Will we fund the "Longtermist Animal Incubation Project"?
resolved Oct 7

Will the project "Longtermist Animal Incubation Project" receive any funding from the Clearer Thinking Regranting program run by ClearerThinking.org?

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Below, you can find some selected quotes from the public copy of the application. The text beneath each heading was written by the applicant. Alternatively, you can click here to see the entire public portion of their application.

Why the applicant thinks we should fund this project

There are compelling arguments that one of the best ways to do good is to focus on the long-term future, and there are compelling arguments that one of the best ways to do good is to focus on improving the lives of non-human animals. Therefore, improving the lives of non-human animals in the long-term future has the potential to have an astronomical scale, and it is currently an area that is completely neglected. This project would take advantage of this high-scale, neglected opportunity and, hopefully, identify some interventions in this space that can do an immense amount of good.

Here's the mechanism by which the applicant expects their project will achieve positive outcomes.

Using this grant, we will hire a researcher to conduct prioritisation research to identify the 3-5 ideas for new organisations that look most effective at reducing long-term animal suffering. This will provide us with the evidence-base to then apply for larger grants, which will be used to hire staff to begin incubating these ideas. This will lead to the creation of new organisations working on reducing the risk of extreme-scale animal suffering in the future (e.g. through space colonisation, AI, and so on). These organisations would then become self-sufficient and continue to produce research, advocate for specific policies, etc, leading to a concretely reduced risk of animal suffering in the future.

How much funding are they requesting?

Our baseline request is $55,000 USD to fund a full-time researcher for 12 months. This is a standard annual salary for a postdoctoral researcher (e.g. NIH-NSRA benchmark).

As a stretch goal, we could use up to $110,000 USD, as this would allow us to hire either a second full-time researcher or a second part-time researcher and a part-time operations and communications specialist.

What would they do with the amount just specified?

Pay for the salary of one researcher full-time to conduct the research process. In the case of our stretch goal, we would pay for the salary of 1-2 researchers to conduct the research process, and possibly the salary of one non-research staff member to provide operations and communications support for the project.

Here you can review the entire public portion of the application (which contains a lot more information about the applicant and their project):


Sep 20, 3:46pm:

Close date updated to 2022-10-01 2:59 am

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predicted YES

Animal-Longtermism intersection is chronically underfunded. I would love to see more work in this area. Ren seems like a great candidate for finding the right people for this.

Animal advocates are built different, they often opperate with scraps for funding and yet expend great time and effort with such passion.
I appreciate that the discord is going rather well. I am sure you will find a more than enthusiastic candidate for this.

I am not too concerned about the structure of this grant. I am sure Ren can make the appropriate calls here as to whether a work trial is needed or whether the funding is better returned because no suitable candidate was found.

I disagree that ideas are not a bottleneck (It seems so common to hear the kind Graham quote and then ppl recommend you read Thiel as if they aren’t contrasting). I can believe that altruistic and millions dollar ideas are fairly easy to come by. Effective altruist and billion dollar ideas are not always so simple and ofc we would do prioritization before spending resources in a new area, seems reasonable to pay someone a modest salary to do this. The difference between lead elimination project and the first ideas that would come up if you asked global health experts what to focus a new charity on are huge (I don't really have to explain this to EAs ofc)

I have the opposite concern here, to me it seems like really promising ideas in this space are genuinely rather tricky to find, we would be trying to influence the far future after all (tho it is true that we may yet have the benefit of not having picked the low-hanging ideas yet). And depending on how far future I think the concrete ideas look different, we can have more concrete ideas to influence next century or two.

I can’t say that I got really excited by any of those listed in the ideas doc (linked in the app)
Maybe one of these is interesting and worth looking into:

- AI Welfare monitoring system

- Open sourcing cultured meat tech, have hubs to collaborate etc. Advocate to vegans to learn and work in cultured meat.

- Investigation into getting to "cultured meat in reverse" (ie dygenics/genedriving chickens into deevolving significant portions of their brain/speedrunning domestication to its conclusion. lol e/acc idk)

I would propose to experiment again (as other orgs have) by using a portion of the grant as a bounty, instead of the lone researcher “add(ing) another 20-50 ideas of their own”.

And maybe then getting some directionality on the promising ones with a prized prediction tournament like this. Tho perhaps we should wait for the results of this one to see if it was useful (tho more experiments would need to be done before ruling it out anyway)

predicted YES

@GeorgeVii perhaps stuff like monitoring inclusion of animals in terraforming research & strategizing around expansion in space is useful too, might just be too early, tho field building in space ethics or similar might have some merit.

And there are probably valid strategies to get ahead of factory farming in developing nations, or at least mitigate large welfare concerns before any kind of lock-in (alternatives, mussels, beef over chicken, early relations with government and guidance on welfare issues etc)

Thanks to everyone for commenting on my application here. Regardless of the outcome of this grant, your comments are really helpful for getting external views on both the strengths and risks of this work. I'm happy to discuss any of these points further, and please point out if I've misunderstood any of your arguments.

The emerging interest in animal-inclusive longtermism means that producing a systematic evidence-base about interventions in this field could have a potentially enormous impact. As one commentor mentioned, there is something of a chicken-and-egg problem - to find the most talented researcher available to begin producing this research, we need to be able to offer a salary. Then, once we have some existing research, we could obtain future grants. This grant would provide the initial traction to launch some large projects that aim to do a large amount of good, from both a longtermist and animal-inclusive worldview.

The biggest argument against this project, which has been made by a few people here, is that the person who would do the work is currently unknown. Although we have been building a general community (on Discord), I deliberately made the choice to apply for funding before seeking people explicitly interested in taking on this project. I think the quality of the research is critical - systematically evaluating a collection of charity ideas is challenging to begin with, and this has the added challenge of having to engage both animal advocacy and longtermism. I strongly feel that the best candidate would be attracted by a systematic search that involves a widely-posted job listing with a reasonable salary attached.

There are organisations that do a similar type of research (Charity Entrepreneurship, Animal Ask) and have succeeded in hiring people who can do this research. This project has a slightly different focus (bringing longtermism into the mix), and that requires a slightly different approach to the research, but it's not a fundamentally different role to a typical reseach job for either of those two organisations. It is routine for people/organisations to apply for grant applications for a salary for a particular role, and then put out a job listing after the grant is successful - those grants are not rejected simply because the grantor can't vet the credentials of the hire. Thus, I see no reason why the fact that the grant is made before the hire should be a critical reason against funding this proposal. I would change my mind about this point if there is a reason why this hire is meaningfully different to the many other hires in the EA space that are also grant-funded.

I do concede that there has been some trouble hiring talented researchers in some EA organisations. This risk could be completely mitigated by attaching a condition to the grant that the money should be returned (or granted in installments or whatever) if no hire is made.

John Beshir makes the point that the hire would need to be deeply involved in the project's success. I strongly agree. This is what the hiring process would aim to determine, and this is similar to many other EA-related research roles that have a strong emphasis on value alignment and commitment a cause. (John may have misinterpreted the details of the grant application, which is on me for not communicating clearly enough. This hire would not write grant applications - the hire would research which new charity ideas could be highly impactful. That research provides the basis for future grant applications, but those applications would take place after the research is complete, and the applications would be written by myself and/or my colleagues).

Michael Dickens argues that the bottleneck to new orgs is not new ideas, and thus spending money on producing new ideas is not worthwhile. There are three reasons why I disagree:

  • An idea is not the same thing as a high-impact idea. The whole point of EA is to use evidence to do as much good as we can. In my own work at Animal Ask, I've researched many campaign ideas that seem impactful at first glance but, upon further research, turn out to have minimal or negative impact. So, even if new ideas are not a bottleneck, new high-impact ideas could still be a bottleneck.

  • This grant isn't to find new ideas in an existing, well-developed field (e.g. new charity ideas in global health and welfare). Rather, the grant is to a) examine whether a new space (animal-inclusive longtermism) is worth putting further resources into at all and b) figure out specifically which ideas would have the highest impact. So, simply arguing that we're looking for 'new ideas' doesn't really capture the full detail of what the project is about. It is more accurate to view this project as prioritisation research, and there would also be some incidental value for field-building.

  • With that said, the case of Charity Entrepreneurship does provide evidence that thinking of new ideas and conducting prioritisation research in the EA space can have immense value. Their program is very, very competitive to get into (suggesting that people do value being given high-impact ideas), and many of their charities are starting to show extremely high impact. Their approach involves both brainstorming new ideas and conducting prioritisation research on those ideas. This suggests that investing research into developing and testing high-quality, high-impact ideas is money well spent.

felixeno1 argues that I've omitted some examples of organisations that are trying to incubate new animal-inclusive longtermist organisations. There are a few organisations working on animal-inclusive longtermist ideas (which I have listed in my application). I'm aware of ACE but I don't think they count as longtermist - happy to be corrected on this point. In any case, no organisations are incubating new charities at the animal-longtermist intersection. An exception could be Rethink Priorities, which is incubating charities and is clearly thinking from both an animal-inclusive perspective and a longtermist perspective, but appears to be thinking about those worldviews separately rather than at their intersection.

People have also raised the question of whether I have the capacity to do the hiring and management, and why I'm not doing the job myself.

  • Firstly, I'd like to point out that it's possible for a person to think a job is potentially highly impactful yet not be in a position to do the job themselves.

  • I am committed to my current job in effective animal advocacy, yet I have additional capacity that can be used for the hiring and management involved with this role. This is a similar position to many people working in the EA space, who are also involved with various EA-related side projects. It's possible to lead a project and deliver results without having to do the groundwork oneself.

  • I have the capacity for hiring and management - otherwise, I wouldn't have asked for money that could be spent on other great projects. I listed capacity as a potential risk in the grant application, because I was trying to be thorough, but I don't think it's a major risk. I work 30 hours per week, and in my time at Animal Ask I've led a couple of projects outside of work that involve managing people to do both research and advocacy.

@RenSpringlea Appreciate this detailed response and I've updated toward thinking it's more likely this should be funded, but registering that overall I'm still not fully convinced.

One thing that could make sense to me is to request funding for just yourself for a few months to free yourself up to spend more of your time finding someone who can do this project really well. Then if you identified someone who I thought was really good I'd be comfortable granting you their full-time salary. But I think a ton of the variance of how well this project goes comes from how good of a person you find to conduct the research, so I would prefer not to give all the money up front when the quality of the person you will find is unknown.

You say:

This risk could be completely mitigated by attaching a condition to the grant that the money should be returned (or granted in installments or whatever) if no hire is made.

Which is similar to my suggestion, but requires much more trust in your hiring process than waiting to grant the full-time salary until a candidate both you and agrees is really good is identified.

(I'd feel more comfortable giving money not knowing who was going to be hired if they weren't literally the first full-time hire for this project)


Just so we're on the same page, your suggestion is:
1) Get funding for myself to allow me to spend time on a hiring process
2) Find a strong applicant
3) Apply for funding for the applicant's salary

My suggestion (= this grant application) is:
A) Apply for funding for the applicant's salary
B) Find a strong applicant

I already have enough time (outside of my Animal Ask job) to conduct a thorough hiring process. So, point 1 in your suggestion wouldn't be necessary.

I think our core point of disagreement is this: I believe that it's much easier to find a stronger hire if I definitely have the money ready to go to start paying the hire a salary, even just the first couple of months as a trial period. You appear to believe that I could find a really strong hire even without the salary ready to go (did I understand you correctly? Correct me if I'm wrong.).

I believe that funding-first would mean that potentially interested people would not see the role as "a neat collaborative project that might eventually turn into a paid role", and would instead see it as "a paid role". For this reason, I think I would get much more interest (and also interest from higher-quality applicants) if I have some funding ready to go for their salary. Anecdotally, from hiring processes I've observed in EA/animal spaces, I've noticed that paid roles attract more candidates and stronger candidates than other roles.

So, I think that if I try to find an applicant first, I may end up with a less suitable candidate. For this project, the strength of the hire is important. This is why I think that, for this project, funding for the applicant's salary (even a little bit!) should come before I find the applicant.

predicted NO


My background belief is that it's usually good for the person who wants to do the full-time work to apply for a grant when starting a new project, rather than getting a grant first then hiring someone full-time to do the work. I'm open to changing this background belief.

A similar example is that it seems much better to me to get a grant as a full founding team than getting a grant to both find a cofounder than start an organization. Getting a grant for 1-3 months to do a cofounder search seems fine, before possibly re-appying.

I think our core point of disagreement is this: I believe that it's much easier to find a stronger hire if I definitely have the money ready to go to start paying the hire a salary, even just the first couple of months as a trial period. You appear to believe that I could find a really strong hire even without the salary ready to go (did I understand you correctly? Correct me if I'm wrong.).

[paid roles attract stronger candidates]

I strongly agree paid roles attract stronger candidates in general and likely in this specific case. Getting money for a few month trial seems reasonable to me, this feels like a separate question from getting a year's funding.

My uncertainty is how much to think of this situation as analogous to starting a new org (in which case I think the type of person who would be really good for it would usually be able to help apply for the grant themselves after a trial), or more like a standard research position (for which getting funding in advance seems broadly reasonable as long as the research is valuable and I trust you to hire well).

Previously I was thinking in the new org framing but looking back through the application I'm not as sure, maybe this is more of a standard research position.

Probably my crux on whether to provide more than the few month trial funding would be how strongly I trust you to do the hiring well, which Clearer Thinking can get more evidence on than I can (via references, redacted portion of application, etc.). I think many people underestimate the competence bar for doing useful work in areas around scoping out and founding new orgs but possible that you don't if you have the right experience.

Appreciate your comment and best of luck!

predicted NO

@EliLifland By the way, I'd separately be curious for your take on https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/W5AGTHm4pTd6TeEP3/should-longtermists-mostly-think-about-animals?commentId=ibHWBDmJCzb75RGL2#comments

I mostly agree with Rob, though maybe not quite as cynical. I guess the highest EV longtermist interventions for animals might be whatever maximizes the chance an AGI would care about them the right amount, which maybe involves some combination of broad advocacy and targeted advocacy toward AI people?

@EliLifland I think Rob (and even Peter's reply) is very overconfident. Claims like:
- "... there is no practical reason to bring animals. By that stage of technological development we will surely be eating meat produced without a whole animal, if we eat meat at all"
- "If settlement is done by 'humans' it seems more likely to be performed by emulated human minds running on computer systems."
(particularly the first one) are very strong claims.

This mirrors a broad community perception that animal farming will end at some point in the future by default. This is very far from obvious, and there are a few essays floating around (some public, some non-public) that critique this idea.

As for the AGI idea (aligning with animals' interests) - yes, that is a very compelling area of research. The AI-animal relationship is one of the 4-5 buckets of ideas that we've identified. That could plausibly be one of the best ideas, but I'd want to see the prioritisation research before assigning any certainty to that claim. Yip Fai Tse, who is active in the Discord, has some research focusing on this topic on both the EA Forum and academic journals.

Thanks again for engaging with these ideas and my grant application.

I think it would be valuable to have a "Charity Entrepreneurship" type organization incubating ideas for charities to improve the long-term future in a way that includes consideration for nonhuman animals. I've never known someone to suggest this idea before hearing about this project, which made me very interested to learn more, so I joined the Animals and Longtermism Discord. 

Despite the fact it only started in July this year, there are already over 80 participants in their Discord community, and they're already generating and discussing ideas, many of which sound promising to me. 

If someone was going to lead a project like this (and I think someone should), I think that it's critical for that person to be intelligent, sensible, and careful (in addition to being value-aligned, of course). And based on what I've seen in the Discord, this applicant seems to have all of those traits. This makes me really hope that they get funded. 

They also say that if they fail to find a sufficiently skilled researcher to hire, they will return the funds. Overall, I’m don't know what the outcome will be and am not betting, but I think it would be awesome if CTR funded this.

predicted YES

@mukimameaddict where does one find this discord
@RenSpringlea an invite?

@GeorgeVii Here is the link :) https://discord.gg/KVf7qFmMrX
We have not yet made a formal announcement of the community in EA spaces, but we've seen a fair bit of natural growth.

predicted YES

@RenSpringlea How does one see natural growth if private. ppl just been invite their friends right? (sry for probably basic discord question, just want to make sure i understand)

@GeorgeVii Sorry I probably wasn't clear, I meant that people have been sending the link to colleagues, people they think might be interested, etc, but we haven't made a formal announcement on the EA Forum just yet

predicted YES

Upon further consideration, I think this grant is a bad idea because animal-inclusive longtermism is basically not bottlenecked at all by ideas for new orgs; it's bottlenecked by people who want to start new orgs (and, secondarily, by funding to those orgs). I find it unlikely that there's someone out there who wants to start an animal-inclusive longtermism org and would do a good job of running it, but needs someone else to give them the idea of what to do.

This is related to the concept in startups where people naively think startup ideas are super important and guard their ideas closely, but actually startup ideas are pretty easy to come by. I think this is even more true in animal-inclusive longtermism because there's no profit motive and it's a virtually-untouched space so there's tons of low-hanging fruit.

@MichaelDickens Agree, this is a weird application. If the idea is so good then why don't they want the job?

@MichaelDickens doesn't Charity Entrepreneurship provide some strong counter-evidence to this line of argument? (When I first heard about Charity Entrepreneurship, I also thought that it was unlikely for the creation of new orgs to be bottlenecked by people having ideas for new orgs, so I thought it wouldn't succeed; judging by the success of the program over the years since then, though, I have updated toward thinking that there are some people who want to start altruistic organizations but who don't yet know what it is they should start.)

predicted NO

@MichaelDickens Absolutely - the entrepreneur's blind spot is the extrapolation of their own POV to the market. Mitigation tactics? Putting it into practice in trial form, rigorous market research, adversarial review, etc. The cool thing is that the tournament incentivizes that kind of review and statistical gut check.

This is what concerns me: "there is no organization that is working to identify the most effective interventions in animal-inclusive longtermism and incubate them as concrete projects". There are charities in this space that they do not mention in their "list of similar projects". Animal Charity Evaluators (https://animalcharityevaluators.org/) is an Effective Altruism aligned project that aims to answer the question "how you can have the greatest impact helping animals?" Animal Charity Evaluators hired a lot of people who have now ended up in Rethink Priorities and similar organizations in this space. Either they don't know about similar projects or have omitted them. Added to the fact that the plan only extends to hiring someone else (who would ideally take over full direction of the project) to decide what to do. So the track record and suitability of the person who would actually be doing the project is unknown and can't be demonstrated to the funders. Overall, I don't think I would put money into this when it doesn't have a researcher available to actually do the job or differentiation from existing charities in this field.

@felixeno1 I don't think ACE is the same thing, for two reasons:

1. ACE is ~90% focused on reducing factory farming in the short term.
2. ACE evaluates existing charities. The applicant is looking to identify ideas for potential new charities.

Looking for ideas for charities makes more sense for animal-inclusive longtermism because there are very few such orgs in existence (off the top of my head: Sentience Institute and the Center on Long-term Risk).

The weird structure of this grant could be an argument against funding (because it's less clear whether it will produce results) or an argument in favor (because it provides information value about whether this works, or because it solves the chicken-and-egg problem as Nuno says).

Please note that this account bought some shares in this market in error. Once this error was noticed, we then sold them all. This account has a policy of not betting in its own markets.

Regranting a regrant is like triple stamping a double stamp.

Respect for asking for 55k/y for someone else and zero for himself (as opposed to the guy asking 300k as a cash payment to himself to do some lobbying)

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