Blog – USA, Trump and CEO no more

Hey readers! Since I’m heading to USA for 1 year for my research (more on that later!) I’m trialing a different theme. I want to mix my essay/research-like posts with general updates, observations and thoughts about my travels and life that I find interesting. Bear with me and please do let me know of any aspects you like or dislike.

I’m pretty lucky in that I have a fair bit of flexibility in my PhD research, and I spend time thinking about things like asteroid impact risk and the implications of space colonisation. My main focus, however, is on understanding the geomechanical properties of asteroids and other planetary bodies, and developing geophysical techniques to do so. So far this has involved a lot of literature review, and a bit of lab work.

My opportunity to work in USA for one year initially came up in late 2015, a few months before I started my PhD. I was at the 2nd Off-Earth Mining Forum at the University of New South Wales chatting with my future supervisor, when he introduced me to an American.

Michael, this is Rene. Rene is the deputy director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Oh, I have to go, bye!

Suddenly I was standing there sweating in front of a senior figure of JPL, which is the CalTech-run arm of NASA.

So Michael, tell me about your research.” He seemed oblivious to my nerves.

Well I’m starting my PhD next year and will be looking at asteroid structure for mining and asteroid mitigation purposes.

That’s great! We have some people at JPL working on that sort of thing. You should come and visit at some point.

Oh, that sounds like a good idea, I’ll be there.” Inside me was freaking out. Visit NASA? Outside me was somehow cool as a cucumber.

Many months later I got a co-supervisor who worked at JPL, and eventually that lead to their offer to spend up to 12 months there and use their equipment, including a parabolic jet. Don’t tell NASA I hate flying…

I was set to arrive in USA on the 19th of March, when my co-supervisor at JPL broke the bad news. “Because of the new administration, your visa might be delayed for up to 3 weeks from now. There have been some changes.”

Call it hyperbole, but in a roundabout sort of way, Trump may have delayed my trip (*shakes fist*). But in under a month, I’ll be living in sunny Pasadena, California, in the north of Los Angeles.

I’m also stepping down as CEO of Effective Altruism Australia, a position I’ve held since August 2016. I want to talk a little bit more about my experience and what I’ve learned, but I’ll cover that in a later post, stay tuned.

A surprising way to fight climate change

In keeping with my theme of publishing rejected op-eds and letters to the editor (because why let that writing go to waste) I’m posting here a letter to the editor submission to the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2017.

It’s difficult to say whether the latest heat wave across Australia is the result of climate change, but it does serve as a good reminder for how individuals can make a meaningful difference to the environment. Many concerned citizens have taken steps to make their lives more green by getting solar panels and replacing cars with bikes and buses. However, one of the most effective ways to reduce environmental impact is often overlooked.

A vegan will produce on average 50% less carbon dioxide, use 1/11th the oil, 1/13th the water, and 1/18th the land compared to an omnivore, considering only food related use. Being vegan is easy and is more impactful than getting solar panels, taking less showers, buying locally and riding a bike.

Not to mention it lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many cancers. It’s even much better for the health of the animals. An average vegan will spare thousands of animals over their life from an existence of pain, cruelty and abuse.

If you want to be an effective environmentalist, sure, get solar panels. But make sure you go vegan as well.

Effective Animal Advocacy: a review

This is an article that Jesse Clifton, Jacy Reese and myself wrote in 2016 to summarise the current literature on effective animal advocacy. While the paper was unsuccessful in journal submission as it broke no new ground, the reviewers suggested (and we agreed) that it was a useful summary and would be valuable to have in the public domain.

Whether you are new to effective animal advocacy or experienced, we hope you will get good use out of this literature review.

For a pdf version of this article, please click here.

Corrections and addendums will be made to this article as necessary and will be flagged on this page.

Full article

Michael Dello-Iacovo, Jesse Clifton & Jacy Reese

Written in 2016


Effective animal advocacy combines animal advocacy and Effective Altruism, a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world. We review the effective animal advocacy literature, including the psychology of animal product consumption and behavioural change, the effectiveness of various interventions on behalf of animals, the prospects of animal product alternatives to help animals, wild-animal suffering, and meta-level animal advocacy strategy. We highlight interventions and areas of research which appear to be promising and neglected targets of marginal resources in effective animal advocacy. While it is premature to conclude which strategy is the most effective at reducing animal suffering, Animal Charity Evaluators has suggested that corporate outreach and undercover investigations are two of the most promising direct interventions identified thus far. Helping and spreading concern for wild animals is also a neglected area of research given the scale of suffering in the wild. Meta-strategies, such as movement-building and promoting pro-giving behaviour amongst animal advocates, may be more effective than conventional animal advocacy.

  1. Introduction

Effective animal advocacy is the use of evidence and reason to find and implement the most effective ways to help nonhuman animals. It lies at the intersection of the animal protection movement, which seeks to reduce the harm and injustice suffered by nonhuman animals, and Effective Altruism, a philosophy and social movement that applies evidence and reason to determining the most effective ways to improve the world. Here we review the research on effective animal advocacy, including:

  • the psychological literature relevant to animal product consumption and persuading people to change their diets;
  • estimates of the impact on animals of creating additional vegetarian/vegan1 (veg*n hereafter) or meat reducers;
  • surveys and experiments on effectively causing dietary change;
  • observations on the effectiveness of other interventions to change social attitudes and behaviours related to animals, such as undercover investigations of factory farms;
  • observations on the effectiveness of campaigns to change corporate and public policy;
  • notes on the current state of cellular agriculture and plant-based food technology and their prospects for reducing animal suffering;
  • research on possible interventions to help animals suffering in the wild;
  • observations on meta-level activities, such as increasing the size and effectiveness of the animal advocacy movement.

While modern animal activism emerged approximately in the 1960s and efforts to help animals date back to at least the first millennium BCE (Phelps 2007), effective animal advocacy per se is a young field. Faunalytics (originally the Humane Research Council) was founded in 2000 to conduct research intended to inform animal advocacy, and Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE; originally Effective Animal Activism) was founded in 2012 to identify the most cost-effective animal nonprofits and conduct other research on effective animal advocacy. Since then, several organizations have emerged in the effective animal advocacy space, including Humane League Labs, which was founded in 2013 to research the most effective animal advocacy strategies; and Sentience Politics, an anti-speciesist political think tank founded in 2013 which conducts research on effective farm animal advocacy as well as wild-animal suffering. Effective animal advocacy conferences include the Sentience Conference, the first of which was sponsored by Sentience Politics in May 2016, The 2016 Symposium on Multidisciplinary Research in Effective Animal Advocacy, the first of which was sponsored by ACE in November 2016, and the annual Effective Altruism Global conference, which includes effective animal advocacy as a major theme.

Effective animal advocates are largely focused on farmed animals. ACE justifies its emphasis on farmed animals as due to the scale of suffering faced by farmed animals (tens of billions of land animals alone are raised on factory farms and killed each year), the neglectedness of farmed animal welfare (only 1% of donations in the U.S. to animal charities go to those who work specifically on farmed animal issues, meaning that only 0.015% of all donations in the U.S. go to work on farmed animals; Bockman 2016), and the tractability of solutions (we can make substantial progress on the issue with reasonable amounts of resources; Bockman 2016). Some effective animal advocacy organizations also promote concern for or research interventions to relieve the suffering of individual wild animals, due to the scale and neglectedness of this problem (ACE n.d.a; Sentience Politics n.d.a). Historically, animal advocates have largely focused on vertebrates, though Tomasik (2007, 2015a) and Sentience Politics (Sentience Politics n.d.b) discuss the moral importance of invertebrates and suggest possibilities for helping insects.

This report will not fully cover the moral arguments surrounding the treatment of animals, but we note that effective animal advocacy is largely consequentialist in ethical orientation. See Armstrong and Botzler (2008) for a collection of readings on animal ethics.

  1. Psychology of Animal Consumption and Behaviour Change

Understanding the psychology of animal product consumption is important in designing effective strategies for convincing the public to consume fewer animal products (Zur and Klöckner 2014; Schösler et al., 2012). Loughnan et al. (2014) and the references therein introduce psychology of eating animal products, and Amiot and Bastian (2014) review the psychology of human-animal relations more generally.

The “meat paradox” refers to the fact that individuals express concern for animals while consuming meat or other animal products, often knowing that the production of these foods caused considerable animal suffering. People who consume animal products are able to reduce this cognitive dissonance by perceiving animals as less capable of experiencing suffering, especially food animals (Rothgerber 2014; Bastian et al., 2011). Joy (2010) discusses the apparent contradictions in people’s attitudes and behaviours towards animals, and develops the concept of carnism, a belief system which conditions society to eat the products of certain animals. Piazza et al. (2015) found that the vast majority of justifications for eating meat given by study participants fell under the “4Ns” classification: meat eating is natural, normal, necessary, and nice-tasting.

Bastian and Loughnan (2016) suggest that interventions to reduce prejudice have varied success, as individuals find ways to resolve feelings of discomfort when their identities are being threatened, and may even reinforce negative attitudes. In Loughnan et al. (2010), study participants rated animals as less capable of suffering after consuming meat.

2.1 Outreach Targeting

Animal advocates may want to target their outreach towards demographics most likely to be receptive; for instance, animal advocacy groups often target online ads towards young women, who are thought to have higher rates of veg*nism and concern for animal welfare (ACE n.d.b). The following traits have been suggested as predicting higher rates of veg*nism:

  • Female (Rothgerber 2012; Cooney 2014)
  • Young (Cooney 2014)
  • Liberal political orientation (Allen and Ng 2003)
  • LGBT (Cooney 2014)
  • Single (Cooney 2014)
  • Intelligent (Cooney 2014)
  • Artistic (Cooney 2014)
  • Introverted (Cooney 2014)
  • Live in a big city (Cooney 2014)
  • Don’t follow a Judeo-Christian religion (Cooney 2014)
  • Openness to experience (Keller and Siegrist 2015; Graça et al., 2016)
  • Disapproval of hierarchy and inequality (Mõttus et al., 2012)

2.2 Behaviour Change

The most effective messaging for effecting dietary change is a topic of debate among animal advocates. The ‘foot-in-the-door’ (FITD) technique (Freedman and Fraser 1966) is used in a range of settings to promote a major behaviour change by first making a smaller and more manageable request. A large body of evidence on FITD suggests that incrementalist strategies (e.g. asking people to reduce their meat intake) could be more effective than asking people to go fully vegan (N. Cooney pers. comms. 2016). However, another technique used to promote behaviour change is the ‘door-in-the-face’ (DITF) technique (Cialdini et al., 1975), which involves making a large request (with the expectation that it will be turned down) followed by a smaller request, which the respondent is then more likely to accept. This might involve asking someone to go veg*n, followed by asking them to reduce their meat consumption. In a meta-analysis, Pascual and Guéguen (2005) found that the effectiveness of the FITD and DITF techniques were similar, and Dolinski (2011) has suggested that combining both methods (termed the ‘foot-in-the-face’ (FITF) technique) may also be effective.

2.3 Additional Considerations

Several key considerations have not been studied in rigorous experiments (although some are covered to an extent in less rigorous fora such as blogs). The most effective line of messaging for reducing animal suffering (e.g. veg*n vs reducetarian, welfarism vs abolitionism) in particular has not been well explored.

It is worth noting that much published psychological research is not reproducible in lab conditions (Open Science Collaboration 2015). This poses concerns for the internal validity of psychological research relevant to animal advocacy, as well as the transfer of these findings to animal advocacy settings. Animal advocates interested in using quantitative research to inform their strategies should examine studies for statistical power and evidence of p-hacking and forking paths (Gelman and Loken 2013).

  1. The Impact of Additional Vegetarians or Vegans

Persuading people to eat fewer animal products is a major goal of many animal advocates. Here we examine the effects of individual dietary change on animal welfare.

The average meat-eating American is expected to consume about 30 land animals each year, including 28 chickens (Sethu 2012). The number of marine animals consumed is harder to estimate, and there is a large number of by-kill associated with the fishing industry, with some estimates suggesting between 0.97 and 2.7 trillion wild marine animals killed globally each year (Mood and Brooke 2010). ACE estimates that the number of farmed fish eaten per capita each year in the United States is 2-3 (ACE n.d.c). Including wild fish eaten as well as those caught to feed farmed fish, ACE (n.d.c) estimates annual per capita consumption as 46-79, with an additional 186 shellfish per year, most of which are shrimp.

Approximately two egg-laying hens are needed to feed the average egg-eating American each year, while one cow is required to meet the dairy consumption of 30 Americans on average (Norwood and Lusk 2011). Each year, one lab animal is experimented on in the United States for every 15 Americans (The Humane Society n.d.; US Department of Agriculture n.d.). Around 1 animal is killed for their fur each year per 100 Americans (Fur Commission USA n.d.). Animals are also killed in the process of crop production; Matheny (2003) estimates that at least 0.3 animals (not including invertebrates) are killed each year in the process of producing crops for the average American vegan. In the remainder of this section we focus on the effects of animal food product consumption, as this is the priority of most effective animal advocates.

But the purchase of one fewer animal product does not necessarily result in the production of one fewer product. Estimates on effects that changes in consumer behaviour have on the number of animals raised (or killed, in the case of wild-caught marine animal consumption) for food must account for the sensitivity of the market to changes in the quantity of animal products demanded and supplied (i.e. the price elasticities of demand and supply). Using elasticity estimates, ACE estimates that one person consuming 30 fewer land animals will result in 1.8 – 21 fewer animals being farmed, and one person consuming 232 fewer marine animals results in 35 – 144 fewer being killed (ACE n.d.d). The long-term effects of sparing marine animals are unclear, both on the individuals spared (who will die a possibly painful natural death) and on the entire food chain (Tomasik 2015b). The land animals, mostly farmed, will not be brought into existence in the first place.  As animal advocates generally believe that farmed animal lives are not worth living given the suffering they experience, causing fewer to be born is considered an improvement (Matheny and Chan 2005).

Norwood and Lusk (2011) rate farmed animal welfare on a scale of -10 to +10, which rates beef cows, dairy cows, and broiler chickens as having lives worth living. Their ratings have been criticized as overestimating farmed animal well-being; Sara Shields of the Humane Society of the United States provides her own rating in which most animals are scored much lower (Ball 2014).

Creating additional vegetarians and vegans can have additional long-term effects, whose benefits to animals are more difficult to assess. Dietary change may be associated with other changes in attitude and behaviour, such as activism. Dietary change may also have significant impacts on wild animals, but whether this is a net positive or negative is far from clear. Fewer farmed animals leads to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, potentially slowing climate change, whose net effects on wild-animal suffering are very difficult to determine. Tomasik (2013a) points out that reductions in animal farming are likely to lead to the return of farmed land to wilderness, with higher concentrations of wild animals. Moreover, it is possible that veg*n outreach contributes to environmentalist attitudes, thereby which harm animals via increased wilderness preservation and the prevention of humanitarian intervention in nature (Tomasik 2015c). Hecht (2016) finds some support for the hypothesis that environmentally-focused, but not cruelty-focused, veg*n outreach dampens concern for wild-animal suffering and willingness to intervene in nature to reduce suffering. If wild animal lives are in general not worth living (see below in Wild-Animal Suffering), it is possible that the net effect of dietary change on animal suffering is much less positive than is suggested by estimates which do not account for wild animals. Further work should be done to examine the effects of various flow-through effects on the total amount of good done by encouraging dietary change.

3.1 Additional Considerations

3.1.1 Relapse Rate of Dietary Changes

Not everyone who becomes veg*n remains veg*n; estimating the impact of dietary change requires estimating how long the average veg*n maintains this diet. Studies using self-reporting suggest that the average converted vegetarian will stick to this diet for an average of seven years (ACE n.d.e). Faunalytics (2014) estimates that there are five times as many former vegetarians as current vegetarians in the US (10% of Americans compared to 2%), while Alfano (2005) suggests that there are three times as many. None of these studies followed participants after a particular intervention or examined the reasons why people went vegetarian. Since the length of time the diet is adhered to may vary depending on the intervention which led to the dietary change, this is a major gap in the literature. Self-reported former vegetarians may consume less meat than those who have never been vegetarian (Haverstock and Forgays 2012), though other studies have found this to not be the case (Barr and Chapman 2002).

Using data from Faunalytics (2014), ACE examined the cost-effectiveness of retention programs to reduce veg*n recidivism, and concluded that they are unlikely to be as effective as traditional forms of outreach such as leafleting. They do note that targeting individuals most at risk of recidivism may improve the effectiveness of the intervention (Adleberg 2016).

3.1.2 Bias in Dietary Self-report

Interestingly, Haddad and Tanzman (2003) found that 64% of individuals identifying as vegetarians also reported eating a non-vegetarian food item in the last 24 hours in one or both of two sample times. Therefore it is standard practice to also ask surveyees to estimate their meat consumption in the last few days. Social desirability bias, the tendency of survey respondents to answer in a way they think will be viewed favourably (Grimm 2010), is also likely to cause respondents to understate their consumption of animal products in dietary self-reports (ACE (2013) found that reported meat consumption was negatively correlated with a measure of social desirability, and this negative relationship was stronger in the group who had received vegan outreach leaflets).

  1. Interventions

4.1 Leafleting

4.1.1 Evidence

The Humane League and Farm Sanctuary measured the effects of vegetarian and reducetarian leaflets on approximately 450 college students’ self-reported animal product consumption, finding that nearly one in fifty who reported receiving a leaflet indicated they’d become vegetarian or pescatarian as a result (Cooney 2013b). In a similar study, ACE (2013) found that students who received a vegan leaflet reported statistically significantly higher reductions in red meat and poultry consumption than those who received a control leaflet about puppy mills. Finally, a 2015 Humane League study compared the effectiveness of several types of messaging, finding that those who said they had received no leaflet reported the highest average reductions in consumption of red meat, poultry, and dairy (though not statistically significantly so; Doebel and Gabriel 2015).

Each of these studies suffers from significant methodological shortcomings, such as reliance on self-reports (see Bias in dietary self-reports), high or unreported attrition/no-response rates, and low power due to small sample size.  The studies’ estimates of dietary change caused by leaflets may also conflict with actual rates of veg*ism in the population: Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) argues that if 1-2% of people who received a leaflet went veg*n, we would expect to see hundreds of thousands more veg*ns than we actually do, given that animal advocacy organizations have handed out tens of millions of veg*n leaflets. If true, this would suggest that either studies which find such high rates of success for leafleting are either inaccurate for many of the leaflets used, or recidivism rates for these interventions are very high (Hsiung 2014).

4.1.2 Strengths

Leafleting is cheap (average of 0.35 USD per leaflet; ACE n.d.f) and requires little training or planning to implement. The studies discussed above provide weak evidence that leafleting is a cost-effective way to cause dietary change. ACE (2013) recommends this intervention for its potential to involve new activists, but encourages groups to also carry out interventions such as undercover investigations and corporate outreach, which appear more effective overall.

4.1.3 Weaknesses

As discussed above, the effectiveness of leaflets in effecting dietary change is uncertain due to the limitations of leafleting studies. Moreover, by focusing on individual change, the secondary benefits of leafleting, such as movement building, change in policies and societal attitudes towards animals, may be limited.

4.2 Online Ads

4.2.1 Evidence

Also used for veg*n outreach are online ads which link to content encouraging the viewer to reduce their consumption of animal products. Facebook is a common location for ads, as it allows for ads targeted to certain demographics thought to be most receptive to veg*n messaging (ACE n.d.b).

Faunalytics (2012) compared ads with environmental, health, and ethics-based messaging, finding that the videos with an animal ethics message were associated with the most reports of intention to eat fewer animal products. The Humane League and Farm Sanctuary studied online ads targeted at young females, finding that the percentage of viewers who ordered literature on vegetarianism ranged from 1.5% to 2.7% (depending on the video shown; Cooney 2013a). Finally, Mercy for Animals (n.d.) studied Facebook ads aimed at women ages 13-25, finding no statistically significant difference in reported diet between the group who was shown a video about farmed animal cruelty and the control group who viewed an unrelated video. In fact, the experimental group reported slightly higher average animal product consumption (Mercy for Animals n.d.). Features such as pre-registration and use of randomized assignment to experimental and control groups make this study the strongest piece of evidence on the effectiveness of a veg outreach intervention; however, it still suffered from low power and unreported attrition.

4.2.2 Strengths

Online ads can reach many people at low cost (1,000 impressions can be bought for around 0.19 USD). A significant number of users (0.3-3.8%) click on ads, and a significant number (2.6-41.4%) of these enter their email address and pledge to go vegetarian; obtaining email addresses, as well as social media followers, may help to boost activism. Finally, short feedback loops between the implementation of an ad campaign and collecting data on cost-per-click or cost-per-conversion makes it easier for project managers to improve ad content and targeting (ACE n.d.b).

4.2.3 Weaknesses

Given the evidence cited above, the effects of online ads on dietary change are unclear. The focus of online ads on vegetarianism or reducetarianism, rather than veganism, may undercut the goal of a complete shift away from animal products. And as with leafleting, the focus on individual behaviour change may have limited positive effects on animal advocacy movement-building and the likelihood of a major shift in social attitudes towards animals, and carries the risk of presenting veg*nism as a personal choice rather than as necessary for society as a whole. ACE does not currently recommend that organizations implement new online ads programs or expand existing ones, at least when these resources could be used for more promising interventions like corporate outreach or undercover investigations (ACE n.d.b).

4.3 Estimated Impact of Leaflets and Online Ads

Using the results of these leafleting, online ads, and veg*n recidivism studies, ACE (n.d.f) estimates an average of 0.01 meat abstainers, 0.006 dairy abstainers, and 0.004 egg abstainers per leaflet; 0.007 meat abstainers and no dairy or egg abstainers per online ad click2; and 7.03 years of abstention by the average animal product limiter. Combining these figures with their estimates of the effect on animals of one person becoming an animal product limiter, ACE estimates that a single leaflet saves, on average, 0.0062 cows; 0.022 pigs; 1.2 chickens; 0.017 turkeys; 0.097 farmed fish; and 2.9 farmed shellfish from being born into commercial farms, and saves 1.1 wild fish and 2.9 wild shellfish from being killed for food, which makes 8.3 animals saved from either a life on a farm or being killed in the wild. Their estimates for a click on an online ad are 0.0039 cows, 0.014 pigs, 0.76 chickens, 0.011 turkeys, 0.062 farmed fish, 1.8 farmed shellfish, 0.72 wild fish, and 1.8 shellfish for a total of 5.2 animals saved (ACE n.d.f).

4.4 Humane Education

In the context of animal advocacy humane education refers to presentations, usually to a young audience (from elementary school to university-level), on issues relating to the treatment of animals. In its review of this intervention, ACE states that it lacks enough information to rigorously evaluate humane education’s effectiveness, but that it is promising and worth further investigation. Existing research includes an ACE analysis of data from study by Justice for Animals which found very weak evidence for the effectiveness of humane education in creating new veg*ns, and a study by ACE which found no effect of humane education on self-reported diet (ACE n.d.g).

4.5 Undercover Investigations

In ACE’s write-up on undercover investigations of factory farms, they list the major strengths of this intervention as its ability to create immediate change through corporate or legal policy reform and through consumers reducing their consumption of animal products. For example, Mercy for Animals’ investigation of a dairy farm connected to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestle, provoked such a media and public response that Nestle decided to work with MFA to implement an animal welfare policy. Potential weaknesses include the possibility of making animal abuse on farms appear to be the result of a few anomalous offenders, rather than a systematic problem. There is also concern about diminishing marginal returns in media attention; MFA capped its number of investigations released in 2015 for this reason and is working to expand to other countries where saturation is less of a concern. ACE considers the weaknesses of undercover investigations to be limited (ACE n.d.h).

4.6 Corporate Outreach

Corporate outreach is a major avenue for pursuing large-scale improvements for animals. An early example is Henry Spira’s 1980 campaign to end the use of the Draize test on rabbits by the major cosmetics company Revlon, which resulted in Revlon and several other corporations funding research on alternatives to animal testing (Spira 1985). More recently,  corporate outreach efforts by Mercy for Animals, The Humane League, The Humane Society of the United States, and other animal activist organizations have led many major American egg suppliers and purchasers (including Kraft-Heinz, McDonald’s, and Walmart) to adopt a cage-free egg policy (or commit to adopting one in the future; Charles 2016; Kell 2016).

ACE (n.d.i) suggests that carefully considered corporate outreach has high potential to reduce animal suffering in the short and mid-term, and recommend corporate outreach when conducted by an experienced, effective team. They list the merits of corporate outreach as bringing about immediate, clear change in animal welfare, changing industry norms, and the possibility of increasing the costs of raising animals and therefore eventually reducing the number of animals raised in factory farms.  Downsides to corporate outreach, according to ACE, include its dependency on what corporations and the public already view as excessively cruel (and therefore the changes they are willing to tolerate). ACE also acknowledges the concern that such reforms might strengthen animal agriculture in the long term by making the public more comfortable with the conditions in which farm animals are raised. However, ACE (n.d.i) concludes that the long-term consequences of this intervention are more likely to be positive than negative, given the importance of promoting concern for animals’ interests and the absence of strong evidence of negative effects.

One concerning aspect of voluntary policy change is that such policies are more likely to be reversed than legal reforms. Austrian animal rights leader Martin Balluch cites this drawback in arguing that political reform should be the priority of animal rights activists, pointing to Austrian clothes company Kleider Bauer’s reversal of its no-fur policy (Balluch 2005).

4.7 Legal Change

4.7.1 Legal Personhood

Lawyer Steven Wise has highlighted animals’ status as legal property as a major obstacle to improving their treatment (Wise 2000). Wise is director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which is currently pursuing legal personhood for animals in the United States by working to obtain writs of habeas corpus on behalf of captive chimpanzees and elephants (Westoll 2016). Sentience Politics has launched a popular initiative in Basel, Switzerland to secure fundamental rights for non-human primates, which it regards as a foot-in-the-door to rights for other animals, including those raised on factory farms (Sentience Politics n.d.c).

ACE states that they are highly uncertain about whether direct efforts to secure non-human rights are more cost-effective than spreading anti-speciesist values in order to create a social climate in which the extension of rights to non-humans is more likely. ACE proposes studying whether progress in public opinion the context of other social movements has fallen backwards due to a lack of legal reform; whether legal change in other social movements has reversed due to lack of concomitant change in public opinion; the extent to which legal work gains media attention and shifts public opinion; and whether judges make decisions more aligned with public opinion in more heavily publicised cases (Reese 2016).

4.7.2 Legislative / Ballot Reforms

The effectiveness of legislative or ballot reforms, such as California’s 2008 Proposition 2 to increase the space requirements for farmed animals, has not been rigorously compared to other methods of activism. However, none of ACE’s current top charities (as of 2016, Animal Equality, Mercy for Animals, and The Humane League – for most recent recommendations see here) invests a large percentage of its budget in legislative or ballot-initiative campaigns (ACE 2014a; ACE 2014b; ACE 2014c), suggesting that effectiveness-minded animal activist organizations have determined these campaigns are not the most effective activities on the margin.

4.8 Other Interventions

Other interventions used by animal advocates on behalf of animals include publicly advertising vegan or animal protection messages; open rescue, in which farm animals are rescued from farms while rescuers document the farm conditions (e.g. Liebman 2004); and protests, including street protests (e.g. Munro 2005) and disruption of public animal product consumption (such as those carried out by activist group DxE). The effectiveness of these and other tactics have not been rigorously studied by effective animal advocates, though ACE has an ongoing Social Movements Project attempting to identify successful strategies from other social movements which may be transferrable to animal protection (Smith 2015), and DxE lead organizer Wayne Hsiung cites a number of social scientific and historical sources in arguing for the effectiveness of DxE’s confrontational activism (Hsiung 2014).

4.9 Comparing Interventions Across Countries

Little research has been undertaken on how the country or region in which an intervention takes place influences its effectiveness. ACE lists the considerations it would use to make country prioritization decisions as importance/scale (the amount of animal suffering in the country), tractability (the ease with which progress could be made in the country), neglectedness (the amount of actors already working on problems in the country), and influence (the extent to which progress in the country influences progress elsewhere; ACE n.d.j).

  1. Animal Product Alternatives

Animal product alternatives fall into two categories: cellular agriculture, the production of animal products from cell or tissue cultures instead of animals, and plant-based food technology, the production of realistic animal product analogues entirely from plants. The development of cost-competitive animal product alternatives may be among the most effective methods of reducing animal suffering, given its potential to replace factory farming without relying on policy reform or major ethically-motivated lifestyle changes.

5.1 Cellular Agriculture

Cultured meat was predicted in 1930 (Smith 1930), and there were reports of culturing mammalian tissue as early as 1910 (Witkowski 1980). Today, cultured meat involves either cell culture (scaffold-based) or tissue culture/tissue engineering (self-organising) techniques (Edelman et al., 2005).  Cellular agriculture startups Perfect Day Foods and Clara Foods are using yeast cultures to develop cultured dairy and egg whites, respectively.

Notable individuals and organisations working in cellular agriculture include Mark Post (University of Maastricht researcher working on cultured beef; Datar 2015), Paul Mozdziak (North Carolina State University Researcher working on cultured chicken), Memphis Meats (cultured meat company), Perfect Day Foods (cultured dairy company; originally Muufri), SuperMeat (cellular meat startup) and the Modern Agriculture Foundation (non-profit promoting cultured meat development) in Israel, New Harvest (non-profit promoting cellular agriculture development), and Clara Foods (cultured egg white company). As of 2016, there are an estimated five researchers working primarily on cellular agriculture, with 50-100 interested researchers in related fields (Rorheim et al., 2016).

Rorheim et al. (2016) provides a high level summary of cellular agriculture. The authors argue for increased support for cultured meat development and research, which includes (in order of priority); “research and development of technology suitable for mass production”, “promoting fact-based public discussion regarding the technology and its societal implications”, and “eventual marketing of end products to consumers.”

Rorheim et al. (2016) report that cellular agriculture currently lacks adequate funding and talent, which makes donating to or working for a cellular agriculture research institute or company a promising avenue for effective animal advocacy. However, despite the lack of researchers working directly on cellular agriculture, some technological barriers faced by cellular agriculture are also faced by other, less neglected fields in biology (e.g. tissue engineering; OPP 2015).

5.1.1 Strengths

The availability of cost-competitive cultured animal products would allow consumers to abandon factory farmed or wild-caught animal foods while maintaining omnivorous diets at little or no cost, thereby driving potentially substantial reductions in factory farming and commercial fishing. In addition to these demand-driven effects, the ability to consume cruelty-free animal products may reduce the cognitive dissonance people have about supporting animal rights and anti-speciesism, thereby spurring reforms on behalf of animals (Rorheim et al., 2016).

5.1.2 Weaknesses

Perhaps the most serious concern over cellular agriculture as a path to reducing animal suffering is whether cost-competitive cultured animal products can be developed at all. The Open Philanthropy Project (OPP 2015) suggest that the development of cost-competitive cultured meat poses a major challenge, and have been unable to find any concrete paths likely to achieve that goal. OPP draw this conclusion based on interviews with cellular agriculture researchers and the failure of similar projects (tissue engineering company Organogenesis and synthetic biofuel company Amyris) to achieve mass-market costs.  Workers in the field have offered a number of conflicting projections as to the arrival time and cost of cultured animal products, suggesting a fair degree of uncertainty about the technology’s prospects (OPP 2015; Madrigal 2013).  

A second concern is the degree to which consumers will switch to cost-competitive animal products if they do become available. A survey conducted in 2012 by YouGov of 1729 adults in Great Britain found that only 20% of non-vegetarian/vegan adults say they would eat in vitro meat if it were commercially available (YouGov 2012), though younger generations do appear to be more willing to try it (Griggs 2014). Other surveys show similar results (e.g. Smith 2014; De Boo 2013), though in more recent polls around 70% of respondents said they would like to try cultured meat when it is available (Rorheim et al., 2016). However, it is not clear how well opinion polls taken during the early development of a novel technology predict eventual acceptance.

Other evidence for potential barriers to uptake includes arguably irrational opposition to other technologies, such as GMOs and vaccines. It is also possible that a significant segment of the population will simply be indifferent between typical and cultured animal products. Despite these possible limitations, even a small minority of omnivores switching to cultured animal products could result in major reductions in animal suffering. This is especially true if cultured animal products can be made superior in cost, quality, and/or safety.

5.2 Plant-based Food Technology

While plant-based animal product analogues such as plant milk and veggie burgers have existed for decades, we focus on efforts to develop plant-based foods highly similar to animal products, which have emerged fairly recently. The main organisations currently working in the plant-based food technology industry include Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat (both of which develop plant-based meat substitutes), and Hampton Creek (which develops plant-based mixes, dressings, cookies, mayos and cookie dough). Impossible Foods introduced its ground beef substitute in 2016, which uses synthetic heme to replicate some characteristics of traditional meat. As of August 2016, Beyond Meat products are available in four American states, and some are being stocked in meat departments as a way to attract meat-eaters.

5.2.1 Strengths

Plant-based food technology products are already commercially available, and some are approximately comparable in cost to the animal product equivalents. As with cultured animal products, plant-based animal product alternatives have the advantage that they may allow significant reductions in animal product consumption without requiring consumers to make drastic changes in their diet. Plant-based food technology may suffer less than cultured animal products from concerns over “unnaturalness”.

5.2.2 Weaknesses

The appeal of plant-based food technology is likely to be limited by its inability to create foods identical to typical animal products, as is theoretically possible with cellular agriculture. Even if the taste and texture of plant-based foods are indistinguishable from animal products, consumers may still not choose the plant-based versions.

  1. Wild-Animal Suffering

Given the vast number of wild animals, and strong reasons to believe that a large fraction of these animals suffer considerably (Ng 1995), some effective animal advocates are concerned with finding ways to reduce suffering in the wild.

In one of the earliest academic treatments of wild-animal suffering, Ng (1995) proposed the field of welfare biology, the study of biology and ecology with the goal of improving the lives of individual animals (as opposed to conservation biology, which seeks to understand nature to better conserve species, ecosystems, natural resources, etc. for human use or for their intrinsic value).

Ng (1995) argues that most wild animals may have lives not worth living, due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of wild animals are r-selected. R-selected species produce many offspring, of which only a few survive to adulthood; the rest are eaten, starve to death, die from disease, or are killed some other way. This means that most wild animals die painful deaths after a short life, leading Tomasik (2015c) to the counterintuitive conclusion that an effective means of helping animals may be reducing the amount of wilderness. As discussed above, these considerations complicate the case for the effectiveness of veg*n outreach, whose effects on wild animals via impacts on climate change, land-use changes, and attitudes toward wild-animal suffering are highly unclear.

Considering the long-term effects of interventions to reduce animal suffering is critical, as most of the impact of today’s actions probably lies in the far future (Beckstead 2013). Tomasik (2015c) argues that one of the best ways for the animal-advocacy movement to reduce wild-animal suffering is to promote general concern for wild animals now in the hopes that future populations will be more motivated to help wild animals, and more informed as to the most effective interventions. It is difficult to make quantitative estimates of cost-effectiveness for values-spreading (promoting concern for some issue), but it potentially has a much greater impact in the long run than more direct interventions, as it can impact the actions of individuals in the future due to flow-through effects. Tomasik (2015c) also argues that animal advocates should not oppose all forms of human intervention in the lives of animals, as this may preclude future generations from humanitarian intervention on behalf of wild animals. Ng (1995) makes a similar point that the total abolition of animal testing may be bad for animal welfare in the long run, as scientific advances may be used to reduce the amount of suffering in wild animal populations.

Tomasik (2007) also suggests the development of humane insecticides as a highly effective intervention, given that trillions of insects suffer possibly highly painful deaths from conventional insecticides. While it is unclear whether insects are conscious, according to Tomasik, assigning even a small probability to insect consciousness implies a large expected value of helping them, given their massive numbers. Sentience Politics’ position paper (Sentience Politics n.d.b) on invertebrate suffering provides an overview of the evidence for pain in invertebrates and related considerations.

More speculative interventions on behalf of wild animals include Pearce’s proposals to reduce predator populations or alter their genomes to reduce predation (Pearce 2009), and that of “cosmic rescue missions”, in which future space-faring civilizations intervene on behalf of wild animals living on other planets (Pearce 1995).

Tomasik (B. Tomasik pers. comms. 2016) has suggested the following areas as being critical for further research for wild-animal suffering:

  • What is the net impact of climate change, geoengineering, crop cultivation, cattle grazing, overfishing, eutrophication, and other large-scale changes on wild-animal suffering?
  • What are the driving forces of the significant declines in vertebrate and invertebrate populations (Dirzo et al., 2014)?
  • What are the implications of total invertebrate biomass being greater in certain land types than others (Tomasik 2016)?
  • What is the quality of life of common wild animals and insects?
  • Meta-research on the strategy of reducing wild-animal suffering, e.g. movement growth and policy change.
  • What actions can be taken now to minimise wild- animal suffering in the far future?
  • What effect do animal rights and veganism promotion have on views about environmentalism and wildlife preservation?
  • How effective and safe are interventions to reduce wild-animal suffering (e.g. Tomasik 2013b)?

Two special issues of Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism contain a number of papers on the problem of wild-animal suffering. The editorial paper (Faria and Paez 2015) summarises each of these papers and is recommended for further reading. Horta (2010) addresses criticisms of ethical concern for wild-animal suffering.

  1. Meta-strategy

Thus far we have discussed methods of effective animal advocacy which have relatively direct impacts on animals or their consumers. Another approach is meta-strategy, such as building the effective animal advocacy movement, encouraging individuals to give a percentage of their income to effective animal causes and creating giving norms, prioritisation research, and increasing the effectiveness of the movement. ACE and Sentience Politics are the main organizations working in meta-strategy.

The meta-strategy approach to effectively helping animals is relatively new, and has been the subject of little research. However, given the multiplier effects of activities such as bringing more money and talent into the movement, identifying the most effective interventions and increasing the effectiveness of existing intervention, meta-strategy is a candidate for the most effective use of marginal animal advocacy resources. Building the Effective Altruism movement generally may also be highly effective given that effective animal advocacy is a major Effective Altruist focus area. For further reading on prioritisation research and movement building, see Sentience Politics (n.d.d) and Cotton-Barratt (2015).

  1. Conclusion

In this paper, we have discussed a number of the interventions proposed for reducing the suffering of animals, particularly those used for food, through welfare reform or creating new vegans, vegetarians and meat reducers. We have also discussed a number of related fields, such as the psychology of meat eating and diet change, and the technology of cellular agriculture. We have also reviewed research and possible interventions related to wild-animal suffering, a topic which appears neglected given its scale.

Throughout the paper, we have suggested a number of research questions that either represent major gaps in the literature or are opportunities to have a high impact based on a combination of other research and our own recommendations. We urge future research in the field of animal advocacy and reducing animal suffering to focus on these areas.

In light of the above considerations, tentative conclusions about the most promising avenues for effectively reducing animal suffering may be made. ACE suggests corporate outreach and undercover investigations as two of the most effective interventions on behalf of farm animals. Work in cellular agriculture and plant-based food technology may also be an extremely high-impact approach to helping farmed animals, given these developments’ potential to replace animal agriculture while bypassing the enormous psychological and political hurdles currently in place, as well as their lack of funding and talent (at least in the case of cellular agriculture). Sentience Politics argues that meta-strategies such as movement-building and values-spreading are vastly underrated, and is currently campaigning for fundamental rights for primates on the grounds that this may make victories for larger groups of animals easier in the future. Others contend that wild-animal suffering should be a higher priority due to its neglectedness and massive scale, proposing more research on this problem, as well as possible interventions (e.g. humane insecticides) and general values-spreading.


i “Veganism” refers to the avoidance of all products of animal use (in food, clothing, cosmetics, etc.) insofar as is practicable. However, since the consumption of animal food products accounts for the great majority of human animal use and is the focus of much effective animal activism, we are concerned mainly with a vegan diet.

ii ACE does not believe that online ads cause no reduction in dairy and egg consumption; these estimated zeros are due to measuring dietary change in “vegetarian-equivalents”.


26/02/2017 – We acknowledge, as some readers have pointed out, that we did not specifically address the criticism of some aspects of effective animal advocacy by Harrison Nathan here. This is purely because our literature review was written prior to this criticism being published. We may specifically address such criticism in the future.


Adleberg, T., “Our thoughts on the cost-effectiveness of retention programs,” 21 September 2016, (27 September 2016).

Alfano, S., “How and where America eats,” 20 November 2005, (16 June 2016).

Allen, M.W. and Ng, S.H. “Human values, utilitarian benefits and identification: The case of meat,” European Journal of Social Psychology 33, no. 1 (2003): 37-56.

Amiot, C.E. and Bastian, B. “Toward a psychology of human-animal relations,” Psychological Bulletin 141, no. 1 (2014): 1-42.

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Wild Animal Suffering,” n.d.a, (9 September 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Online Ads,” n.d.b, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Fish number calculations,” n.d.c, (15 June 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Effects of diet choices on animals,” n.d.d, (15 June 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Vegetarian Recidivism,” n.d.e, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Impact Calculator,” n.d.f, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Humane Education,” n.d.g, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Undercover Investigations,” n.d.h, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Corporate Outreach,” n.d.i, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “How Should We Compare Implementations of the Same Interventions in Different Countries?”, n.d.j, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Leafleting Outreach Study Analysis (Fall 2013),” 2013, (6 August 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Animal Equality review,” December 2014a, (28 September 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “Mercy for Animals review,” May 2014b, (28 September 2016).

Animal Charity Evaluators, “The Humane League review,” May 2014c, (28 September 2016).

Armstrong, S.J. and Botzler, R.G., The Animal Ethics Reader (London: Routledge, 2008).

Barr, S.I. and Chapman, G.E., “Perceptions and practices of self-defined current vegetarian, former vegetarian, and nonvegetarian women,” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 102, no. 3 (2002): 354-360.

Ball, M., “Part 1: Analyzing the numbers to optimize our advocacy,” 24 July 2014, (1 September 2016).

Balluch, M., “Chapter 11: How Austria Achieved a Historic Breakthrough for Animals,” in In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave, edited by P. Singer, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006), 157-166.

Bastian, B., Loughnan, S., Haslam, N. and Radke, H.R.M. “Don’t mind meat? The denial of mind to animals used for human consumption,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38, no. 2 (2011): 247-256.

Bastian, B. and Loughnan, S. 2016, Resolving the meat-paradox: A motivational account of morally troublesome behavior and its maintenance, Personality and Social Psychology Review (in press).

Beckstead, N. “On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future,” (Doctoral dissertation, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, 2013).

Bockman, J., “Why Farmed Animals?”, 21 July 2016,  (6 August 2016).

Charles, D., “Most U.S. Egg Producers Are Now Choosing Cage-Free Houses,” 15 January 2016, (24 April 2016).

Cialdini, R.B., Vincent, J.E., Lewis, S.K., Catalan, J., Wheeler, D. and Darby, B.L. “Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: the door-in-the-face technique,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31, (1975): 206-215.

Cooney, N., “Report: Which factory farming video is more effective?”, 19 July 2013, <> (19 September 2016).

Cooney, N., “Report: Which leaflet is more effective?”, 19 July 2013, (19 September 2016).

Cooney, N., Veganomics (Brooklyn: Lantern Books, 2014).

Cotton-Barratt, O., “How valuable is movement growth?”, Centre for Effective Altruism – Working Paper, (2015).

Datar, I., “Mark Post’s cultured beef,” 3 November 2015, (18 September 2016).

De Boo, J., “The future of food, why lab grown meat is not the solution,” 9 October 2013, (30 July 2016).

Dirzo, R., Young, H.S., Galetti, M., Ceballos, G., Isaac, N.J.B. and Collen, B., “Defaunation in the anthropocene,” Science 345, (2014): 401-406.

Doebel, S. and Gabriel, S., “Report: Does Encouraging The Public To “Eat Vegan,” “Eat Vegetarian,” “Eat Less Meat,” or “Cut Out Or Cut Back On” Meat And Other Animal Products Lead To The Most Diet Change?”, August 2015, (19 September 2016).

Dolinski, D. “A rock or a hard place: The foot-in-the-face technique for inducing compliance without pressure,” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 41, no. 6 (2011): 1514-1537.

Edelman, P.D., McFarland, D.C., Mironov, M.D. and Matheny, J.G., “In vitro-cultured meat production,” Tissue Engineering 11, no. 5/6 (2005): 659-662.

Faria, C. and Paez, E., “Animals in need: The problem of wild animal suffering and intervention in nature: Editorial,” Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism 3, no. 1 (2015): 7-13.

Faunalytics, “Video comparison study: Youth response to four vegetarian/vegan outreach videos”, 2012, (19 September 2016).

Faunalytics, “Study of current and former vegetarians and vegans: Initial findings,” December 2014, (31 July 2016).

Freedman, J.L. and Fraser, S.C. “Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4, no. 2 (1966): 195-202.

Fur Commission USA, “US mink: State of the industry – 2011,” n.d., (15 June 2016).

Gelman, A. and Loken, E., “The garden of forking paths: Why multiple comparisons can be a problem, even when there is no “fishing expedition” or “p-hacking” and the research hypothesis was posited ahead of time,” 14 November 2013, (28 September 2016).

Graça, J., Calheiros, M.M. and Oliveira, A. “Situating moral disengagement: Motivated reasoning in meat consumption and substitution,” Personality and Individual Differences 90, (2016): 353-364.

Griggs, B., “How test-tube meat could be the future of food,” 5 May 2014, (23 June 2016).

Grimm, P., “Social desirability bias,” Wiley International Encyclopedia of Marketing (2010).

Haddad, E.H. and Tanzman, J.S., “What do vegetarians in the United States eat?”, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78, no. 3 (2003): 626-632.

Haverstock, K. and Forgays, D.K., “To eat or not to eat. A comparison of current and former animal product limiters,” Appetite 58, no. 3 (2012): 1030-1036.

Hecht, L., “Wild animal suffering survey report: Does animal advocacy messaging influence support for policies affecting wild-animal suffering?”, 5 September 2016, (16 September 2016).

Horta, O., “Debunking the idyllic view of natural processes: Population dynamics and suffering in the wild,” Telos 17, (2010): 73-88.

Hsiung, W., “The Science of Social Change,” Animal Rights Conference 2014, (6 August 2016).

Joy, M., Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows: An introduction to carnism (San Fransisco: Conari Press, 2010).

Kell, J., “Walmart Is the Latest Retailer to Make a Cage-Free Egg Vow,” 5 April 2016, (24 April 2016).

Keller, C. and Siegrist, M. “Does personality influence eating styles and food choices? Direct and indirect effects,” Appetite 84, (2015): 128-138.

Liebman, M., “I fought the law: A review of Terrorists or freedom fighters? Reflections on the liberation of animals,” Journal of Animal Law 1, no. 1 (2004): 151-169.

Loughnan, S., Haslam, N. and Bastian, B. “The role of meat consumption in the denial of moral status and mind to meat animals,” Appetite 55, no. 1 (2010): 156-159.

Loughnan, S., Bastian, B. and Haslam, N. “The psychology of eating animals,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 23, no. 2 (2014): 104-108.

Madrigal, A.C., “Chart: When will we eat hamburgers grown in test tubes?”, 6 August 2013, (1 September 2016).

Matheny, G., “Least harm: A defense of vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s omnivorous proposal,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16, no. 5 (2003): 505-511.

Matheny, G. and Chan, K.M.A., “Human diets and animal welfare: The illogic of the larder,” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 18, (2005): 579-594.

Mercy for Animals, “Impact Study,” n.d., (6 August 2016).

Mood, A. and Brooke, P., “Estimating the number of fish caught in global fishing each year,” July 2010, (15 August 2016).

Mõttus, R., Realo, A., Allik, J., Deary, I.J., Esko, T. and Metspalu, A. “Personality traits and eating habits in a large sample of estonians,” Health Psychology 31, no. 6 (2012): 806.

Munro, L., “Strategies, action repertoires and DIY activism in the animal rights movement,” Social Movement Studies 4, no. 1 (2005): 75-94.

Ng, Y-K., “Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering,” Biology and Philosophy 10, (1995): 255-285.

Norwood, L.B. and Lusk, J.L., Compassion, by the pound: The economics of farmed animal welfare (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

Open Philanthropy Project, “Animal product alternatives,” December 2015, (29 July 2016).

Open Science Collaboration “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” Science 349, (2015): 943.

Pascual, A. and Guéguen, N. “Foot-in-the-door and door-in-the-face: A comparative meta-analytic study,” Psychological Reports 96, (2005): 122-128.

Pearce, D., “The hedonistic imperative,” 1995, (28 September 2016).

Pearce, D., “Reprogramming predators,” 2009, (30 July 2016).

Phelps, N., The Longest Struggle: Animal Rights from Pythagoras to Peta, (New York: Lantern Books, 2007), 205–207.

Piazza, J., Ruby, M.B., Loughnan, S., Luong, M., Julik, J., Watkins, H.M. and Seigerman, M. “Rationalizing meat consumption. The 4Ns,” Appetite 91, (2015): 114-128.

Reese, J., “The Relationship Between Legal and Social Change,” 16 July 2016, (6 August 2016).

Rorheim, A., Mannino, A., Baumann, T. and Caviola, L., “Cultured meat: An ethical alternative to industrial animal farming,” Policy paper by Sentience Politics 1, (2016): 1-14.

Rothgerber, H. “Real men don’t eat (vegetable) quiche: Masculinity and the justification of meat consumption,” Psychology of Men and Masculinity 14, (2012): 363.

Rothgerber, H. “Efforts to overcome vegetarian-induced dissonance among meat eaters,” Appetite 79, (2014): 32-41.

Schösler, H., de Boer, J. and Boersema, J.J. “Can we cut out the meat of the dish? Constructing consumer-oriented pathways towards meat substitution,” Appetite 58, no. 1 (2012): 39-47.

Sentience Politics, “The Relevance of Wild Animal Suffering,” n.d.a, (9 September 2016).

Sentience Politics, “Invertebrate Suffering”, n.d.b, (19 September 2016).

Sentience Politics, “Fundamental rights for primates: Cantonal popular initiative from Sentience Politics,” n.d.c, (August 6, 2016).

Sentience Politics, “Politics, getting rich and other strategies to multiply our impact,” n.d.d, (1 September 2016).

Sethu, H., “How many animals does a vegetarian save?”, 6 February 2012, (15 June 2016).

Smith, F.E., The world in 2030 A.D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930).

Smith, A., “U.S. views of technology and the future,” 17 April 2014, (30 July 2016).

Smith, A., “Social movements research project,” 28 January 2015, (28 September 2016).

Spira, H., “Fighting to Win,” in In Defense of Animals, edited by P. Singer, (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1985), 194-208.

The Humane Society of the United States, “Questions and answers about biomedical research”, n.d., (15 June 2016).

Tomasik, B., “Humane insecticides,” 2007, (5 September 2016).

Tomasik, B., “Does the animal-rights movement encourage wilderness preservation,” 15 December 2013a, (15 June 2016).

Tomasik, B., “Applied welfare biology and why wild-animal advocates should focus on not spreading nature,” 24 June 2013b, (16 August 2016).

Tomasik, B., “The importance of insect suffering,” 3 February 2015a, (26 September 2016).

Tomasik, B., “How wild-caught fishing affects wild-animal suffering,” 26 December 2015b, (26 September 2016).

Tomasik, B., “The importance of wild-animal suffering,” Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism 3, no. 2 (2015c): 133-152.

Tomasik, B., “Net primary productivity by land type,” 2016, (16 August 2016).

United States Department of Agriculture, “Annual report animal usage by fiscal year,” 27 July 2011, (15 June 2016).

Westoll, A., “Are animals people, too? Soon, a chimpanzee could walk into a courtroom as a thing, and walk out as a person,” 19 August 2016, (25 September 2016).

Wise, S., Rattling the cage: Toward legal rights for animals (Cambridge: Perseus Books, 2000).

Witkowski, J.A., “Dr. Carrel’s immortal cells,” Medical History 24, (1980): 129-142.

YouGov, “Survey results”, 2012, (23 June 2016).

Zur, I. and Klöckner, C.A. “Individual motivations for limiting meat consumption,” British Food Journal 116, no. 4 (2014): 629-642.

On terraforming, wild-animal suffering and the far future

Full essay available here.

I’m pretty excited to announce that I won the 2016 Sentience Politics Essay Prize for my essay ‘On terraforming, wild-animal suffering and the far future’. In this essay I explore some concepts that many would consider quite ‘weird’. However, they are becoming increasingly key in discussions about ethics and effective altruism. I’ve copied my conclusions below, but I encourage you to read the full article.

“This essay sought to provide an overview of the literature relevant to wild-animal suffering, terraforming and the far future. Suffering of wild animals and invertebrates in the wild is likely a large source of pain, and spreading wild animals to other planets is expected to be astronomically bad. Even the risk of this dictates extreme caution. Some of the ethical considerations important for discussing wild-animal suffering were also covered, and some new insights were offered. In particular, some recommended actions and a research agenda were proposed. Some key conclusions of the essay are outlined below.”

  • “Discussion of the best underlying philosophy is critical, as several different ethical codes (including negative and classical hedonistic utilitarianism) each arrive at different answers to the question of what to do about the far future.
  • Without AGI, terraforming of Mars and the spreading of wildlife to other planets may be possible in 150 years. It is highly likely, but not a foregone conclusion, that AGI will reach an intelligence explosion by that point.
  • If Mars is terraformed, it is plausible that it can eventually become home to almost as much wild-animal suffering as there currently exists on Earth’s land.
  • Values spreading is one of the most high impact ways to positively impact the far future, although we first need to be confident we are spreading the best values.
  • There is a limited amount of time for solving the value spreading problem for spreading wild-animal suffering, e.g. encouraging concern for wild animals, utilitarianism (or otherwise finding the true or best moral theory given normative uncertainty), and spreading concern for spreading wellbeing. These problems are also critical for determining what values to load to an AGI.
  • I have proposed some reasons for why person-affecting views and negative utilitarianism may be flawed and argue in favour of classical hedonistic utilitarianism though I am not 100% certain about this (nor will I ever be, due to normative uncertainty), and this is meant to create dialogue as well as to criticise.
  • We will never be 100% certain that we have identified the best values, and therefore we should consider how certain we want to be before we switch to primarily focusing on spreading values. Once the majority of society has values that we believe are best with some degree of certainty, we can then focus further on ensuring that the values we have chosen are the best ones. A thorough investigation of this is well beyond the scope of this essay, but is strongly called for.”

“Some of the conclusions of this essay are tentative, and would benefit from significantly more consideration and research. This essay was meant to suggest some solutions and insights to important questions and encourage discussion.”

“I argue for caution towards terraforming Mars or otherwise colonising space due to the risk of spreading wild-animal suffering (or suffering in general in the long term), and instead I recommend undertaking high impact research to determine the expected value of the future. I also strongly urge discussion to determine the best ethical theory, and then to determine the best values to spread for that theory, followed by researching the best ways to spread them, and finally enacting on their spreading.”

“Surely (assuming I am right about the normative issues), the best outcome is spreading the maximum possible wellbeing throughout the universe, with the worst outcome being spreading the maximum possible suffering. These are the realisation of Sam Harris’ best and worst possible worlds. We are in position now to set up the future such that the best possible world is a reality, and it is imperative that we do so. Nothing else, save perhaps ensuring that there is a future for sentience, is more important.”

Movember, men’s health and the risks of consuming animal products

Coauthored by Hugo Burgin and Michael Dello-Iacovo

Depending on where you live you may have noticed a steady increase in the number of “Fuzzy Caterpillars,” floating around your workplace or local supermarket.  It is “Movember,” after all.

The Movember Foundation was registered in 2004 by a group of friends hoping to raise funds for Men’s Health awareness, the main focus being Prostate Cancer. Since then the organisation has gone global in addition to expanding its efforts to cover men’s health more generally.

  • In 2015 NGO Advisor ranks the Movember Foundation as 55th in the top 500 NGOs around the world.
  • Over 5 million participants from 21 countries having taken place from 2003.
  • CAD $759 Million has been raised since 2003 with 1200 men’s health projects receiving funding.

It is obvious then that the “Movember,” movement has done and continues to do a significant amount of good within Western Society. Although the foundation began with a focus on prostate cancer, they have now expanded their efforts to include a wider variety of Men’s Health initiatives.

If we look in more detail at some statistics surrounding Prostate Cancer in particular, it’s clear to see that within our society it is an issue well worth addressing. According to the Cancer Australia website:

  • Prostate cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia in 2012. It is estimated that it will remain the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 2016.
  • In 2016, it is estimated that the risk of a male being diagnosed with prostate cancer by their 85th birthday will be 1 in 6.
  • In 2013, there were 3,112 deaths from prostate cancer in Australia. In 2016, it is estimated that this will increase to 3,398 deaths.
  • In 2013, prostate cancer accounted for the 2nd highest number of deaths from cancer among males in Australia. It is estimated that it will remain the 2nd most common cause of death from cancer among males in 2016.

Taking part in “Movember,” and fuzzying up your top lip, seeking sponsors is a great endeavour and we applaud in every way each participant but as with every charity initiative it is worth asking, how effective is the action I’m taking at solving the problem I’m trying to solve and are there better ways of doing it? In this case, it is clear that there are not only more effective ways to combat health issues like prostate cancer in men but ways that can prevent the problem before it’s even begun.

Dairy Consumption & Prostate Cancer Risk

For example the latest Meta-Analysis studies of both case-controlled and cohort studies on the consumption of cow’s milk show conclusively that there is a positive association between the consumption of cow’s milk and prostate cancer risk in men. Additionally, the intake of large amount of dairy products between the ages of 14-19 has also been associated with a 3-fold elevation in risk for advanced prostate cancer in later life. The leading factor behind this elevated risk is the large amounts of exogenous hormones (like estrogens) that can be found in cow’s milk. As a species we are the only ones on the planet that are subjected to external hormone manipulation, from sources such as milk, from the perinatal period into adulthood.

Additionally, once diagnosed with prostate cancer the elimination of dairy products has been found to increase survival rates. Once diagnosed, men who consumed greater than or equal to 3 servings of dairy per day were found to have a 76% higher risk of total mortality and a 141% higher risk of prostate cancer mortality compared to those than consumed less than a single serve a day.

Finally, if we haven’t convinced you yet that a link exists between dairy consumption and prostate cancer it pays to have a look at the graph below. Here we see milk consumption per day plotted against mortality rate from prostate cancer in countries from around the world, and while we admit correlation by no means implies causation it would be foolish to ignore such a trend given the substantial amount of complimentary evidence.


Taken from: D. Ganmaa, X.-M. Li, J. Wang, L.-Q. Qin, P.-Y. Wang, A. Sato. Incidence and mortality of testicular and prostatic cancers in relation to world dietary practices. Int. J. Cancer. 2002 98(2):262 – 267)

Meat Consumption and Prostate Cancer Risk

In 2015, the World Health Organisation announced that processed meat (e.g. bacon and sausages) was a Group 1 carcinogen – carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is strong, convincing evidence for it causing cancer in humans. Tobacco and asbestos are both Group 1 carcinogens. While it is true that regular processed meat consumption doesn’t increase cancer risk as much as regular tobacco consumption, this should still be alarming.

More alarming is that schools still serve processed meat to children at schools as snacks. To put that another way, schools are feeding known carcinogens to children. Now that we have the evidence, this needs to stop. According to the WHO, there is no safe amount of processed meat that can be consumed, and so raising the argument of ‘all things in moderation’ does not seem valid here.

Red meat was also classified by WHO as a Group 2A carcinogen – probably carcinogenic to humans. This means that there is some, but at this time limited evidence for red meat causing cancer to humans.

Red meat has been associated with prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancer, and processed meat has been associated with stomach and colorectal cancer.

Why is this so important for Movember and men’s health? Prostate cancer is one of the main focal points of the Movember campaign, however one of the ways of promoting concern for this has been through typical ‘mens’ activities, like barbecues. Given the amount of meat consumption at barbecues, it is easy to see the conflict here.

PCFA, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, recently had an advertising push for their Big Aussie Barbie, encouraging people to talk about prostate cancer. In none of their messaging did I see them asking people to choose foods that don’t cause prostate cancer.

While we don’t cover it here, red and processed meat are also both associated with a number of other conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure.

Plant Based Diets & Depression

In Australian culture especially, there often seems to be a myth that those who consume a wholly vegetarian or vegan diet are depressed. We can assure you that it is exactly that: A Myth! In 2014 a systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in adults found that a healthy diet pattern was significantly associated with a reduced chance of depression. One randomised control trial included within this review found that removing meat, fish, poultry and eggs from the diet of a previously omnivorous study group saw mood scores in a number of areas increase after only 14 days. Why is this you ask? Consuming a vegetarian or vegan diet will result in a much higher level of antioxidants in the body which can reduce the detrimental effect of stress on mental health. One of the most power anti-oxidants out there is Lycopene (it’s what makes tomatoes red) which again has been shown to prevent severe depressive symptoms in Adults.

Additionally low blood-folate levels have been associated with clinical depression in humans which in many western individuals can be traced back to an overconsumption of highly processed food. So perhaps next time you’re feeling a little blue hit yourself with some greens!

Exercise & Depression

Anyone who does regular exercise will tell you that it’s a mood enhancer and this has been scientifically proven. A 2011 study expanded on this and linked regular physical activity to a decrease of severe depressive symptoms in adults from age 15 – 54. There is the arguments that in this case the cause and effect may be the other way around (eg: people who are depressed are unable to exercise) however this theory has also been tested: Men and women over 50 suffering from major depression were randomised to complete a 10 week aerobic exercise program or start a 10 week course of antidepressant medication. This study found that after ten weeks regular exercise was just as effective at combating severed depression as the medication and without all the unpleasant side effects that often come with antidepressants. At best regular physical exercise has been shown to have a significant effect on reductions in depression syndromes.

Implications for Movember and Campaigning for (Men’s) Health

We would like to advocate for a plant-based diet to be incorporated as a core component of messaging for health campaigns, especially campaigns such as Movember. Raising awareness without promoting good diet change has a diminished effect, which is compounded by typical activities organised to raise awareness for men’s health, such as barbecues.

The health, environmental and ethical reasons for choosing to not consume animal products are many, and there are increasingly fewer reasons to advocate for consuming them, or to remain silent on the issue.


What we hope to achieve with this short post is to convey to you that while growing a moustache to raise awareness for Men’s Health, is at its core a noble undertaking, there is a way to prevent many of these specific health issues entirely. From there, imagine what an event like “Movember,” could do for highly effective charity causes such as The Against Malaria Foundation, De-Worm the World or give directly. Groups that have shown to solve issues that have no other plausible solution like a simple change in diet and that quantitatively save lives than will otherwise go unsaved.


R R Yeung. The acute effects of exercise on mood state. J Psychosom Res. 1996 Feb;40(2):123-41.

U F Malt. Exercise in the treatment of major depressive disorder: still a long way to go. Psychosom Med. 2008 Feb;70(2):263; author reply 264-5.

R D Goodwin. Association between physical activity and mental disorders among adults in the United States. Prev Med. 2003 Jun;36(6):698-703.

J S Lai, S Hiles, A Bisquera, A J Hure, M McEvoy. A systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Jan;99(1):181-97.

Ganmaa, X. M. Li, L. Q. Qin, P. Y. Wang, M. Takeda, A. Sato. The experience of Japan as a clue to the etiology of testicular and prostatic cancers. Med. Hypotheses. 2003 60(5):724 – 730.

L.-Q. Qin, J.-Y. Xu, P.-Y. Wang, J. Tong, K. Hoshi. Milk consumption is a risk factor for prostate cancer in Western countries: Evidence from cohort studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007 16(3):467 – 476.

W. Danby. Re: Endogenous sex hormones and prostate cancer: a collaborative analysis of 18 prospective studies. JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst. 2008 100(19):1412-1413.

Ganmaa, X.-M. Li, J. Wang, L.-Q. Qin, P.-Y. Wang, A. Sato. Incidence and mortality of testicular and prostatic cancers in relation to world dietary practices. Int. J. Cancer. 2002 98(2):262 – 267.

Bouvard, D. Loomis, K. Z. Guyton, Y. Grosse, F. El Ghissassi, L. Benbrahim-Talla, N. Guha, H. Mattock, K. Straif, Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat, The Lancet, 2015, 16(16):1599-1600.

Yokoyama, et al, Vegetarian diets and blood pressure: A meta-analysis, The Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, 2014, 174:577-587.

N. Appleby, T. J. Key, The long-term health of vegetarians and vegans, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Conference on ‘The future of animal products in the human diet: health and environmental concerns’, 2015.

Key, T.J et al, Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999, 70:516-524.

Why isn’t palm oil vegan?

I made a video version of this article here.

Today I discovered that many people don’t consider palm oil to be vegan. The short version of this story is that palm oil production is generally associated with a lot of rainforest deforestation, and therefore destruction of orangutan habitats, often resulting in the death of orangutans.

Fair enough.

But the average vegan still contributes to 0.3 animal deaths per year (not including insects!) as the result of food production (based on a simplified calculation by Matheny). Obviously, there are some foods that are worse than others. I’m going out on a limb here, but I daresay something like wheat is going to result in more deforestation, land use and animal death than something like apples (I could of course be very wrong, but the point is that some vegan foods are going to kill more animals than others).

However, I typically don’t see/hear vegans avoiding certain foods like wheat because of the animals killed. In fact, most vegans seem to blissfully ignore the fact that they contribute to animal death. Obviously, it’s impossible to eliminate your impact because you’re bound to accidentally step on an ant at some point in your life, but reducing your bread intake seems like a reasonably easy thing to do.

But why avoid palm oil and not wheat? One anonymous comment on Facebook seemed to sum it up.

Yeah I think it’s because of the immediate danger of extinction the species faces.

Interesting. Why is risk of extinction a key factor, but pain and death isn’t? Unless it plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, it seems like extinction wouldn’t really be that bad beyond the individual deaths. Why does a species as a whole get consideration?

I would argue that, if you’re going to avoid palm oil because it hurts orangutans, you should probably consider optimising your entire diet, not just avoiding one thing (beyond not eating animals, that is). If what you value is the wellbeing of animals, there are many ways to do that, and probably more efficient ways than just avoiding palm oil.

Of course, this is all complicated by the fact most animals in the wild have lives full of suffering. Do orangutans have natural lives in the wild that are not worth living? I don’t know, but I’m open to the idea. If that’s true, we would have to face the frustrating reality that maybe keeping orangutans alive is bad.

Morality is more complicated than you want it to be.

Why this failed pregnancy intervention highlights the need for charity evaluators

Cross-posted from LinkedIn.

From 2003, almost 3,000 school girls in Western Australia have participated in an unusual social intervention. They were given electronic baby dolls to create the experience of being a mother. The study team hoped that it would reduce teenage pregnancy rates. If you’re skeptical as to whether this would work, you’d be right, but you might be surprised by just how ineffective it was. According to a recent study published in The Lancet, not only did this intervention not have a positive effect on pregnancy rates, it actually increased them.

Australians gave over $6.8 billion to charity in 2014. We should be proud of this. Our country is built on the pillars of mateship and giving everyone a fair go – values reflected in Australians giving 6.5% more this year than last. We live this culture during Easter and Christmas appeals, when we sit down across the nation for Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, and when we step into our local Salvation Army to help those in need.

While few would challenge the importance of giving to help others, we don’t tend to pore over the annual statements and fiscal returns of our most beloved charities. Rather, the majority of Australians base their giving choices on identity and respect for an organisation’s mission. Many charities we support aren’t always transparent about their methods, simply reiterating terms like ‘community’ and ‘support’ to encourage donations.

Surveys show that duplication and wastage of resources by non-profit organisations is our biggest concern when it comes to giving. Our concern should not only be administrative costs, but rather whether the programs they operate actually help people. Are they using evidence-backed strategies shown to work? Do they rigorously check that their programs are helping people at low cost? Sometimes the answer is yes, but too often it is no.

Unfortunately, most social programs simply aren’t that effective. David Anderson, previously Assistant Director at the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy (now working at the Arnold Foundation) said:

…75% [of social programs] or more turn out to produce small or no effects… [or] negative effects.

This is worrying, and it highlights the need for more research into the effectiveness of charities and social interventions. Luckily, GiveWell and other charity evaluators exists to undertake in-depth charity research to find out which programs are having the greatest impact on poverty.

‘Effective Altruism’ is a growing worldwide social movement which applies rigorous evidence and analysis to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for highly effective charities. This philosophy of acting with the head and the heart is gathering steam with growing think tanks conducting research in San Francisco and Oxford. Its supporters range from Australian philosopher Peter Singer to Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz.

Helping is not straightforward. But this is no excuse not to give. A minority of programs are found to be incredibly effective, saving and transforming lives at a very low cost per person.

By providing a growing literature on how to give effectively and make a difference with our careers, Effective Altruism promises to empower people around the world to make a real difference with their donations and their time. Aussies can now make tax-deductible donations to some of the most proven effective charities across the globe by visiting Effective Altruism Australia’s website.

Yes, giving from the heart is important. But our feelings need to be guided by facts. We now have the opportunity to be better informed about how, where and to whom we give. It has never been more possible for Australians to have a meaningful and positive impact on a massive scale.

Straw man, steel man and grass man

Straw man

A straw man is a well-known logical fallacy whereby one person appears to be refuting their opponents’ argument in a debate, but they are actually refuting a modified version of their opponents’ argument which has been made easier to refute. This gives the impression that one has beaten their opponent in a debate, when in fact they have beaten a ‘straw man’ which they have set up on purpose. This is also known as ‘attacking a straw man’.

Steel MAN

‘A Steel man‘ is the use of an improved version of an opponents’ argument that is harder to defeat than their original argument. This can (and should) be used in a debate to convince yourself that your own argument is indeed correct, and to give fair representation to your opponent.

Grass MAN

I would like to propose a new phrase along these lines – a ‘grass man’ – which is like a straw man, but involves holding an easily refutable position on something you already disagree with on purpose so that your friend (who you pretend not to know, or at least not to agree with) who believes what you really believe can knock down your ‘grass man argument’ and get people across the fence. This might be used to convince people of an argument they strongly disagree with by sowing doubt. However, this is of course a questionable and dishonest act, and so I don’t necessarily advocate for it. But I do think it is an interesting and new concept. One example of a potential use for a grass man argument that may be warranted is as follows.

There is a room full of people who don’t believe in vaccination. Several prominent scientists have tried to convince the people that vaccination is not harmful, and is actually quite beneficial, to no avail. Two people, unknown to the anti-vaxxers, then enter the room with a prior agreement to engage in a grass man. The first person starts telling the other that vaccination is clearly harmful, and provides a list of very easily attackable reasons for why that is so. The anti-vaxxers then identify with this proponent of what they believe. The second person easily debunks the first’s argument in a way that it is clear it was wrong. This sows doubt in the anti-vaxxers as to whether their position is right after all.

If one has still has moral qualms about such a deceitful tactic, perhaps we can assume that twenty children are about to die if their parents are not convinced that vaccines are safe.

Of course, this example assumes that people are logical and rational. However, there is reason to believe that emotion may still dominate in these situations, and they still won’t change their mind despite the grass man.

Reducing the public health burden of Australia

Given the health benefits of eliminating meat and dairy consumption, I’ve often wondered whether a public health campaign around diet, similar to those performed historically around the world for tobacco and other damaging substances, could result in a net positive for a society. The rationale is that the costs, presumably spent by a government, would be outweighed by the gain from the reduced public health burden. Here I’ve attempted a simple estimate of this. There is already a vast body of research available for the health benefits of a plant based, whole foods diet, and so I haven’t spent too long on this.

90% of all deaths in Australia in 2011 were the result of chronic disease according to the Institute of Health and Wellness. 50% of the Australian population has at least 1 chronic disease, and 20% have 2 or more. Populations with a diet full of plant based food have a lower blood pressure,  lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). A plant based diet can even prevent and reverse erectile dysfunction. Diet related issues in 2010 contributed to the burden of disease in the US more than smoking, high blood pressure and high blood sugar.

From 2004-2005 total health expenditure in Australia was $81.1 billion, $52.7 of which is attributable to specific disease categories. 29% of this expenditure was through admitted patient hospital services, 16% of out-of-hospital medical services, 11% for prescription pharmaceuticals and 7% for optometry and dental services. CVD accounted for $5.942 billion alone.

Given such high costs to society from chronic diseases that are treatable through dietary changes, might it be reasonable to assume that a public health campaign focused on diet, similar to the campaign against smoking, could yield significant returns to the government and a tax payer? Several similar campaigns have existed (e.g. Shape Up Australia), though these have lacked the focus and intensity the anti-smoking campaigns had. To determine whether this might be reasonable may take a major study. But we can take a series of assumptions, applying a worst case scenario for each, to estimate the costs and returns of such a campaign.

If we assumed that the only cost to society of chronic disease is the cost to public health, and the only chronic disease related to diet is CVD, then there is a cost of $5.942 billion. The first assumption here isn’t true, as chronic disease leads to decreased productivity and lost time in the workforce. Let’s assume now that only 50% of CVD can be treated through dietary changes (this is not true, and in fact almost all cases of CVD are treatable through diet change – see the end of this piece for a full list of related references). Therefore $2.971 billion of the cost from CVD can be eliminated.

The next step is to ask how much a public health campaign around diet might cost. A campaign that covered Sydney and Melbourne from 1983 to 1987 cost $620,000 ($1,560,700 in 2015 dollars) for the media and a ‘Quit Centre’ in Sydney. The population of Sydney in 1986 was 3,472,000. Assuming, accounting for inflation, that it costs the same to provide similar services per person today it would cost $10,768,800 to implement a national program for 4 years (population of 23,958,000 today, which is 6.9 times higher than the population of Sydney in 1986, so the cost is multiplied by 6.9). Again, this is likely conservative as it assumes there is no benefit from economies of scale in reaching the entire nation compared to just one city.

Now we can ask how effective such a campaign might be. The pilot anti-smoking campaign in Sydney and Melbourne immediately reduced smoking prevalence by 2.6%, and by a further 0.75% each consecutive year. Note that these percentages refer to the drop in smoking prevalence of the entire population, not just the smokers, which were around 38% of the population in Sydney before the campaign. As the percentage of people who don’t eat a plant-based whole food diet in Australia is significantly higher (over 90%), this estimate is even more conservative. We might assume that the dietary campaign would only be 50% as effective as the anti-smoking campaign, which is conservative as smoking is addictive and harder to quit than dietary practices. So we have a campaign that we estimate will reduce poor dietary practices by 1% immediately and an additional 0.375% each year. Going back to our figure of $2.971 billion for treatable CVD, we get an initial benefit of $29.71 million, with an ongoing benefit of $11.14 million per year. After 4 years, this results in a total benefit of $82.36 million for a cost of $10.77 million. This is a return on investment of over 7 times even with the generous assumptions.

The figures for cost and effectiveness of the anti-smoking campaign used here are around the same order as similar programs undertaken in USA from 1989 to 1996. This assumes that the reduction in smoking from the Sydney and Melbourne campaigns are entirely attributable to the campaign, though this assumption is supported by the data.

The estimates presented here are relatively rough, but given the generous assumptions made, it is clear that a detailed study on the costs and benefits of such a program is long overdue, and that it’s time to have a conversation about implementing a public health campaign that advocates for a plant-based, whole food diet.

The road to such a campaign is expected to be long, as Australia’s peak body for health advice and medical research, NHMRC, still recommends meat and dairy consumption as part of a healthy diet despite evidence otherwise. However, given the great expected reduction in Australia’s public health burden and the other benefits of it being significantly better for the environment (the livestock industry is responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions of any sector) and drastically reducing unnecessary animal suffering, it is a cause worth promoting.

The last two points I have covered previously here.

Thanks to Micaela Karlsen for providing references, working with me and reading early drafts of this work.


Esselstyn CB, Jr., Ellis SG, Medendorp SV, Crowe TD. “A strategy to arrest and reverse coronary artery disease: a 5-year longitudinal study of a single physician’s practice.” [In eng]. J Fam Pract 41, no. 6 (Dec 1995): 560-568.

Esselstyn CB, Jr., Favaloro RG. “More than coronary artery disease.” [In eng]. Am J Cardiol 82, no. 10B (Nov 26 1998): 5T-9T.

Esselstyn CB, Jr. “Changing the treatment paradigm for coronary artery disease.” [In eng]. Am J Cardiol 82, no. 10B (Nov 26 1998): 2T-4T.

Esselstyn CB, Jr. “Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology).” [In eng]. Am J Cardiol 84, no. 3 (Aug 1 1999): 339-341, A338.

Esselstyn CB, Jr. “In cholesterol lowering, moderation kills.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 67, no. 8 (Aug 2000): 560-564.

Esselstyn CB, Jr. “Resolving the Coronary Artery Disease Epidemic Through Plant-Based Nutrition.” Preventive cardiology 4, no. 4 (Autumn 2001): 171-177.

Esselstyn CB, Jr. “Is the present therapy for coronary artery disease the radical mastectomy of the twenty-first century?” [In eng]. Am J Cardiol 106, no. 6 (Sep 15 2010): 902-904.

Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. “Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease.” [In eng]. Jama 280, no. 23 (Dec 16 1998): 2001-2007.

Chaos theory and global warming – Future Mining Conference day 1

Double shot coffee in hand, I arrived at the AusIMM Future Mining Conference at 7:45 am to register and sign in. After a welcome from my supervisor Serkan Saydam the conference kicked of with a presentation from Nick Holland, CEO of Gold Fields about what the gold industry is likely to look like in the future. Apparently we are in store for a drop in gold production in 5-7 years due to a hiatus in exploration now which will begin to manifest itself, and we will see more automation, with Rio Tinto’s driverless trucks already saving ~500 work hours each per year.

One interesting presentation was titled ‘Integrating measurement, systems and leadership to build safe, productive cultures’ by Malcolm Roberts. The key messages were reducing variation in production to reduce waste and increase productivity (using the Taguchi loss function), and that safety and productivity need not be mutually exclusive in terms of budget. It’s not safety OR productivity, increased safety DRIVES productivity. Roberts ended with a rather provocative statement (which was only semi-related) that the ‘angry summer’ of 2012/2013 in Australia was only anomalous relative to the previous year, and showed the graph from this site (which I’ve never seen before).

Roberts suggested that all senior mining employees in Australia knew that global warming was fake, yet didn’t have the leadership to speak out about it. One of the audience members challenged this by asking whether the fact that the industry didn’t speak out about it was more due to the fact that it accepted the 97% consensus that anthropogenic global warming was real. Roberts replied by saying that the 97% consensus was false, and when you really look at the data only 0.3% of scientific papers on climate change support AGW. This was news to me. I’ve asked Roberts for comment and will write a follow-up piece on this.

Carlos Tapia Cortez, another PhD student of my supervisor gave a talk on ‘Copper price uncertainties – Chaos theory to manage risks in mining projects’. Put simply, Carlos put forward the hypothesis that copper prices can be forecast using chaos theory, fractals, artificial intelligence and econophysics, just as they have been used in neurosciences, meteorology, aviation and market trading. Overall the proof was a little beyond me, and I can’t say I was completely convinced that it works – but it was a proof of concept study. The next step is to actually simulate future copper prices and test how the analysis compares to reality, and to try it for different commodity prices. One might wonder if, were this analysis to work, would it cease to work almost straight away? If it became that easy to predict copper prices and thus buy low and sell high every time (arbitrage), people would stop selling and buying respectively at these times.

Until tomorrow.

Seeing Malcolm Roberts and Brian Cox in Q & A prompted me to finally finish this piece. In short, Malcolm Roberts claimed global warming was a hoax on national Australian television, and physicist Brian Cox debated him (or rather, showed Roberts some evidence which was rejected).

Shortly after writing this piece, I reached out to Roberts for clarification on his talk, and he gave me permission to reproduce our conversation here.


Hi Malcolm,

I enjoyed your presentation today at the AusIMM Future Mining Conference. That was certainly a provocative way to end a talk! If you don’t mind I had a few questions in hindsight.
Regarding your plot of temperature vs. time highlighting the ‘angry summer’, where is that sourced from? I haven’t seen that particular graph before.
Regarding the notion that the ‘97% consensus is actually 0.3%’, that seems exceptionally low. Given that I have met a lot of climate scientists and all of them have supported AGW, I’m a little surprised by this. Am I stuck in a bubble? Where are the 99.7%?
Kind regards,
Hi Michael.

Thank you for your email and inquiry.
Here’s a summary of the empirical evidence on climate:
It’s accessed through this page showing my formal complaints on behaviours of staff at the University of Queensland:
Although not requested, both are pertinent to your questions.
Regarding the 97% being actually 0.3% it’s explained at the bottom of page 4, in Appendix 5, here:!.html
It’s discussed in my email correspondence with UQ Vice Chancellor here:
John Cook’s behaviour in fabricating the 97% consensus forms part of my formal complaints. Those complaints and my correspondence with the VC cite a scientifically peer-reviewed paper that demolishes Cook’s fabrication. It’s the source of my figures in Appendix 5, above.
Similar fates have befallen other claims of 97% consensus. These have been comprehensively explained elsewhere.
Note that none of Cook’s 0.3% have provided any empirical evidence of human causation of global warming or climate change.
Note further that anyone claiming a consensus is undermining science since the decider of science is empirical data, not voting.
Secondly, the graph of summertime tropospheric temperatures is available at Jo Nova’s site and was sourced in data from the providers of the NASA satellite data, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Alabama:
Journalists with limited understanding of science accessed basic data to disprove the Gillard-Flannery Climate Commission’s claim.
I chose that graph because it illustrates the lack of any process change in Australian summertime temperatures. There are many graphs of annual temperatures confirming no change in temperatures.
There are no graphs and no data showing process change in global climate or any climate factors.
I say this, Michael, not to embarrass you. That the majority of people were misled is not their fault. There has been a barrage of misleading and evocative material flung at the public by a small group of people portrayed as authoritative with that material re-presented by a large group of well-meaning though misinformed people. We humans are easily misled, especially when emotions are deliberately involved.
When you visit Appendix 5, enroute perhaps peruse the documentation of extensive corruption of climate science in appendices 3, 5, 6, 6a, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 13a-13g, 14, 15.
Then consider whether or not you’ve ever actually seen specific empirical evidence and logical causal analysis of climate proving that carbon dioxide from human activity causes global warming or global climate change or global climate variability.
There is none. Neither BOM nor CSIRO Chief Executive has ever provided any to MPs as my Freedom of Information requests confirm.
None of the nine most prominent Australian academics fomenting climate alarm has ever provided any in their responses to my requests.
It’s summarised on page 2 of my letter to 19 March 2014 letter to Greg Hunt:,March2014.pdf
The ultimate arbiter of science is empirical evidence.
I hope this answers your questions fully and meets your needs.
Hi Malcolm, thanks for your detailed response.

I’m not embarrassed – I don’t believe I told you my personal stance on climate science.

I write a blog covering fields related to my research, and wrote several summaries on the Future Mining Conference. I was asked by several readers to expand upon your presentation, especially the content relevant to climate science. Would you be comfortable if I referred to some of the content of your response? If not, I will make no mention of it.


Thank you, Michael.

Please accept my regret for the sloppiness of my wording. I didn’t mean to imply that you specifically should not be embarrassed and I had not meant to imply any assumption regarding your stance.
It was my clumsy attempt to empathise with a possible believer in human causation while simultaneously conveying to a possible sceptic to extend understanding to those who have fallen for climate claims. Please note my use of the word ’their’ in reference to people who may have fallen for climate claims.
Secondly, I try to live life openly and would be delighted for you to use any of my material and any of my response in context. Thank you for the courtesy of asking.
If you cite The Australian’s article, please do so on the basis that I am not using it as scientific proof, and am using it only to show that even two journalists with apparently limited scientific background (if any) were able to easily debunk the government’s ‘experts’ who had implied the 2013 summer was unusually hot when it was not.
In summary, while I was deliberately ambiguous in these emails, after examining the evidence myself (having studied climate change at university in my undergraduate degree – see also my analysis of common myths around anthropogenic global warming) I am of no doubt that global warming is significantly more likely than not to be real, to be caused by humans, and to be a big problem. And quite frankly, even if we were only 0.3% sure that this was the case, I would still advocate for doing something about it. After all, there is a chance it lead to the extinction of humanity, which would be very bad indeed. How much risk are we willing to accept when it comes to our literal extinction?