Saulius Simcikas is a research analyst at Rethink Priorities. Previously, he was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators, organised Effective Altruism events in the UK and Lithuania, and earned-to-give as a programmer.

Note that the views expressed in my forum comments are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rethink Priorities.

saulius's Comments

Effective Animal Advocacy Resources

I added it and corrected the RP website, thanks!

Estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers

Yes, table support would have been nice, but no worries :) Is the new editor coming any time soon?

Estimates of global captive vertebrate numbers

Good point, I forgot about them. I've heard that they purchase frozen mice to feed animals at these clinics. So these clinics may also increase the number of farmed rodents by increasing the demand for them.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

But organizations did leafleting for a while, realized there were more effective uses of resources, and then stopped leafleting [...] It was only after that that evidence that leafleting was not very effective emerged in the research literature.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that it’s accidental that things happened in this order. If the same research about leafleting was done earlier, it could’ve had an impact by making organizations deprioritize leafleting earlier. I don’t think that we can trust organizations always to realize what is a more effective use of their resources without any research. There are too many biases in human nature, and it’s often just not obvious enough.

I also feel that so far, animal welfare research didn’t have that much impact. And I do feel more skeptical about it because of it. However, I’m not sure there was enough animal advocacy research to conclude that we should deprioritize it. Research is a hit-based endeavor. Just because we (EAA researchers) haven’t had many hits in our very short history, doesn’t mean that they will never happen. Note that it’s also possible that some of the research we already did will become a hit and make an impact in the future (e.g., our work on invertebrate sentience or fish stocking).

The situation in animal advocacy seems to be that we have very many options about what to do, and we don’t know which options are the best. That does sound like a situation that could be improved by research.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

How do you engage with the animal welfare advocacy groups who might act on your research?

We talk to them, try to understand what they do and why, ask what research they would find useful, and ask whether our research has influenced their decisions (we did it via a survey and informally).

Or alternatively, how do you counteract any negatives from not being an advocacy organization, and not getting feedback directly (e.g. advocacy that responds to research because they are done in conjunction)?

What do you think are the main relevant differences between the team being in-house versus a separate organization? The way I see it, all of us in the EAA movement are a part of the same team, working towards the same goals. A president of an animal charity can go to us and ask us to research a particular topic in a similar way they could go to their in-house research team. I guess one difference is that if they go to us, it’s up to us to decide whether to pursue the suggested topic but I don’t see why that would necessarily be worse.[1] Of course, I’m unsure about this as I’ve never worked for an in-house team.

  1. So far, I haven’t pursued any of the research topics that were suggested by people from animal charities because they didn’t seem very tractable. However, I will probably try to make progress on some of these topics in the future. ↩︎

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

Ethics: some years ago I was utilitarian and I pushed myself to do utilitarian things. Then I realized that there are other values that I care about and I tried to specify what they are. Eventually I realized that it’s impossible because there are too many. I then still tried to specify what actions should I push myself to do in order to achieve my vaguely-defined long-term goals. Now I abandoned even that and I just do whatever I want. It didn’t really change much in terms of behaviour. E.g., I still want to never lie. I just don’t think about it in terms of ethics. Also, my mindset is different, more easy-going. Some ethical stances did change though. For example, past-me would’ve pressed a button to create an utilitronium shockwave because it’s a logical conclusion to utilitarianism. Now I wouldn’t press such button because I don’t want to. I don’t claim that this approach to life and ethics is better or correct in any way though, and I don’t know if I should stick to it. If anyone has reasons why I should change it, I’d be curious to read.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

Some more reasons why I think I keep working on EA stuff:

  • EA forum's karma system and comments make it motivating to participate here, I'm slightly addicted to it.
  • I'm embarrassed to admit it but I have a desire to impress other people and I try to do that by writing EA forum posts. I enjoy social status it gives me in some social situations, etc.

I'm afraid that in some cases these motivations lead me to work on things that are not the most impactful and I try to watch out for that.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

This is the story that I tell myself about myself but I’m really unsure about the accuracy of it.

I was utilitarian since I was a teen (way before I knew the term). I decided to earn-to-give and found out about GiveWell and ACE when researching where to give. I got really interested when I discovered Brian Tomasik’s website after googling something about utilitarianism. Shortly after that I began participating in EA facebook group, I don’t remember how. I saw some people discussing donations and salaries there and they were much higher than mine because I was living in Lithuania. In 2015 I decided to emigrate to London so that I could earn and donate more money. In London, I went to an EA meetup. It was a shock because up until that point I haven’t met anyone who is altruistic and most of the people in my life were alienated by my altruism and tried to talk me out of donating my money. Making friends with other EAs at meetups in London has greatly increased my motivation to do EA stuff. Soon I was spending most of my free time on EA-related activities. Combined with other factors, this has led me to burn out in 2017. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully recovered from it.

I think I keep working on EA stuff now because:

  • It’s my job and it would be difficult to find a better job even from a purely selfish perspective
  • I still care about making the world a better place (though not as much as I used to before burning out)
  • It feels easy and natural to work on EA stuff because my brain is used to think in the utilitarian way and because I hang out with other EAs all the time

However, I have little faith in humans knowing why they do anything so maybe these are not the real reasons.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

I plan to contact people in Asia and talk to them about research priorities and other things after I finish my current project. I already began collecting some contacts.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

To me, the main disadvantage of being funded through a fund is that I would be tied to a research topic and a timeframe in which I would have to complete the project (or at least that’s how I imagine it). Working at an organization allows me much more flexibility. I can begin researching a topic, see that it’s not as tractable as I thought, and then drop it. Alternatively, I can increase the scope of the project, or change it into something different, depending on what I feel will be more impactful. All of these scenarios happen often because the more I work on the project, the more informed I am about the most promising directions of that project.

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