Seth Ariel Green

Research Scientist @ Humane and Sustainable Food Lab
755 karmaJoined Working (6-15 years)New York, NY, USA



I am a Research Scientist at the Humane and Sustainable Food Lab at Stanford and a nonresident fellow at the Kahneman-Treisman Center at Princeton. By trade, I am a meta-analyst.



Topic contributions

Hi Victoria, thanks for asking!

The stats classes I took in grad school typically had problem sets in R, so I learned that. I got better at it in summer 2016 when I used it for the paper I worked on. The first real job I got in tech was doing technical support for academic researchers who were using a computational reproducibility platform, so knowing a bit of R and being able to pick up enough of the other languages to get by -- mostly some shell scripting and package installation commands in Python/Julia/etc. -- was helpful. Mostly I just learned the bits and pieces I needed to know and didn't really approach the question systematically.

The data analyst job I got was in an R shop. If I had been more motivated by the problem and a better fit at the company, I might still be doing that.

Thanks, I think this was featured on Marginal Revolution last year — definitely good background.

Sure, there is an intuitive plausibility to this. But how extraordinary must the political dysfunction be for no one within Bangladesh to be capable of solving this themselves through political agitation without NGO support? If the DALY calculations are to be believed, the potential gains are enormous and comparatively cheap. As an outsider to the situation, I am looking for context on why this hasn't happened yet. A good theory in the social sciences will abstract from specifics of the situation, or map a theory onto specific things that have happened (or that haven't), rather than making the general observation that collective action problems cause some public goods to be underprovisioned.

Sure, there are more reasonable ways to express the argument, all of which boil down to “experts have a comparative advantage at producing welfare gains.” And the people don’t need to be poor for this theory to be in vogue, e.g. American public health officials giving very nuanced guidance about masks in March-April 2020 because they were looking to achieve a second-order effect (proper distribution). I think my broader point, however, about the necessity for such a theory, regardless of how it is expressed, holds. I went with a cynical version in part because I was trying to make a point that a theory can be a ‘folk theory’ and therefore impolite, but elucidating that was out of scope for the text.

Three use cases come to mind for the forum:

  • establishing a reputation in writing as a person who can follow good argumentative norms (perhaps as a kind of extended courtship of EA jobs/orgs)
  • disseminating findings that are mainly meant for other forums, e.g. research reports
  • keeping track of what the community at large is thinking about/working on, which is mostly facilitated by organizations like RP & GiveWell using the forum to share their work.

I don’t think I would use the forum for hashing out anything I was really thinking hard about; I’d probably have in-person conversations or email particular persons.

Thanks for clarifying. That inevitably rests on a strong assumption about the relative importance of chicken welfare to human welfare, and it looks like your work builds on Bob Fischer’s estimates for conversion. That’s a fine starting point but for my tastes, this is a truly hard problem where the right answer is probably not knowable even in theory. When I’m discussing this, I’ll probably stick to purely empirical claims, e.g., “we can make X chickens’ lives better in Y ways” or “we can reduce meat consumption by Z pounds” and be hand-wavy about the comparison between species. YMMV.

Thank you for the additional context!

re: Pure Earth: GiveWell notes that its Pure Earth estimates are "substantially less rigorous than both our top charity cost-effectiveness estimates," so I don't want to read too much into it. However, a claim that an intervention is merely 18X better at helping poor people than they are at helping themselves still strikes me as extraordinary, albeit in a way that we become acclimated to over time. 

As to what good social theory would look like here, there is some nice work in sociology on the causes and consequences of lead exposure in America (see Muller, Sampson, and Winter 2018 for a review). I don't expect EA orgs to produce this level of granularity when justifying their work, but some theory about why an opportunity exist would be very much appreciated, at least by me.

I've followed your work a bit w.r.t. animal welfare. That's 15 chicken DALYs right? That seems plausible to me. The theory I would construct for this would start with the fact that there are probably more chickens living on factory farms at this moment than there are humans alive. Costco alone facilitates the slaughter of ~100M chickens/year. If you improve the welfare of just the Costco chickens by just 1% of a DALY per chicken, that's 1M DALYs. I could very much believe that a corporate campaign of that magnitude might cost about $66K (approximately 1M/15). So I find this claim much less extraordinary.

As a potential title, maybe "Disability among farmed animals is neglected relative to human disability"? or something like that

Great to see this — I am a past FSRF recipient and it was a very positive experience!

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