Jason Schukraft

Dr. Jason Schukraft is a Senior Research Manager at Rethink Priorities. He earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin.


Invertebrate Sentience


Money Can't (Easily) Buy Talent

I do think we have been able to acquire talent that would not have been otherwise counterfactually acquired by other organizations.

As an additional data point, I can report that I think it's very unlikely that I would currently be employed by an EA organization if Rethink Priorities didn't exist. I applied to Rethink Priorities more or less on a whim, and the extent of my involvement with the EA community in 2018 (when I was hired) was that I was subscribed to the EA newsletter (where I heard about the job) and I donated to GiveWell top charities. At the time, I had completely different career plans.

Why "cause area" as the unit of analysis?

A lot depends on what constitutes a cause area and what counts as analysis. My own rough and tentative view is that at some level of generality (which could plausibly be called "cause area"), we can use heuristics to compare broad categories of interventions. But in terms of actual rigorous analysis, cause area is certainly not the right unit, and, furthermore, as a matter of empirical fact, there aren't really any research organizations (including Rethink Priorities, where I work) that take cause area to be the appropriate unit of analysis.

Very curious to hear the thoughts of others, as I think this is a super important question!

Meat substitutes: outside view

If you haven't seen it yet, you might find this report on the viability of cultured meat helpful. Open Philanthropy commissioned the report.

Notes: Stubble Burning in India

Hi David,

Thanks for the suggestions! Anyone who works on this topic in the future should probably investigate them further. My current rough impression is that, even if there were a market for the stubble, the process of baling the stubble for transport and sale would either be time-and-labor intensive or require equipment that the average farmer in the region can't afford. Because of the nature of the crop cycle, farmers are under intense pressure to clear the stubble quickly, hence the appeal of stubble burning.

Notes: Stubble Burning in India

Hey Harrison, I think the short answer is that it's just a really messy situation and any potential solution that has a shot at improving on the status quo has to take political reality into account.

Notes: Stubble Burning in India

Hey Harrison,

I'm also not knowledgeable about Indian politics, but it seems pretty clear that Indian farmers wield considerable political influence. (See the reaction to the introduction of three market-friendly farm laws for the most recent demonstration of this power.) I'd like to think political compromise is possible, but it's hard to know which compromises are feasible.

Fortunately, it appears that many of the potential solutions to stubble burning are essentially win-win. Although stubble burning is an effective way to deal with crop residue in the short term, the practice is pretty bad for the soil. Many of the alternatives to stubble burning would probably raise yields in the long-run.

Ask Rethink Priorities Anything (AMA)

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your questions. I'll let Marcus and Peter answer the first two, but I feel qualified to answer the third.

Certainly, the large number of invertebrate animals is an important factor in why we think invertebrate welfare is an area that deserves attention. But I would advise against relying too heavily on numbers alone when assessing the value of promoting invertebrate welfare. There are at least two important considerations worth bearing in mind:

(1) First, among sentient animals, there may be significant differences in capacity for welfare or moral status. If these differences are large enough, they might matter more than the differences in the numbers of different types of animals.

(2) Second, at some point, Pascal's Mugging will rear its ugly head. There may be some point below which we are rationally required to ignore probabilities. It's not clear to me where that point lies. (And it's also not clear that this is the best way to address Pascal's Mugging.) There are about 440 quintillion nematodes alive at any given time, which sounds like a pretty good reason to work on nematode welfare, even if one's credence in their sentience is really low. But nematodes are nothing compared to bacteria. There are something like 5 million trillion trillion bacteria alive at any given time. At some point, it seems as if expected value calculations cease to be appropriately action-guiding, but, again, it's very uncertain where to draw the line.

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