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Showing posts with the label economics

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.

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…

Be Careful About a Stubborn Attachment to Growth

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Rob Wiblin interviewed economist Tyler Cowen on the 80,000 hours podcast (“the show about the world’s most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them”) and as I would expect, it was a consistently stimulating conversation. Cowen presented on his new book, Stubborn Attachments, which argues that we should place dramatic importance on economic growth because most of humanity’s expected value lies in the future, and economic growth is the most reliable help we can offer future generations. I think the thesis is largely correct, and I'm glad he's making such a strong case for creating an economically prosperous future. I want to contend, though, that growth as conventionally measured does not always do justice to the sort of growth that matters for the long-term future.

Cowen makes a good case for providing future generations with as many resources as possible, but economic growth is a systematically imperfect measure of resources. In particular, it's not p…

Should Effective Charities Prepare for a Recession?

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I asked a number of people at effective altruism global in June a question that came to my mind: how would a recession affect charities aligned with effective altruism? A lot of people seemed to me to have concerns, and many people I talked to seemed to think their organizations did not have a plan for if a recession hits and donations decrease. I think that’s a problem worth some thought.



The effective altruism movement has now been booming for several years, with many EA-aligned animal organizations multiplying in size and achieving a cascade of long-sought cage-free pledges. EA-oriented meta organizations and those working on the long-term future of humanity have gained significantly more esteem. Evidence-based global development organizations have continued to be dominant in that sphere, even though they are increasingly less connected to self-described EA organizations. There is unmistakable growth.

That growth has occurred during the recovery from the Great Recession, a time when …

The Largest Randomized Controlled Trial in History

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Chinese researchers released what appears to be the largest experiment in history, with over a thousand researchers involved. The authors list alone is dumbfounding. The study is on the diffusion of modern scientific agricultural techniques in China. There is so much to ponder here that I can barely get started, but a few things:

(1) This shows an inspiring, awesomely grand application of the most rigorous social science tool and should expand the horizons of what's possible.

(2) This shows the growing power of China in combination with social science. I don't quite understand how this worked, but it seems like the type of thing that has got to be far more difficult in a democracy. That makes it somewhat disturbing, but it also raises the question of what interesting findings will come out of China.

(3) This study might worry those concerned about animal agriculture. It's not directly connected, but such efficiency when applied to raising animals could become even worse tortu…

Things I've Changed My Mind on This Year:

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1) The importance of artificial general intelligence:

I'd previously been dismissive of superintelligence as being something altruists should focus on, but that was in large part motivated reasoning. I read books like Superintelligenceand Global Catastrophic Risks, and I knew their theses were right initially but would not admit it to myself. With time, though I came to see that I was resisting the conclusion that superintelligence is an important priority mostly because it was uncomfortable. Now I recognize that it is potentially the most important problem and want to explore opportunities to contribute.

2) The economic argument for animal welfare reforms:

One of the reasons often given for supporting animal welfare reforms to those who want to see fewer (read: no) animals tortured for food is that welfare reforms make the industry less profitable, cutting down on the numbers of animals raised. I did not think this effect was strong enough to be worth the effort activists put into …