $12 per month. Under that plan, you can upload up to 3 hours  of audio per month, or pay $4 per extra hour. This seems like a very small amount if it's a useful service.

Key Lessons From Social Movement History

I haven't looked at those sort of over-time trends at the movement level and then compared across movements. I don't think there's enough info for that. But otherwise, I agree with all your points here. I didn't update my views on corporate campaigns very substantially when I noticed this significant correlation, though I did update them a little.

Key Lessons From Social Movement History

Thanks for the engagement James and for sharing with Animal Rebellion!

Do you think we'll be able to make those larger steps without widespread public support or do you believe we should focus on increasing public support at a later date, perhaps when we've already had more wins or figured out a great issue framing?

My guess is that we can. The evidence that policy change --> public opinion change is not just limited to social movement evidence. I've nearly finished a first draft of a post on "Effective strategies for changing public opinion" (which I suspect you'll be v interested in!). Here's the relevant section, though I've omitted the lengthy footnotes:

"Oskamp and Schultz (2005) summarize several studies showing that public opinion often follows US foreign policy quite closely. There is evidence that public opinion changes can occur from policies affecting social issues and the breadth of the moral circle, too. Some studies suggest that international policies and policies in neighboring jurisdictions can also affect public opinion. When the Supreme Court makes a decision, this tends to cause public opinion to move towards the opinion implied by that decision, though this does not always happen. This all suggests that if advocates can encourage policy change, public opinion will tend to move towards support for those policies. Nevertheless, political scientist James Stimson (2015) presents evidence that public preferences regarding the general direction of further government action sometimes shift in the opposite direction to trends in government policy itself."

There are also various other positive effects (some discussed in the blog post above or the associated spreadsheet) from policy changes that might help, e.g. "Once influential institutions in one country or region adopt a value, they can influence institutions elsewhere to adopt the same value" and "Legislative change can positively affect individual behavior" (which might in turn affect attitudes, advocacy etc).

I think of lots of caveats to my answer that "my guess is that we can," but I'll resist the temptation to spend the rest of the day typing up thoughts on those nuances.

One that I will comment on briefly is that the case studies also highlight that "Legislative change can cause backlash and counter-mobilization". So its true that if radical change is won at the policy level but the movement is not sufficiently prepared to defend those victories, it could cause more problems than its worth.

I do think we should "explore opportunities to bypass public opinion" but I can see a case for trying to do so on lower stakes or more technical issues first, for example.

 

Also whilst it's not clear to me how easy it is to change public opinion, I've been doing some research on Extinction Rebellion (see one graph below)

Thanks for sharing this, that's very interesting. Some caveats on that graph:

  • Public opinion seems to have been trending upwards, as you point out, and I'm not sure if there are other factors at play.
  • Attitude change tends not to last for very long without repeated re-exposure or consolidation (see forthcoming research I mentioned I'm doing!) so its possible that the spike will be temporary.

That said, the spike does look very impressive, so that's still a slight update for me.

 

it seems to against your recommendation of focusing less on increasing issue salience. How would you reconcile these things?

I think the forthcoming research on public opinion change that I mentioned will bring some clarity to this. Some quick thoughts:

  • There is evidence that the media can have an "agenda-setting" effect, i.e. make people think that certain issues are more important/pressing. This can encourage political attention -- whether that attention is helpful or counterproductive would depend on the specifics. To take one example of where high issue salience led to harmful regulation, see the section on "Increased public awareness was linked with increased negative sentiment" here. (That example arguably shows that activism --> helpful regulation, but I think it also demonstrates the point that, if you take the perspective of the GM startups, salience in itself is not necessarily helpful.)
  • Similarly, media coverage can influence the reader's attitudes through a number of different mechanisms. If the coverage is negative or highlights particular features/subissues that are less favourable to advocates' goals, the effects on readers (including, potentially, policy-makers) could be the opposite to what was intended.

So the point is essentially that, yes, "Media coverage can encourage institutional change," but that that could be for good or ill, depending on the coverage.

 

And when you refer to media, are you referring to certain forms of media publications or those aimed at certain audience? An example, is it best to try get into mainstream TV, LadBible or newspapers aimed at conservatives? 

You might like to dig into the case studies I cite for the claim. I don't think they help to make recommendations as specific as this.

That said, here's some partly relevant content you might be interested in:

 

it's extremely hard to know which issue framing or messaging performs best as there hasn't been much substantive work on issue farming for animal advocacy to my knowledge (very worth funding imo).

Very much agreed.

it seems ideal if the animal movement could collaborate on a shared issue framing as it seems that's when movements are most effective at changing public discourse, when a shared message is used from different angles and institutions.

I'm less sure about this. I can see that, in some instances, uniting resources and efforts around a particularly promising framing would be very helpful. But I also think that if often makes sense to tailor your messages to your audience quite substantially (see also "consistent vs. varying messaging").

Key Lessons From Social Movement History

Interesting, thanks for the feedback and suggestions!

I think that this blog post is about as plain language / simplified as we're likely to go, for now, partly because there are just so many nuances and caveats required that stripping even more of these out (I already stripped quite a few, and worried about doing so) might be misleading or damaging.

I think it's more likely that we (or others!) would use this evidence as an input into more public-facing content about particular sub issues. E.g. a blog post specifically about "the idea that social movement activism can have unintended bad consequences" which draws on this historical evidence, as well as psychological/communications studies research into backfire/boomerang effects following persuasion attempts, etc etc. Or persuasive writing along the lines of "Use more of X tactic and less of Y" where we include the historical evidence alongside other evidence, similarly to how we have written about institutional vs. individual tactics (blog example, academic paper example).

That said, if someone else wanted to work on distilling the work into a more accessible format, I'd be happy to discuss and assist.

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