5146 karmaJoined Dec 2015Bow Rd, London E3, UK


My name is Saulius Šimčikas. I'm currently on a career break. Previously, I worked as an animal advocacy researcher at Rethink Priorities for four years. I also did some earning-to-give as a programmer, did some EA community building, and was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators. I love meditation and talking about emotions.

Personal feedback form: It can be anonymous. I especially welcome negative feedback.


Topic Contributions

As I understand it, all this data about the impact of events is collected through surveys that are attendees fill immediately after an event. I think that this might introduce some biases. For example, maybe attendees get excited about new connections they made and think that they will collaborate but then never do. If that's not done already, one way to somewhat mitigate this bias would be to also ask at the annual EA survey about the impact of EA events (that year, and in their lifetime). I wonder if conclusions like the one in this article would hold up.

I have a nitpicky comment that may not be very important in the end. 

It seems that estimates of how long cage-free and caged hens live and how many eggs they lay are partially based on Norwood and Lusk 2011. I once did that as well but I was told that the book describes small scale cage-free systems that don’t use optimal genetics. Large scale cage-free systems (which perhaps didn’t exist at the time to the same extent) are likely much more similar to current caged systems, especially after industry will have some time to optimize things. If it was the case that caged hens lay 467 eggs while cage-free eggs lay 325, I would be concerned about the higher number of pullets (hens who are too young to lay eggs) needed to produce the same number of eggs. I see that in your estimates you use a “Length of laying” variable, not a “lifespan” variable. I don’t know if “length of laying” includes the pullet phase, which according to industry breed specification requirements like this lasts about 17 weeks. If it doesn’t include the pullet phase, then you may be implicitly assuming that hens don’t suffer during the pullet phase or something. I failed to understand how exactly your estiamte works so I'm not sure. Anyway, I don’t know what the differences between cage-free and caged actually are. I was told by a vet that cage-free and caged birds have the same lifespan nowadays and saw a few indications that same breeds are used. But I also saw this article that claims that caged hens lay 500 eggs, while cage-free lay 420-430 eggs. I don’t know whom to believe. I can send you an unpublished document where I examined a few more sources but I’m still confused about it.

Anyway, in a way, this stuff doesn’t really matter that much for the estimate. Cage-free reforms may or may not increase the number of hens by say 5% (I’m saying a random number here because I don’t remember. If anyone’s decisions depend on this, I can try to write something about it). But if we use Welfare Footprint’s estimates, then it follows that the switch to cage-free reduces the suffering by like 60%, so that 5% doesn’t have that much impact on the final estimate. The biggest uncertainty is the years of impact. You chose 4 years but you could’ve also chosen 40 years and then everything would’ve been 10 times more cost-effective.

Thank you very much for doing this. However, I'm surprised by the claim that "research organizations have trouble filling a senior-level researcher talent gap". I've worked as an animal advocacy researcher in EA orgs for five years and had the title of senior researcher. I am looking for a researcher job right now and I can't even find anywhere to apply for, at least without a PhD. Well, GiveWell is hiring but I don't want to work in global health. I was loosely following animal welfare researcher and non-longtermist generalist researcher open jobs at EA orgs this whole year and that was the situation most of the time. I found maybe 7 jobs I could apply for (although I wasn't genuinely looking for a job until now so I might have missed some). Most of them would've required me to compromise on what topics I work for or where I live. In two cases where I talked to people advertising these jobs, I was told that there was a lot of competition (I wasn't rejected from these jobs so I wasn't told that as an excuse). For an animal welfare job that required to do cost-effectiveness analyses, people with a background in cost-effectiveness analyses in global health applied. I basically concluded that at least for now, I either need to make up my own topics and apply to EA funds to research them, or to change my career. So I was a bit surprised by this claim. But I don't want to overstate my surprise, perhaps the situation in global health, mental health, and biosecurity is different.

These were just some very conservative guesses rather than estimates. Also, I think that the effect depends on circumstances:

  • In the case of eggs and Prop 12, by the time it was passed, most companies in the U.S. had already committed to only use cage-free eggs, often by 2025 or 2026. So I guess you could say that Prop 12 made California do it sooner (2022) and hence sped it up (although it's unclear if that is even a good thing in itself).[1] But a more important effect of Prop 12 is that it increased the probability that California and the whole U.S. will go cage-free in 2020s, and this is how I might model the impact of Prop 12. That is, I'd probably ask various people about what would they expect future cage-free rates to be with and without Prop 12.
  • For some other animals, I imagine that there were no corporate commitments or anything? The situation in such cases seems very different.
  1. ^

    According to King (2019b), some producers react to cage-free commitments by building new cage-free facilities, but not destroying old conventional caged houses which don’t yet need to be replaced. This could increase the overall amount of hens (and suffering) in the short term. O'Keefe (2020) claims that between December 2016 and December 2019, “U.S. egg producers added 33.2 million head of cage-free hens, the number of cage-housed hens only declined by 4.3 million head.” Even if the number of caged hens will decline eventually, this trend during the transition period is worrying. 

Nice post. It reminds me that I want to consider this option. By the way, someone once tried to very roughly estimate the cost-effectiveness of volunteering at a suicide hotline here.

You may know this already, but No Means No Worldwide works with children and adolescents. E.g., the mean age of girls in this study is 12.3 years. Founders Pledge evaluated them (see here for a summary and here for a full report) and provisionally recommended them. I don't know if the person is particularly looking into tackling sexual abuse of younger children, but this charity seems worth mentioning as an option.

I want to illustrate the “larger organizations are much more risk averse” point. When I worked at Rethink Priorities, I felt less freedom to publicly share unpolished and controversial thoughts because that could hurt Rethink Priorities reputation. And the bigger Rethink Priorities grew, the more there was to lose, the more this became a problem. Because of this, articles that I didn’t think were very promising but worth publishing (e.g., aquatic noise) took more time to finish as every claim went through more scrutiny than it would be optimal if I was an independent researcher. Also, I never publicly shared my preliminary findings on things that I didn’t think were promising because it would’ve taken too much time. Finally, it was more difficult to express some bold opinions like Wild Animal Welfare is not very promising because it could hurt Rethink Priorities' Wild Animal Welfare funding and relationships with some other organizations.

Note that aggressively seeking a serious monogamous relationship within EA is also problematic. For example, it might be a bad idea to ask out every other EA woman you had a nice 30 minute conversation with (e.g., see this comment).

Some EA parties (including some EA Global afterparties) involve cuddle puddles or hot tubs. The post made me wonder if that is also problematic. I've never heard anyone say that but some people might feel pressure to comply in order to fit in and possibly make important connections. It also probably increases the probability of various problems like touching without consent. Such things might also repulse some new commers from EA, especially after all the scandals. Perhaps people should consider whether such things are appropriate for a given gathering a bit more?

I imagine that few people would say that it’s actively harmful to try to decrease s-risks to digital minds (especially when it involves trying to prevent escalating conflicts, sadism, and retributivism). Most people would say it’s just a waste of money and effort. Most people agree that it’s important that animals used for food are well cared for. Not everyone votes for welfare improvements in ballot initiatives but a significant proportion of people do. And if we had infinite money, I don't think anyone would mind improving conditions for farmed animals. But if there was a ballot initiative asking “shall we actively try to decrease wild animal numbers?”, I imagine that almost everyone would passionately oppose it. I don't feel comfortable working on things most people would passionately oppose (and not just because it's a waste of resources, but because they think that our desired outcome is bad). It also makes it difficult to work on it as an EA cause and it could repulse some people from EA. But I now weakened (or changed) my position on reducing populations after realizing that it doesn’t always to lead to more environmental issues (see this comment). Also, people might not mind if we are only decreasing populations of tiny animals.

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