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Showing posts from 2019

Do Long-Lived Scientists Hold Back Their Disciplines?

That's the question suggested by a new paper in the American Economic Review. Here's the abstract:
We study the extent to which eminent scientists shape the vitality of their areas of scientific inquiry by examining entry rates into the subfields of 452 academic life scientists who pass away prematurely. Consistent with previous research, the flow of articles by collaborators into affected fields decreases precipitously after the death of a star scientist. In contrast, we find that the flow of articles by non-collaborators increases by 8.6% on average. These additional contributions are disproportionately likely to be highly cited. They are also more likely to be authored by scientists who were not previously active in the deceased superstar's field. Intellectual, social, and resource barriers all impede entry, with outsiders only entering subfields that offer a less hostile landscape for the support and acceptance of “foreign” ideas. Overall, our results suggest that once …

Who Supports Animal Rights?

There's a new paper out by political scientists on support for animal rights. It's in line with most of the data I'd seen but bears repeating. High correlations with support for human rights and being female, and not much of a connection with wealth, but if anything wealthy people are less supportive of animal rights.

The abstract:
In this article, we empirically test explanations for variation in support for animal rights at the individual level and across the United States. We draw on a combination of national public opinion surveys and cross-sectional data on animal rights laws from the fifty US states. We find a strong connection between recognition of human rights and animal rights both at the individual attitude level and at the US state policy level. Our results demonstrate that support for animal rights strongly links to support for disadvantaged or marginalized human populations, including LGBT groups, racial minorities, undocumented immigrants, and the poor.

Want to Save the World? Enter the Priesthood

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Effective altruism is now spending a great deal of time on improving prospects for the future. This is chiefly by avoiding extinction risks, but there are other strategies as well, e.g. moral circle expansion. In any case changing institutions looks like a promising strategy, either to spread moral consideration for animals and future people. What are the longest-lasting institutions in the world? Certainly high among them is religion. For this reason, it seems to me that influencing religion, particularly old religions with a tendency to grow, is a highly-neglected strategy for improving the world.
I've seen posts in effective altruism (e.g. this one) about outreach to religious groups, but I always saw them as a sort of diversity and inclusivity message: to grow a movement, you need to welcome all sorts of people. It's important to welcome and include people, of course, but this seems to be dramatically underselling the importance of religion. The Catholic Church is around 20…

How Much Do Wild Animals Suffer? A Foundational Result on the Question is Wrong.

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In 1995, Yew-Kwang Ng wrote a groundbreaking paper, "Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering" that explored the novel question of the wellbeing of wild animals as distinct from the conservation of species. As perceptive as it was innovative, the paper proposed a number of axioms about evolution and consciousness to study which animals are sentient, what their experiences are, and what might be done about it.

Among the many results in the paper was the Buddhist Premise, which stated that under reasonable conditions, suffering should exceed enjoyment for the average wild animal. The finding matches the intuitions of many people who have thought about the issue and concluded that nature is "red in tooth and claw" in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's phrase. As it turns out, though, this "evolutionary economics" argument is wrong. This week, Ng and I published a new paper showing that the original "Buddhist Premise&…

A Simple Reason Why Vegan Options Can Have Increased While Veganism Did Not

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It's common knowledge in urban areas that the availability of vegan options has soared in the U.S. and around the world in recent years, and it's nearly equally common to think that veganism has become more common as well, but the data on this raises questions. Gallup has been estimating the number of vegans and vegetarians for years and has repeatedly found no change. At the same time, the number of vegan options is clearly increasing in supermarkets and restaurants. It's far from clear that Gallup is right, because other, sketchier statistics have some hint of the numbers of vegans increasing. I can't find the original data, but GlobalData apparently found a 600% increase in the number of people identifying as vegan, and there's a bunch of figures like this bouncing around online. This seems likely to be driven by the fact that in surveys, more people identify as vegan and vegetarian than actually are based on self-reported food choices, but Gallup’s trends (or a…

The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2018

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Chiming once again in as the Oscars are announced with my picks for this year, which aren't always those that are nominated.

My favorite movie of the year was A Star Is Born. I left that movie in awe: the way the camera moves during the concerts makes it feel like we are on stage, and Lady Gaga, the quintessential modern pop star, comes across as a totally normal person. The story and acting had my bawling as I left the theater.

After that, I think the next-best movie of the year was Hereditary, which as a horror movie didn't stand a chance of being nominated. It's the scariest movie I've ever seen in theaters, easily, and probably the scariest I've ever seen. It draws with real-life issues as well in a way that makes it all the more unsettling.

I think after that Black Panther takes the cake for me. It's a superhero movie made into an afro-futuristic epic, and despite all its popularity, it's not a bit oversold. It draws on all sorts of pop-culture all the wa…

Am I an Internet Person?

I was thinking about online polarization the other day and anti-elite sentiment, and I realized that despite what I'd like to believe, I'm an exhibit in the power of the internet. I often sympathize with the people termed "elites" — not financial elites, but academics and in many cases the media and mainstream but progressive politicians. So in this age of Brexit and Trump and Yellow Vests I've been inclined to think I'm not one of the anti-elite members of the public...

Until I thought about my views on animals and how I think what's happening to animals is a moral crisis of the first order. I've had these concerns since early on in college, but it did not dominate my thinking back then. Today, I see what's happening to animals as of overwhelming importance. (I've also come to be strongly aware of moral obligations to help others, the long-term future, and rationality, but those are perhaps less political and certainly less clearcut.) How did …

A Funny Thing Happened While Selling Cory Booker to Vegans

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Last Friday I wrote a post in support of Cory Booker's presidency. The main audience was animal advocates, though I also aimed it at the general public and wrote about a number of his policies and politics that I think recommend him.

My original version of the post included a section that I decided to delete. In the deleted section, I predicted that a lot of people concerned with animals would immediately dismiss the first true animal advocate running for president based on other stances, something they would never do for human issues. It's striking to me how accurate my predictions are, so I thought it was worth sharing what I removed from the post, which I think underlines a problem not only among vegans but also on the left in general: that there is a socially-enforced ranking of issues that nearly everyone follows at the end of the day and that has little explicit justification.

The note is below the line.

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I anticipate some on the vegan internet accus…

Booker 2020

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Cory Booker announced his presidential bid. I'm going to sign up to volunteer with his campaign as soon as it's possible, and I think he’s the candidate worth supporting. Here's why:

Trump has made clear that he intends to further incite white voters in 2020 with racist appeals, and so far Democrats don’t have a great idea how to combat it. One idea is to do the same thing on the left and try to use equally angry rhetoric, and I think this could work, but it's not the best bet because (a) Trump isn’t actually that popular, he’s just a puzzle in his extreme political tactics; (b) left-leaning voters are just not as angry or hateful; (c) the blue coalition is very mixed and hard to unify as a singular group. Also, even if it works, it's probably better to go with a positive message for the long-term health of American politics.

It seems to me that there are two things that may work. First, representing underrepresented voters most affected by Trump. Second, crafting a …