MichaelStJules

Animal welfare researcher and organizer for Effective Altruism Waterloo.

Background mostly in pure math and machine learning, but also some in statistics/econometrics and agricultural economics. Earned to give in deep learning at a startup for 2 years for animal charities, and now trying to get into effective animal advocacy research. Former animal welfare research intern at Charity Entrepreneurship. Curious about s-risks.

Suffering-focused, anti-speciesist, prioritarian, consequentialist. Also, I like math and ethics.

My shortform.

Comments

Complex cluelessness as credal fragility

My impression is that assigning precise credences may often just assume away the issue without addressing it, since the assignment can definitely seem more or less arbitrary. The larger your range would be if you entertained multiple distributions, the more arbitrary just picking one is (although using this to argue for multiple distributions seems circular). Or, just compare your choice of precise distribution with your peers', maybe those with similar information specifically; the more variance or the wider the range, the more arbitrary just picking one, and the more what you do depends on the particulars of your priors which you never chose for rational reasons over others.

Maybe this arbitrariness doesn't actually matter, but I think that deserves a separate argument before we settle forever on a decision procedure that is not at all sensitive to it. (Of course, we can settle tentatively on one, and be willing to adopt one that is sensitive to it later if it seems better.)

Complex cluelessness as credal fragility

You can entertain both a limited range for your prior probability, and a limited range of likelihood functions, and use closed (compact) sets if you're away from 0 and 1 anyway. Surely you can update down from 0.6 if you had only one prior and likelihood, and if you can do so with your hardest to update distribution with 0.6, then this will reduce the right boundary.

I find that this approach undermines one of the major intuitions behind utilitarianism in the first place: what is permissible, obligatory, etc., should not depend on parts of the universe that are independent of (unaffected by) my actions, (a stochastic version of) separability. It is no longer the case that what's best depends only on the ex ante prospects each individual faces, basically one of the assumptions in Harsanyi's argument for utilitarianism (Postulate c in the paper, assumption 3 here) and this generalization (Anteriority), because now the statistical dependence between individuals' prospects matters. You could assume separability (independence of unconcerned agents) in uncertainty-free cases and still arrive at utilitarianism, but you've still undermined the intuition. Why use an additive theory at all now?

I think it's worth keeping in mind that if the action A's expected value is higher than B's, then B can never stochastically dominate A, and there's (in theory) background uncertainty according to which A dominates B. So, if you have enough deep uncertainty about the background uncertainty and entertain multiple distributions, A might be better according to at least one, so that's a reason to prefer A, breaking the indifference.

On the other hand, you might also have deep uncertainty/complex cluelessness about which has higher expected value, anyway.

if you have extreme uncertainty about how much moral value there is in the universe (which we probably do) then paradoxically the “gamble” is actually better across the board than the supposed “guarantee”

Doesn't this depend more on the particulars? I.e. if it's "sufficiently" Pascalian, neither dominates the other, as you've written in the post and your reply to Rohin, and each is permissible.

More technical blog post about this result here.

AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

Thanks!

It seems like there's a value judgement to be made on more instances of possibly very intense suffering and drawn out slowly suffering to death, and the chronic frustration and other suffering that comes from living in a cage. As someone who gives substantially more weight to more intense suffering than the average, I'm not convinced that this is a good tradeoff, and I don't know if preference tests could tell us much while getting ethics approval. I remember you mentioning that hens would hurt themselves to get out of cages in an EA Global talk, but I wonder if the pain is anywhere near that of suffering to death.

That being said, I don't have a good feel for how exactly they are dying, but I assume dying conscious and without painkillers is usually very bad.

With respect to 4 and a more demanding ask, I had in mind additional marginal improvements (possibly costly for the industry) that would guarantee mortality rates would not increase. Actually, it's total on-farm deaths that matter more to me than the rates, so just increasing the prices enough could reduce demand enough to reduce those deaths. I don't know what specifically, though.

AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

What kind of specialized research expertise is missing most from the movement? It seems that Open Phil has been commissioning research from experts who aren't affiliated (or necessarily even value-aligned). In what areas do you think this is a good enough substitute, and in what areas should we get more value-aligned full-time researchers with specialized expertise?

Could you comment on economics, welfare science (farmed and wild), psychology, cognitive science/neuroscience, philosophy (e.g. philosophy of mind), statistics, and fields related to alt protein? Any others?

I've been personally leaning towards economics/statistics, but have been wondering if more generalist research is fine, although I feel it is much less neglected, given the competition I've faced in applying for positions and the impressive credentials of new hires in the space.

AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

If you haven't already, you should reach out to the Good Food Institute!

AMA: Lewis Bollard, Open Philanthropy

Thanks!

On the broader positive changes, how likely do you think it is that Veganuary the event and not the charity is already established enough (in the UK) that (UK) media/outreach for it is less neglected and useful? Even if Veganuary the charity stopped existing, the events would still happen each year.

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