17 episodes

Interviews with activists, social scientists, entrepreneurs and change-makers about the most effective strategies to expand humanity’s moral circle, with an emphasis on expanding the circle to farmed animals. Host Jamie Harris, a researcher at moral expansion think tank Sentience Institute, takes a deep dive with guests into advocacy strategies from political initiatives to corporate campaigns to technological innovation to consumer interventions, and discusses advocacy lessons from history, sociology, and psychology.

The Sentience Institute Podcast Sentience Institute

    • Science
    • 5.0 • 9 Ratings

Interviews with activists, social scientists, entrepreneurs and change-makers about the most effective strategies to expand humanity’s moral circle, with an emphasis on expanding the circle to farmed animals. Host Jamie Harris, a researcher at moral expansion think tank Sentience Institute, takes a deep dive with guests into advocacy strategies from political initiatives to corporate campaigns to technological innovation to consumer interventions, and discusses advocacy lessons from history, sociology, and psychology.

    Tobias Baumann of the Center for Reducing Suffering on global priorities research and effective strategies to reduce suffering

    Tobias Baumann of the Center for Reducing Suffering on global priorities research and effective strategies to reduce suffering

    “We think that the most important thing right now is capacity building. We’re not so much focused on having impact now or in the next year, we’re thinking about the long term and the very big picture… Now, what exactly does capacity building mean? It can simply mean getting more people involved… I would frame it more in terms of building a healthy community that’s stable in the long term… And one aspect that’s just as important as the movement building is that we need to improve our knowledge of how to best reduce suffering. You could call it ‘wisdom building’… And CRS aims to contribute to [both] through our research… Some people just naturally tend to be more inclined to explore a lot of different topics… Others have maybe more of a tendency to dive into something more specific and dig up a lot of sources and go into detail and write a comprehensive report and I think both these can be very valuable… What matters is just that overall your work is contributing to progress on… the most important questions of our time.”
    Tobias BaumannThere are many different ways that we can reduce suffering or have other forms of positive impact. But how can we increase our confidence about which actions are most cost-effective? And what can people do now that seems promising?
    Tobias Baumann is a co-founder of the Center for Reducing Suffering, a new longtermist research organisation focused on figuring out how we can best reduce severe suffering, taking into account all sentient beings.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    Who is currently working to reduce risks of astronomical suffering in the long-term future (“s-risks”) and what are they doing? (2:50)What are “information hazards,” how concerned should we be about them, and how can we reduce them? (12:21)What is the Center for Reducing Suffering’s theory of change and what are its research plans? (17:52)What are the main bottlenecks to further progress in the field of work focused on reducing s-risks? (29:46)Does it make more sense to work directly on reducing specific s-risks or on broad risk factors that affect many different risks? (34:27)Which particular types of global priorities research seem most useful? (38:15)What are some of the implications of taking a longtermist approach for animal advocacy? (45:31)If we decide that focusing directly on the interests of artificial sentient beings is a high priority, what are the most important next steps in research and advocacy? (1:00:04)What are the most promising career paths for reducing s-risks? (1:09:25)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
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    • 1 hr 16 min
    Tobias Baumann of the Center for Reducing Suffering on moral circle expansion, cause prioritization, and reducing risks of astronomical suffering in the long-term future

    Tobias Baumann of the Center for Reducing Suffering on moral circle expansion, cause prioritization, and reducing risks of astronomical suffering in the long-term future

    “If some beings are excluded from moral consideration then the results are usually quite bad, as evidenced by many forms of both current and historical suffering…  I would definitely say that those that don’t have any sort of political representation or power are at risk. That’s true for animals right now; it might be true for artificially sentient beings in the future… And yeah, I think that is a plausible priority. Another candidate would be to work on other broad factors to improve the future such as by trying to fix politics, which is obviously a very, very ambitious goal… [Another candidate would be] trying to shape transformative AI more directly. We’ve talked about the uncertainty there is regarding the development of artificial intelligence, but at least there’s a certain chance that people are right about this being a very crucial technology; and if so, shaping it in the right way is very important obviously.”
    Tobias BaumannExpanding humanity’s moral circle to include farmed animals and other sentient beings is a promising strategy for reducing the risk of astronomical suffering in the long-term future. But are there other causes that we could focus on that might be better? And should reducing future suffering actually be our goal?
    Tobias Baumann is a co-founder of the Center for Reducing Suffering, a new longtermist research organisation focused on figuring out how we can best reduce severe suffering, taking into account all sentient beings.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    Why moral circle expansion is a plausible priority for those of us focused on doing good (2:17)Tobias’ view on why we should accept longtermism — the idea that the value of our actions is determined primarily by their impacts on the long-term future (5:50)Are we living at the most important time in history? (14:15)When, if ever, will transformative AI arrive? (20:35)Assuming longtermism, should we prioritize focusing on risks of astronomical suffering in the long-term future (s-risks) or on maximizing the likelihood of positive outcomes? (27:00)What sorts of future beings might be excluded from humanity’s moral circle in the future, and why might this happen? (37:45)What are the main reasons to believe that moral circle expansion might not be a very promising way to have positive impacts on the long-term future? (41:40)Should we focus on other forms of values spreading that might be broadly positive, rather than expanding humanity’s moral circle? (48:55)Beyond values spreading, which other causes should people focused on reducing s-risks consider prioritizing (50:25)Should we expend resources on moral circle expansion and other efforts to reduce s-risk now or just invest our money and resources in order to benefit from compound interest? (1:00:02)If we decide to focus on moral circle expansion, should we focus on the current frontiers of the moral circle, such as farmed animals, or focus more directly on groups of future beings we are concerned about? (1:03:06)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
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    • 1 hr 18 min
    Jo Anderson of Faunalytics and Saulius Šimčikas of Rethink Priorities on research for effective animal advocacy

    Jo Anderson of Faunalytics and Saulius Šimčikas of Rethink Priorities on research for effective animal advocacy

    We [Faunalytics] put out a lot of things in 2020. Some of the favorites that I [Jo] have, probably top of the list, I’m really excited about our animal product impact scales, where we did a lot of background research to figure out and estimate the impact of replacing various animal products with plant-based or cultivated alternatives. Apart from that, we’ve also done some research on people’s beliefs about chickens and fish that’s intended as a starting point on a program of research so that we can look at the best ways to advocate for those smaller animals… [Rethink Priorities’] bigger projects within farmed animal advocacy include work on EU legislation, in particular our view of how much do countries comply with EU animal welfare laws and what we can do to increase compliance. Jason Schukraft wrote many articles about topics like how the moral value of animals differs across species. There has been a review of shrimp farming. I [Saulius] finished an article in which I estimate global captive vertebrate numbers. And Abraham Rowe posted an article about insects raised for food and feed which I think is a very important topic.
    Jo Anderson and Saulius ŠimčikasThere have been many new research posts relevant to animal advocacy in 2020. But which are the most important for animal advocates to pay close attention to? And what sorts of research should we prioritize in the future?
    Jo Anderson is the Research Director at Faunalytics, a nonprofit that conducts, summarizes, and disseminates research relevant to animal advocacy. Saulius Šimčikas is a Senior Staff Researcher at Rethink Priorities, a nonprofit that conducts research relevant to farmed animal advocacy, wild animals, and several other cause areas associated with the effective altruism community.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    Faunalytics and Rethink Priorities’ research in 2020 relevant to animal advocacy (1:40) Jo and Saulius’ work on polling about fish welfare (5:37)The impact of replacing different types of animal products (12:27)To what extent should animal advocates focus on legislative campaigns rather than corporate campaigns? (16:29)Experiences and turnover in the animal advocacy movement (24:33)New research on the difficulties of scaling up cultured meat (28:15)New research about the promise of lectures to reduce students’ animal product consumption (32:16)Charity Entrepreneurship’s (many) new intervention reports (36:54)How the idea of longtermism should affect animal advocacy (39:32)Other exciting effective animal advocacy research published in 2020 (45:51)How does all this research actually lead to impact for animals? What is the theory of change? (50:06)How do you decide or prioritize which specific research topic to pursue? (56:41)What are the pros and cons of working on multiple cause areas within a single research nonprofit? (1:00:11)What are the pros and cons of various different types of research? (1:05:21)What are the main bottlenecks that the farmed animal movement and its contributing research organizations face? (1:18:17)What routes into effective animal advocacy research roles did Jamie, Jo, and Saulius take and what is the relative importance of effective animal advocacy familiarity vs. formal research experience? (1:23:49)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
    Support the show (https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/donate)

    • 1 hr 35 min
    Ajay Dahiya of The Pollination Project on funding grassroots animal advocacy and inner transformation

    Ajay Dahiya of The Pollination Project on funding grassroots animal advocacy and inner transformation

    “Why inner transformation, why these practices are also built into model: unless we root out the root cause of the issue, which is disconnection, which is a lack of understanding that we are interrelated, and therefore I have an inherent responsibility to show up in the world with kindness and compassion and to reduce the harm and the suffering that I cause in the world. Unless we’re able to do that, these problems are still going to exist. The issues of race relations still exist. How many years have people been fighting for this? The issue of homophobia, of racism, whatever it is, they still exist; why do they still exist after so much work, after so much money has been poured into it, after so many lives have been lost, so many people have been beaten and spilled their blood? They’ve shed their tears for these issues. Because unless we address the underlying schisms within human consciousness, within us as individuals, it’s still going to exist; it’s still going to be there. Direct impact, indirect impact, I just want to see impact and if you’re someone who wants to make an impact, I want to hear from you.
    Ajay DahiyaAnimals are harmed in all continents in the world. But how can we support the advocates seeking to help them? And what sort of support is most needed?
    Ajay Dahiya is the executive director of The Pollination Project, an organisation which funds and supports grassroots advocates and organizations working towards positive social change, such as to help animals.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    How the Pollination Project helps grassroots animal advocates (1:20)How we can support grassroots animal advocacy in India and build a robust movement (12:48)How the grants and support offered concretely benefit the grantees (19:22)The application and review process for The Pollination Project’s grant-making (24:00)What makes good grantees? And how does The Pollination Project evaluate them? (27:34)How does The Pollination Project identify and evaluate grantees? (35:14)How important is the non-financial support that the Pollination Project offers relative to the financial support? (44:54)What similarities and differences does The Pollination Project have to other grant-makers that support effective animal advocacy? (55:23)What are the difficulties of making grants in lots of different countries? (1:02:00)To what extent are grassroots animal advocates constrained by a lack of funding? (1:06:26)Why doesn’t The Pollination Project’s prioritize some of the work that it does over others? Isn’t this kind of prioritization necessary in order to maximize positive impact? (1:10:00)What are the main challenges that The Pollination Project faces, preventing it having further impact? (1:29:05)What makes good grant-makers? (1:31:58)How Ajay’s experience as a monk came about and how it affects his work as a grant-maker (1:34:37)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
    Support the show (https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/donate)

    • 1 hr 43 min
    Oscar Horta of the University of Santiago de Compostela on how we can best help wild animals

    Oscar Horta of the University of Santiago de Compostela on how we can best help wild animals

    “The main work that really needs to be carried out here is work in the intersection of animal welfare science and the science of ecology and other fields in life science… You could also build a career, not as a scientist, but say, in public administration or government. And you can reach a position in policy-making that can be relevant for the field, so there are plenty of different options there… Getting other interventions accepted and implemented would require significant lobby work. And that’s why having people, for instance, if you have people who are sympathetic to reducing wild animal suffering, and they are working in, say, national parks administration or working with the agricultural authorities, forest authorities, or whatever, these people could really make a significant difference.”
    Oscar HortaAnimals in the wild suffer, often to a large degree, because of natural disasters, parasites, disease, starvation, and other causes. But what can we do as individuals to help them? What are the most urgent priorities?
    Oscar Horta is a Professor of philosophy at the University of Santiago de Compostela and a co-founder of the nonprofit Animal Ethics. He has published and lectured in English and other languages on topics including speciesism and wild animal welfare.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    Why should animal advocates and researchers think more carefully about the definition of speciesism? (1:40)Why Oscar believes framing our messaging in terms in speciesism and focusing on attitudes rather than behavior would help advocates to do more good (9:10)How relevant is existing research to the proposed research field of welfare biology, that would consider wild animals among other animals, and how can we integrate it? (16:40)What sorts of research are most urgently needed to advance the field of welfare biology and how can people go about pursuing this? (21:13)Careers related to helping wild animals in policy (36:10)What you can do if you already work at an animal advocacy organization or are interested in growing the field in other ways (39:45)The size of the current wild animal welfare movement in and the work of relevant nonprofits (51:40)How can we most effectively build support for this sort of work among other animal advocates and effective altruists? (57:33)How can we most effectively build a new academic field? (1:02:49)To what extent is public-facing advocacy desirable at this point? (1:10:09)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
    Support the show (https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/donate)

    • 1 hr 19 min
    Oscar Horta of the University of Santiago de Compostela on why we should help wild animals

    Oscar Horta of the University of Santiago de Compostela on why we should help wild animals

    “We want there to be animals like elephants, who on average have very good lives, rather than animals who tend to have very bad lives… If you have, say, a population of animals who reproduce by laying a million eggs. On average, only two of them would survive… Due to how the life history of animals is in many cases, we are not really speaking here about exceptions but rather about the norm. It's very common for animals to have lives that contain more suffering — sometimes much more suffering — than positive wellbeing… Regarding what needs to change most urgently, first of all we need to get more people involved. And also, of course, more funding would be greatly appreciated, because this is a severely underfunded field of research and advocacy.”
    Oscar HortaAnimals in the wild suffer, often to a large degree, because of natural disasters, parasites, disease, starvation, and other causes. But is there actually anything we can do to help them? And would that even be desirable?
    Oscar Horta is a Professor of philosophy at the University of Santiago de Compostela and a co-founder of the nonprofit Animal Ethics. He has published and lectured in both English and Spanish on topics including speciesism and wild animal welfare.
    Topics discussed in the episode:
    The work that is currently been done to help wild animals and what needs to change (2:08)The “idyllic view of nature” and why it seems incorrect (7:47)How can we best help wild animals? What should we focus on now? (25:19)Which interventions seem promising to help wild animals on a larger scale? (36:18)How does the case for intervention to help wild animals depend on different ethical theories? (46:27)Does uncertainty about the indirect effects of our actions to help wild animals make this area less promising? (54:09)Can we still help wild animals if we’re concerned about wild animals’ autonomy? (58:47)Does the case for working on wild animal welfare depend on an overall view about whether wild animals have lives that are net negative or net positive? (1:02:46)If we’re concerned about problems that will be large in scale over very long-term time horizons, should we still prioritize wild animal issues? (1:13:15)Why Oscar believes the concept of moral status should be abandoned (1:21:50)Resources discussed in the episode are available at https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/podcast
    Support the show (https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/donate)

    • 1 hr 28 min

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