Cheers for Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) released a long-overdue report on protest effectiveness. I'm biased because I'm quoted there, but I thought I would take the occasion to note how much I think ACE has grown in the past few years. I'm tremendously grateful to ACE's founders, but when ACE started out (as "Effective Animal Advocacy"), its advice was rudimentary, based on little science, and made by a very small staff. I'm struck by the careful and nuanced conclusion the report reaches:

Overall, we would like to see the animal advocacy movement invest slightly more heavily in protests. Protests currently receive a tiny portion of the movement’s resources and, given the limited evidence we do have, it’s plausible they are at least as cost-effective as interventions that receive much more of the movement’s resources, such as leafleting. Moreover, we think that the use of protests contributes to the diversity of tactics in the movement, which can help attract a greater number and variety of activists to the cause and thereby increase our chances of success.

Now the organization is fully professional, has a research agenda including a division dedicated to original research such as randomized evaluations, and has a careful and sensitive review process. While I think they may still have a bias toward measurability, I think their charity recommendations are defensible, and they are aware of this bias. They do avoid other common EA biases, like dismissing confrontation or "emotional" activism out of hand or running headstrong into radical conclusions (e.g. there is net suffering in the wild) without tempering those conclusions a bit.

A year ago, Harrison Nathan posted an article on Medium criticizing much of ACE's decision-making. I agreed with most of his points. I also see the whole episode as an utterly tragic affair, as I saw all parties (who I deeply respect) pick a side, stoop to ad hominem arguments, and dismiss the other's points.

I know Harrison disagrees with me, but I think most of his blog is still compatible with supporting ACE as an institution. I support ACE because I think that (a) its mission and symbolism as an organization promoting scientific, consequentialist thinking is itself valuable; (b) its charity evaluations and views at least set out a number of useful basic principles most (not all) advocates should follow: to focus on farmed animals and to think about impact and measurement; and (c) its charity evaluations, as flawed as they are, are pretty good given the state of evidence on animal advocacy.

More cause for optimism, though, is that ACE is regularly improving. I fully believe in the staff and am excited to see where ACE goes next.


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