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Showing posts with the label science

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&…

What I Learned from a Year Spent Studying How to Get Policymakers to Use Evidence

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The past year I was a senior research analyst at Northwestern University's Global Poverty Research Lab on a study of evidence-based policy. Specifically, our goal was to work on a question often on researchers' minds: how can I get my ideas acted upon?

To do this, I dug through a number of bodies of evidence on how science influences policy. One area I looked at is what is called "implementation science" in medicine, which looks at how to get doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators to adopt evidence-based practice. Another was a series of papers by social scientist Carol Weiss and her students on how policymakers in government agencies claim to use evidence. There is also a small literature on how to implement evidence-based policy in public schools, and a little work on policymaker numeracy. I've included a bibliography below that should be helpful for anyone interested in this topic.

Most of my year was spent on delving into attempts to scale up specific pol…

I'm Not Running a Marathon Because #YOLO

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A few months ago, I posted on my Facebook wall that I was considering running a marathon and asked for advice. I'd started training low-key in October for no particular reason. I've been a runner since I was eleven or twelve, and one day after going for a slightly longer run than normal, my fiancé Lucas and I talked about how cool it would be if I ran a marathon, so I decided I'd give it a try.

Then one day, again for no particular reason, I researched the health effects of running a marathon. I expected to find that it was positive, at least mildly. Instead what I found were articlesuponarticles pooh-poohing marathons as unhealthy wastes of time. Now as much as I appreciate science writers for spreading important findings, I also know they frequently get things wrong. So I searched Google Scholar, and I found roughly the same thing. I'd decided to do the marathon for no particular reason except that it would be an achievable accomplishment with presumably only positive…

Fooling Ourselves into Believing Things

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A New York Times piece I'd had in my backlog writes about an issue most atheists struggle to understand: how does one come to believe something one does not believe? Can we make ourselves have faith?

I was struck by the piece because as time has gone on, I've seen how real this phenomenon can be–and how it may even be something useful to rational people. I've experienced moments when I've thought of getting myself to believe something I did not believe or feel something I did not feel.

Most saliently, as with most gay men, I tried to be straight. I took it a step further in college and did a program called the Vaad, which attempted to turn Yale students into Orthodox Jews. They were damn good at it, too, full of references to the surprisingly difficult fine-tuned universe argument and Kurt Vonnegut. Some people in the program did go on to go to Israel, study at Yeshiva, and so on, and from what I hear there are many others like that. And of course, in some ways, I've…