RR

Ren Ryba

Research Scientist @ Animal Ask
1634 karmaJoined animalask.org

Bio

"The easiest pain to bear is someone else's."

My research can be found at:

About me:

  • Ren (they/them), living on Kaurna Land (South Australia)
  • Preferred form of communication is email: ren (dot) springlea (at) animalask (dot) org.
  • My work focuses on animal advocacy.
  • I have experience in ecology, fisheries science, and statistics from my time in academia and government. I enjoy thinking about politics and social justice.
  • I like soccer!

I recently changed my surname (formerly Springlea) 😊 My email address is unchanged.

Comments
62

Thanks for your feedback and thoughts :)

Re your questions 1 and 2 - Yep I definitely agree that there are better approaches to moral uncertainty. I indeed chose mine for illustrative purposes, as you point out. Moreover, in our application of this framework, the end-line result of "value weighted by framework" just isn't that important to our decision-making - it's a small piece of information within a framework that we don't weight that strongly. For me, the useful information that arises from the moral uncertainty step is seeing whether particular interventions are only strong under particular moral frameworks or whether particular interventions are strong across frameworks. Systematic ways to incorporate a variety of moral frameworks might have value (and I'm certainly not an expert here), but for me the point of these exercises is more to serve as a quantitative guide to qualitative reasoning.

Re your question 3 - yep, you're right. I noticed this, but didn't develop the pleasure definitions because it's pretty rare for positive welfare to be relevant in our day-to-day research/prioritisation (kinda linked to the point above - if an intervention's strength is conditional on positive welfare being assigned moral importance, then that would serve as an argument against that intervention). In any case, Michael's comment above links to much better pleasure definitions.

If I understand correctly, one approach you suggest would be to start by saying that, say, one unit of hurtful pain hour is not species-dependent. Then, to account for species differences we would "shrink" the pain-pleasure scale for each animal in some way. Is this a correct interpretation? If so, doesn't that stand against the behavioral definitions of the pain categories?

Yeah there are a few ways to do it. If you adopt the Rethink approach of welfare ranges, then that should probably be incorporated before the pain scale is used (I think what I just wrote is true given the definition of welfare ranges as used by Rethink, but probably fact check that before you quote me on this!!). I'm still not totally convinced by the welfare range approach (or even by weighting species at all). Again, the point for me is more to ask "Does this intervention depend on lobsters / fly larvae / silk worms / whatever being assigned a particular level of moral importance?" If so, that might be one argument (among many others) that could weaken the intervention.

do you intend to make a shareable version of this framework that allows users to plug in their own values (like a spreadsheet template with your toy example)

 

I have no plans to do so. Generally speaking, I have a preference for users to produce their own spreadsheets, so they can be much more deliberate and conscious about their choices, model details, values for inputs/parameters, etc. This is especially the case for a framework like this, which is naturally speculative and rudimentary.

Excellent, thanks. I'd advise any readers to throw my pleasure categories in the dustbin and use those instead. (It's a case in point for my caution that "In fact, this article was written in early 2023 and posted in early 2024, so there might be important, recent developments that are not included in this article."!)

Great suggestion, I'll adopt for future reports. Thank you :)

I don't think donors should take much guidance from them, compared to OpenPhil or the EA Animal Welfare Fund, and I would personally wager that CE leading giving in the animal space would be net-negative for the space compared to the status quo (which, to be fair, is very bad already).

 

If you had total control over all donations in the EA animal space, how would you change things compared to the status quo?

For the main point of your argument, I echo Vasco Grilo's point that your critiques of specific would be more compelling with justification or sources backing up your views. For any given charity idea, I have no reason to think that the fact that somebody on the internet thinks it's a bad idea prior to launch correlates with that idea actually being bad. Every new idea has people who are sceptical of it - that doesn't provide much information one way or the other. I'd be more interested to see a detailed evaluation of each charity in terms of actual impact they may have (or have not) delivered. I can only speak for my experience at Animal Ask, but a couple of recent, detailed evaluations do exist, and we invest a great deal of energy into critically evaluating our own work (and having it evaluated by others).

(As always, my views are my own, not those of my employer.)

Top notch work. My two favourite things about this community are 1) the willingness to take a serious crack at working on whatever project seems like it will help most people and 2) the integrity to shut down projects that do not meet expectations. Your work exemplifies both.

Thank you for your comments :) I can't speak for Koen, but some rough thoughts:

  • At least for me, my view going into this was "we have like a 30% chance to succeed, and it won't be the first (edit!) last project/charity we take a crack at". I'm very happy to fail fast, as it means I can move onto the next promising idea.
  • Re shrimp paste - my thoughts are basically summarised in this paper that I recently posted to the forum. I'm very very excited about wild shrimp stuff (as I am with farmed shrimp stuff), though shrimp paste specifically seems to have a few tricky hurdles - not a reason not to do it, but a shrimp paste charity would definitely need to spend a bit of time thinking very hard about the theory of change and tractability. Definitely lots of room for impact if navigated well. That said, I think there's loads of room for new wild shrimp charities to work in Northern Europe, the United States, etc.
  • As for your last point, my general strategic view is simply "do the thing that has the highest impact". I think the problems we are facing are immense and urgent. That said, the specific intervention (installing electric stunners on farmers' harvest vessels in the Mediterranean) does already have a fair bit of support among farmers for various reasons.

I think it's definitely worth some thought, though I don't really have any hot takes beyond what has been discussed in the comments of this post.

Afterword: Are they called "shrimp" or "prawns"?!

This was a great rabbit hole. Some people distinguish between "shrimp" and "prawns" on biological grounds, arguing that some species are only correctly called "shrimp" while others are only correctly called "prawns". However, I think that the only defensible conclusion is that both "shrimp" and "prawns" are terms for the same thing, and the one to use basically depends on the country you're in.

During my 2023 visit to London, when I arrived at the tattoo studio for my appointment to get a shrimp tattoo, the first thing the artist asked was: "So, what's actually the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?" I realised that even with my expertise in marine ecology and shrimp welfare, I had no clue.

The Wiktionary entry for "shrimp" gives this definition: "Any of many swimming, often edible, crustaceans, chiefly of the infraorder Caridea or the suborder Dendrobranchiata, with slender legs, long whiskers and a long abdomen."

The Wiktionary entry for "prawn" gives these definitions:

  1. A crustacean of the suborder Dendrobranchiata.
  2. (Commonwealth) A crustacean, sometimes confused with shrimp.
  3. (Australia, slang) A fool, an idiot. (!!!)

Both refer to the suborder Dendrobranchiata, and "shrimp" adds on the infraorder Caridea. These are two non-overlapping groups that are both contained within decapod crustaceans (see above in this post - Dendrobranchiata includes both penaeid and sergestid shrimp).

Those same entries also tell us a bit about the etymology:

  • Shrimp: From Middle English schrimpe (“shrimp, puny person”), ultimately from Proto-Germanic *skrimpaz (“shrivelled”) (compare Middle High German schrimpf (“a scratch, minor wound”), Norwegian skramp (“thin horse, thin man”)), from Proto-Germanic *skrimpaną (“to shrivel”)...
  • Prawn: First attested early 1400s as various Middle English forms prayne, prane, praune, and prawne, which present no clear cognates in languages other than English. The forms suggest a hypothetical Old English form *prægn, where *æg would have evolved into Middle English *ay, but it is unclear if the word is of Germanic origin, from another European language, or loaned from a substrate.

It seems fair to say that "shrimp" and "prawn" both originated with the arbitrariness and whimsy typical of word origins, and that both terms are defined today to refer to mostly the same group of animals.

I've seen some people claim that "shrimp" and "prawn" are defined biologically, with particular morphological traits distinguishing between them - such distinctions tend to make reference to minute characteristics of the gills, the shell, or how the legs are spaced. If you accept the above definitions, it does admittedly seem to be true that animals in the infraorder Caridea can be called "shrimp" but not "prawns". Perhaps biologists follow this usage. But I think it's fair to doubt that the general public, or even farmers, are in the habit of checking the gill characteristics or reading the latest taxonomy papers before they risk using the wrong word.

It seems far more plausible to me that there is a much simpler rule: people in some countries say "shrimp", while people in other countries say "prawn". I'd bet that Australians would say "prawn" even if you show them an animal from the infraorder Caridea. (We Australians in particular get sensitive about this.) There's even a lobster that is called a "prawn" in the United Kingdom - a lobster! Furthermore, both taxonomy and word meanings change over time, and classifications of animals are frequently revised, so I'd be wary of any strict definition based on taxonomy. This is basically the same conclusion reached by Gillett and by Rethink Priorities.

I found this gem published in a 1969 taxonomic study: "There has been much confusion in the usage of terms prawns and shrimps. At the Prawn Symposium of the Indo-Pacific Fisheries Council held at Tokyo in 1955 it was decided that the term prawn should be applied to the Penaeids, Pandalids and Palaemonids, while the use of the term shrimp should be restricted to the smaller forms belonging to other families. According to this most of the forms of economic importance here are to be termed prawns."

I love the idea of a roomful of biologists in the 1950s thinking that the best thing to do in Toyko is to have a heated debate about marine invertebrate terminology. And I thought I needed to get out more.

Now, do not get me started on the difference between a pigeon and a dove.

The review article on wild shrimp fisheries (which I mentioned in a previous discussion in the comments) is now up here :)

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