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The Meta Muddle

There is a lot of discussion in effective altruism/activism circles about "meta" approaches -- offering better strategies, and indirect aid, rather than working directly to help others. 


But as Peter Drucker famously put it, "culture eats strategy for breakfast." It doesn't matter how brilliant your plan is if you don't have the culture and people to implement it.


Meat Consumption - In Decline, or Not?


Last year, at around this time, blogs and social media erupted over a Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) report indicating that per capita meat consumption had been on the decline, since 2008, and was projected to continue to decline in 2013. There was widespread cheerleading (and even some statistical analysis) to suggest that the animal rights movement's efforts had caused this apparent decline. Conveniently ignored in this was the fact that far greater drops in meat consumption were seen during the Great Depression -- including a one-year 18% decline (citation link currently unavailable due to government shutdown).

So how have things progressed? Well, the new numbers are out. And the results are sobering: across the board increases in demand, for all species other than turkeys. The 3% increase in chicken alone will overwhelm all other numbers, and manifest in hundreds of millions more individuals forced to endure the torments of animal "husbandry" and slaughter.  

By the logic used, around this time last year, does that imply that the animal rights movement has suddenly failed, despite its successes starting in 2008? Did we match our glorious success in 2012, with abject failure in 2013? Surely not. The demand for meat is a complicated variable that can't be linked to any one factor. And there is significant year-to-year variation that has nothing to do with our work. 

The upshot? Too much of AR activism focuses on short term data that has no impact on our long-term success: small down and up ticks in meat consumption; the percentage of people who "choose vegetarian" due to x, y, or z intervention; or even the passage of a regulation that does not fundamentally alter the "fox guarding the henhouse" dynamic inside the USDA. But don't be confused by the noise. The path to liberation requires a sound strategy, grounded in historical examples of success. Taking those steps, and not obsessing over minor changes in secondary variables (with doubtful scientific accuracy), should be our focus. 

Measuring Progress in Activism

From DxE's open meeting this past weekend. 

 "What does measurement have to do with the animal rights movement? What should activists measure, and why? When is measurement useful? When is it misleading? How can activists weigh the costs and benefits of spending some of their time, energy, and resources on measurement?"

PDF of the presentation can be found here


Science or Science-y: Part I

"Studies" in the animal rights community have the veneer of scientific respectability. They involve "experiments" and "testing" and give us startlingly exact numbers ("369,000 animals spared; 35% more effective"). But the truth is that these studies are not "Science."


They are "Science-y" -- claims that clothe themselves in the language of scientific rigor without having anything of substance, underneath them.


This post is the first of a multi-part series that explains, in detail, why.  





Stephen Colbert coined the term “Truthiness” for “convictions from the gut” that are resistant to logic or evidence. But there is a parallel problem that afflicts the animal rights movement – "Factiness" for “facts from the gut” that are just as resistant to logic or evidence.