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2019 Adversarial Collaboration Winners

Thanks to everyone who participated and/or voted in the 2019 Adversarial Collaboration Contest. And the winner is…

Adrian Liberman and Calvin Reese, for Does Calorie Restriction Slow Aging?.

An extraordinarily close second place (26.9% vs. 26.2% of votes) goes to David G and Froolow, for Is Eating Meat A Net Harm?.

Both of these did great research and were written up well. I especially like them as winners because they have such different strengths.

The calorie restriction collaboration was carefully focused on a factual question. I think this is a promising model for adversarial collaborations, and that others failed the further they deviated from this. For example, the circumcision collaboration did a good job assessing the quantifiable benefits and harms of the practice, but it turned out that most people who disagreed about it weren’t disagreeing because they assessed quantifiable benefits and harms differently. The abortion collaboration ended up in a similar place. By focusing on a topic where there really was debate about what the research showed, and by hitting the lit review portion out of the park, Adrian and Calvin helped deconfuse a lot of previously confused people.

And the meat collaboration managed to succeed without being like this at all! It was unabashedly just a lengthy review of every single plausible argument for and against vegetarianism, and bulldozed over the immense difficulties with this approach by putting in more work than any reasonable person would have thought possible. And if it didn’t get quite as many votes as calorie restriction, it won on another metric – here are some of voters’ comments (plus some extra from the blog):

– After this, I expect to restrict more strictly to chicken and fish, and alternate more aggressively towards fish as a hedge against the possibility I’m undervaluing chicken sapience.

– Got me to significantly change my diet (at least over the past few weeks) towards more fish and much less chicken.

– I read it, and I changed what I believe and how I changed my life accordingly.

– My final pick is not necesarily based on the article‘s excellence but rather due to me going to change my eating behaviour, which I find an impressive thing Form an article to do.

– This has practical implications for my life. I’ve stopped eating pork because of it (baby steps, working towards less meat generally)

– I actually resolved to stop eating chicken (the only meat I can regularly eat, due to dietary restrictions) based on that piece, so I’d say it was pretty effective in informing me about things.

– It convinced me not to buy chicken that isn’t organic/free-range

– This article will result in all my family eating less meat. It’s actually going to change our lives, health, and the environment!

– As a result of the adversarial collaboration on the ethics of eating meat, have dramatically scaled back my meat consumption to probably 20% of my previous value, and the meat I do eat now is almost exclusively fish and invertebrates.

– Learning about the harm of factory farming from their dispassionate and empirical analysis has prompted me to greatly reduce my red meat and poultry consumption.

Some voters brought up a reasonable complaint: the end result ended up being pretty (though not completely) pro-vegetarian. How do we tell the difference between “a good faith effort by intelligent people naturally converges on vegetarianism” vs. “the anti-vegetarian collaborator slacked off”?

In this case, we tell because the anti-vegetarian collaborator posted a comment about his thought process and what convinced him. But there were other cases where people had the same question, and still other cases where one collaborator did a good job representing their own anti-X position, but other people were anti-X for different reasons that didn’t get represented.

If I had infinite resources, I would fund adversarial collaborations between well-known and universally-recognized intellectuals on different sides of a topic, who everybody trusted to stick to their guns. As it is, I can only say I’m delighted to have stumbled into the one part of the world where “people are too likely to change their mind when presented with new evidence on controversial issues” is a problem.

Some thoughts on the other collaborations:

Circumcision: I loved this one. I’d never seen a good assessment of exactly what health risks circumcision was supposed to prevent, and I didn’t know how weak the evidence was that the foreskin helps with sexual pleasure. But the conclusion ended up being “the quantifiable benefits of circumcision are nonzero but pretty low; the quantifiable harms are not obviously distinguishable from zero but who knows”, which leaves a lot of space for people’s ethical intuitions, which turned out to be REALLY STRONG. One reader said they were going to boycott my blog from now on for not having no-platformed this ACC, and a few others seemed only slightly less angry. On the other hand, it also did better than average among voters, so good job there. I take a small amount of blame for this one not being more popular – I retitled it to be about the ethics of circumcision, whereas the original title had been about benefits vs. harms. But I think it’s naturally hard to write something about benefits and harms without it sounding like you’re talking about ethics, and in this case the ethics were too complicated to fit in the model provided for them. Some positive comments from the survey: “This…actually changed my opinion from circumcision being mildly ethically wrong back to neutral”, “I gained a much more nuanced understanding of the benefits position to the point that my mind was changed to be in favor (maybe too strong), or at least not opposed to, it for developing countries”, “It tidily presented the pros and cons and presented a lot of useful information, with a clear conclusion. It shifted my thinking the most of all of them.”

Space Colonization: You guys presented a lot of evidence for one side, then at the end switched to the opposite side based on a one paragraph explanation of something you’d never brought up before. If that was your crux, I wish you had analyzed it in more depth. If the whole point is to make something that can’t be defunded, couldn’t the government (or whoever) give the money to a private foundation with really good trustees, no takebacks? Maybe there’s a problem with that idea, I don’t know, but if you’re going to make defundability the center of your conclusion, I wish you had examined it more closely. Some positive comments from the survey: “Excellent selection of question, manages to present both sides fairly and come to an insightful conclusion”, “I think this ACC did the best job of covering the entire scope of the question they assigned to themselves, while still presenting a shared conclusion”, “Interesting non-obvious conclusion, subject I care a lot about, pretty pictures”.

Gene Editing: This one seemed to spend a lot of time on very knowledgeable and very well-cited assessments of the current state of the technology and how and why it worked, but didn’t really get around to assessing the “should” question in the title. It also had a few factual missteps – maybe no more than the others, but more obvious since it was so fact-based. While it was an impressive work of scholarship I’m not sure it came together as an adversarial collaboration. Some positive comments from the survey: “Very nicely presented ACC. It was thought provoking and totally enrapturing!”, “well-reasoned collaboration on a difficult question”, “Great, nuanced answer to a complex question”, “This collaboration caused me to reconsider my enthusiasm for CRISPR based on the narrative provided in most press releases. The topic is much more involved than I’d initially realized.”

Abortion: An adversarial collaboration on a completely moral question – you guys didn’t make this easy for yourself, did you? I don’t think you made any particular missteps given the difficult task you set yourselves, but this is another one that I feel like didn’t quite come together. Some positive comments from the survey: “Most interesting (and politically relevant) topic, plus it seems icerun’s position actually shifted somewhat by virtue of having to marshall arguments for it, proving the whole endeavor to be more than just an exercise in futility”, “I thought it best captured the spirit of an Adversarial Collaboration”, “This was a nice, cautious walk-through of an extremely divisive subject. i never thought i would enjoy reading a “point/counterpoint” on abortion, but i enjoyed this one”, “Lots of adversity, focused on the actual disagreement, and balanced data and philosophy well.”

Automation: Seemed broadly correct and helpful. I didn’t find it too exciting because I felt like I had already covered most of the same beats in this article (which they cited), but I’m surprised other people didn’t vote for it more. Some positive comments from the survey: “Importance of the issue and the thoroughness with which it was explored”, “The most fitting, thought-out and the one that draws actual conclusions”, “Highest rationality-to-contentiousness ratio”.

Spiritual Experience: This was another one that was long, fascinating, and didn’t seem to be making much of an attempt to come to a conclusion. I especially liked the section on near death experiences, and I’ll be thinking about it a lot, but I didn’t feel like this collaboration gave me the tools I would need to generate or test hypotheses about what might be going on. Some positive comments from the survey: “The most polished and one which most likely caused me to reconsider things”, “Most informative. Best at following an ideal format”, “This is the one that 1) is most interesting to me, 2) seems like it had a strong difference of opinion as a starting point.”

I included the positive comments because I think comments on these kinds of things (mine and others) naturally tends to skew negative. Certainly the comments in the comments section were overwhelmingly negative even for the winning collaborations (seriously, what was up with this?) So I want to counter this by pointing out that every collaboration got at least 25 votes, and the comments on the voting survey were mostly positive. It’s easier to nitpick than to give praise where praise is due, but people put in a lot of work here and it was generally appreciated.

I promised that I would come up with some fair way of dividing the prize money, with at least 50% going to the first place winner. Because the top two entries were so close, and because I was so impressed with the second place winner, I choose to give $1,300 to Calvin and Adrian ($650 each), and $1,200 to David and Froolow ($600 each). Please send me an email at scott[at]slatestarcodex[dot]com telling me where to send your share of the money – I can PayPal it to you or donate it to a charity of your choice. Thanks to SSC Patreon supporters for making this possible.

As much as I enjoyed this, I don’t expect to do another contest next year. For one thing, I think requiring two people made it a lot harder – 22 out of 30 teams dropped out before the deadline, and I worry some of that involved a lot of wasted work. For another thing, it involved a surprising amount of work on my part converting whatever Word or Google Docs file people sent me into a format I could use on the blog. Finally, I feel like the past two years did a good job exploring this medium, and now it’s up to other people with real questions to see if they can adapt it to their needs.

Most likely I’ll be replacing this with a book review contest sometime towards the end of next year, so if you read any good books, keep them in mind.

But I continue to be interested in adversarial collaborations. If you happen to do one, please tell me – there’s a decent chance I’ll publish it.

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166 Responses to 2019 Adversarial Collaboration Winners

  1. Grantford says:

    I’m glad to see that the authors of the second-place entry were awarded a significant portion of the prize money, given how close the votes were. Scott’s original wording (“I’ll give the winning entry somewhere between 50-100% of the total prize money. If I don’t give it 100%, the rest will go to second place, third place, etc.”) makes it sound like there was some chance that the first-place winners could have received all of the money. I wonder how much of a landslide would have been required for that to happen.

    Congratulations to the contests’ winners, and thank you to all ACC authors for their hard work in putting together some very well-researched and interesting essays!

  2. jimrandomh says:

    The calorie restriction post contains a major mistake, with significant risk harm: it spreads the myth that 2000 calories per day is a suitable baseline for everyone. But calorie needs are often higher; if you’re (25, male, healthy weight, not completely sedentary), then 2000 calories per day is *already calorie restriction*, and adding additional calorie restriction on top of that is dangerous-eating-disorder territory. That post contains no mention of how to actually calculate calorie needs (the Harris-Benedict equation). It also fails to warn that calorie restriction can be cover for or transform into eating disorders.

    • Robert Jones says:

      That seems a bit unfair. The only mention of this figure is the sentence, “Why is it commonly recommended to consume ~2000 calories per day?” Admittedly the tilde is doing some work, but that isn’t wrong. It would seem a digression for the authors to go into the complex question of how to calculate individual TDEEs. I’m sure you know that the Harris-Benedict equation is for BMR and only approximate.

      What seems more concerning to me is that the authors equate BMI<25 with underweight, including the remarkable claim, "I speculate that most people with a BMI below 25 are suffering from malnutrition". Since that includes the entire healthy weight range, that seems unlikely. Depending on how you correct for reverse causation, the nadir of all cause mortality comes out somewhere in the range 20-25 (the 2016 meta-analysis of Aune et al finds the nadir to be 20-22 in studies of never-smokers with at least 20 years of follow-up). I don't think anyone claims there is significant increased mortality until BMI drops below 20. I almost wonder whether the authors got confused and wrote 25 meaning 20 (which is still higher than the WHO threshold for underweight).

      • caryatis says:

        Yeah, I don’t think a reasonable person would read “commonly recommended to consume ~2000 calories” in context and conclude “I *must* eat 2000 calories completely regardless of my size, sex, or activity level.”

        • Aapje says:

          There are a lot of ‘unreasonable’ persons, though.

          In fact, this forum seems to have a lot of people who are prone to taking things too literally.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        I took it to mean malnutrition in the sense of not eating enough micronutrients. If you generally eat _a lot_, you probably get your vitamins from ketchup. But if you eat a moderate diet from a calories point of view, it’s extremely easy to miss many vitamin/mineral targets, if most of your calories come from refined carbs and animal fat.

        As for the ~2000 cal comment, it was pretty clearly an approximation. But I have to say – most people would gain weight on 2000, not get malnourished. Base metabolic usually lower than that, and the added activity for a supermajority of people is… virtually zero. 100 cals, maybe.

    • morris39 says:

      This illustrates incomplete understanding of energy balance in an animal body.
      A very simple model of the front end of metabolism: raw energy input (food), transformation to useful form (digestive tract), distribution to users, energy conversion by users .
      So what is salient? Raw input or the use by the users? Is there more than one user? Is there competition for the energy? What are possible ramifications?
      Has a reliable energy balance been ever done for a human?
      My bet is that of those that read the above almost all will dismiss it as non sense. But they will not be able to provide a reason that is their own conviction based on thinking. Believe!

  3. Steve Sailer says:

    Congratulations.

  4. KimWa says:

    I recommend this thread by Brian Earp about the research on circumcision and sexual function and satisfaction:

    https://twitter.com/briandavidearp/status/1079164114784714752

    Also, I think it would be a good idea to post Earp’s comments on the ACC in a separate post.

    • GearRatio says:

      Scott already highlighted Earp’s comments in the links of the last open thread. I’m not 100% on this, but I doubt it would help future collaborations of this kind if Scott’s go-to reaction was to bring in a well-known outside voice with an ossified view completely in support of one side of the discussion to be given the bully pulpit and criticize the conclusions of the amateur project.

      At the very least if he did that he might consider bringing in somebody who isn’t 100% in the anti-bris tank to balance things out.

    • a reader says:

      @Scott Alexander:

      One reader said they were going to boycott my blog from now on for not having no-platformed this ACC

      I think no-platforming is a bad idea, but I do think that the ethical thing to do is to include, at the end of that collaboration, a note with a link to that effortpost of Brian Earp of Yale University’s Program In Ethics And Health Policy you linked in the last open thread. Otherwise, I surely won’t boycott your blog – I’m too addicted – but I will have about 10-20% less trust in anything I read on SSC.

      Congratulations to the winners! And my respect for all teams who finished adversarial collaborations – I know how hard it is.

      • B_Epstein says:

        This just boggles my mind. You will have 10-20% less trust in Scott’s opinion about, say, SSRIs because in one out of a number of ACCs written by others Scott did not intervene and failed to link to an opinion piece by some PhD student with a strong self-declared bias and mediocre argumentation that Scott actually linked to elsewhere?!

        ETA – sure, you would probably dispute that the argumentation is mediocre. The point is that it’s not some kind of definitive, must-read analysis that nobody has any right to ignore. Why this particular link? Why not demand a complete re-write of the ACC while we’re at it?

        • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

          I think it’s absurd to call that analysis mediocre. Any standard by which that is true must claim that the original piece is worthless trash. As should not be a surprise to anyone, the analysis by an expert in the subject is considerably better than that written by some well-meaning amateurs*. If you don’t see I’m almost certain you’re blinded by ideology.

          • B_Epstein says:

            I actually am not particularly pro-circumcision (and have readily accepted the lopsidedness of the ACC). It’s good that this analysis exists – as do others with other positions. But that is not the crux of the matter. Multiple people expect Scott to apply editorial discretion and forcefully inject the link to Earp’s text into the ACC – despite it already being linked to – or to have Scott’s writings on other topics boycotted/ dismissed! Is Earp’s work a jewel of historic proportions so that it, but no other source, has to be forced upon every reader?

            It certainly seems a useful piece of the puzzle. However, in its own way, it is extremely biased and does not show much charity to other moral frameworks or priors. I’m really tempted to finish by “if you don’t see all of the above you’re almost certainly blinded by authority (oooh, an expert in ethics!) or by long words”. But I will finish by questioning the role of experts in such debates. Even in more fact-based, hard-science disciplines, we tend to (rightly) reject arguments from authority when it comes to speculative debates. As a reference, see every SSC discussion on AGI and X-risk. Hinton, Ng, LeCun, Jordan all have referred to the entire issue as currently irrelevant. And yet in SSC comment threads these opinions are barely cited in passing and don’t seem to form the basis of anybody’s beliefs. Surely Earp’s stature is not yet comparable to Hinton’s?.. And isn’t the extent to which apparent expertise correlates with actual achievements and skill lesser in ethics than in machine learning? If those are reasonable, isn’t it reasonable to conclude that we shouldn’t over-privilege Mr. Earp’s role in the discussion?

          • sty_silver says:

            The analysis seems far worse than the AC. We do not live in the kind of world where someone with a high degree at an elite university is guaranteed to make more sense than someone who has never set foot in a university building.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            @B_Epstein
            I don’t agree with a reader and others that Scott is obliged to link to Earp’s piece in the ACC. I think we probably agree that the difference in the conclusions someone might reasonably draw based on the ACC and Earp’s comment are fairly minor. But that’s because Earp’s conclusions aren’t really that different to those in the ACC*, not because his evidence is uncompelling. I agree that it isn’t a tragedy if people read the ACC and not Earp’s comment and form slightly wrong conclusions. My disagreement is about the relative quality of the two. Also, I don’t think Earp’s “bias” is at all relevant. If there was an ACC on “is the Earth flat?” that came to a tentatively positive conclusion and I wrote an effortpost comment disagreeing you would be correct to describe me as strongly biased. That wouldn’t change the fact that I would be right.

            *Considering only the benefit/harm issues they both touch on; Earp also considers the ethics of the situation in ways that the ACC doesn’t.

            @sty_silver
            As is typical for arguments that start out by saying “this person isn’t at all credible”, that comment isn’t very good. Problems with the first point alone:

            Most blatantly, the claim that preputioplasty is expensive in comparison to circumcision is false; cursory research reveals that it is similarly quick and simple. And saying “gentle stretching” is “physical therapy” is nonsense; it actually means a doctor saying “try gently stretching your foreskin when you pee” which is obviously going to be cheaper than any kind of surgery.

            For some reason, GearRatio lists treatments for phimosis but mentions penile cancer. Unlike for phimosis, it is presumably true that the average cost of treating one case of penile cancer is more than the cost of one circumcision (although this is quite possibly not true in the median case, since the treatment for early stage penile cancer is often just circumcision). But it should be obvious that this is not in any way relevant to anything, since one circumcision doesn’t prevent one case of penile cancer, it prevents a tiny fraction of one.

            The criticism raises one good point, which is that Earp’s comment ignores the details in the study about the effect of circumcision on male-to-female HIV transmission which make it inapplicable as an argument against infant circumcision. But while it’s true that a casual reader of Earp’s comment might falsely assume that that study was relevant to infant circumcision, he didn’t explicitly do so and I don’t think he meant to imply so either — he ends that paragraph by saying “and yet women in sub-Saharan Africa are far more vulnerable to HIV than men” (i.e. the study is relevant to the question of whether adult circumcision in sub-Saharan Africa is beneficial) rather than linking it to infant circumcision in the US.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          Yeah I’m not sure why folks are so critical.
          My understanding is that the collab was medium quality, low bias in favor of circumcision. Brian Earp’s comment was very high quality, medium bias against. Reading their pieces consecutively moved me too far in the direction of the bias, and am back to ‘unsure, have a lot to think about’ after having read all the comments.

          The issues raised were of omission, not error.

          • GearRatio says:

            I’m not going to write about it again here, but in the current open thread I list about a dozen (half dozen, really) ways Earp is wrong/lying/incomplete in his analysis, if you care. It’s not very good and he isn’t frankly very trustworthy if you read his post with even a slightly critical eye.

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @Gear Ratio,
            Yes, your comment is the reason why, having uncritically read and been persuaded by his post, I now give it much less weight. Thank you very, very much for taking the time to go through the original research and posting it; it’s why I above labeled Brian as ‘more biased’ than the adversarial collab.

            I think the difference in the severity of our opinion is that I never trust individual experts, and only base my important life decisions on expert consensus after at least spot checking the primary literature (I have many opinions formed based on bad evidence, because I find it difficult not to have opinions about everything, but I’m trying to get better).

            I understand your perspective that we should hold experts to a higher standard since they should ‘know better,’ and I think it explains the difference in our reactions.

          • gbdub says:

            @GearRatio to be honest, I found your comments on the open thread unconvincing, and your tone really didn’t help. You started out glibly dismissive – calling Earp “that Yale guy” and admitting you didn’t make it all the way through the post. Your points of refutation seemed to be mostly “gotchas” and uncharitable readings rather than strong counterarguments (e.g. you lean hard on the mere fact that Earp used both absolute and relative risks in his various arguments – in the example that stood out to me, Earp was first discussing the possible absolute impact of circumcision on various diseases, and later he was directly comparing infant to adolescent/adult circumcision, so the switch from absolute to relative risk seemed appropriate (or at least not so obviously wrong as to immediately discredit the whole argument!)).

            And then in your follow up you got hyperbolic, basically saying that the post was proof that Earp was either dangerously incompetent or maliciously dishonest.

            I’m not saying Earp’s arguments are the be all end all, or even necessarily right, but your post came off as emotive ad hominem, which makes your point that we should dismiss Earp due to his bias ring hollow.

            Ultimately I thought Earp’s points about how the presumed advantages of infant vs. adult circumcision may not be there are worth exploring further, because if he’s correct then the practical (as opposed to cultural) case for infant circumcision basically falls apart.

          • GearRatio says:

            I don’t think you should dismiss Earp for his bias – I think you should dismiss Earp because he’s willing to lie for his bias, or at least unwilling to do the reading necessary to actually back it up.

            If Earp just said “listen, I think that cutting children is such a bad thing that we shouldn’t do it” that would something I wouldn’t agree with, but I wouldn’t care about. But Earp knows that isn’t enough to shift or general opinion in the way he wants, so then he delves into the evidence to try and minimize any help and maximize any harms he can to see if he can make headway that way.

            I think when someone presents themselves as an expert, makes a living doing it and tries to shift policy, they have a certain responsibility; I.E. scientists should have a certain level of respect for truth and science that exceeds laymen. I think it’s dangerous if they don’t, or at the very least strips a lot of the value out of what science is. On the obverse side, journalism and politics have absolutely no interest in being critical of science and scientists so long as the views support their desired goals, accuracy be damned. So it makes sense that we increasingly see science being a tool of career, entertainment and politics, and less and less about getting at objective truth.

            People around Earp have presumably been civil and nice and written nice letters and said “well, this is an unfortunate oversight! However could that have happened?”. When we check to see the results of this, we find he either hasn’t read an extremely important study in his field, or has read it and didn’t understand it, or has read it and understood it and deliberately misinterpreted it.

            All three are completely unacceptable if we are to have any sort of meaningful standards for any sort of expert. Given that uncritically reading his work and pretending it’s OK that’ he’s willing to lie(or be lazy, or be stupid) has given us him lying (or being lazy, or being stupid), I’m not willing to let it go at “oh, how unfortunate”, or, as everyone here was doing before I spoke up, just assuming he was right, not fact-checking his premise, and keeping completely quiet about him.

            So let’s be clear: taking just the point of the study he misinterpreted, he’s either not expert in his field or he’s willing to lie about his field. There aren’t nearly so many circumcision studies that he has an excuse for not having read and understood them, especially one, like this, that has a huge implication for the field.

            If you don’t like my tone in calling him out as either incompetent or dishonest, explain to me your standard. If it’s OK that he’s talking about a study he either didn’t read or doesn’t understand or will lie about, why? If it’s OK that he’s not familiar with or not honest about the literature in his field, why? Why should I respect him as an expert if he can’t or won’t fulfill basic responsibilities related to that job?

            As for the justification of absolute values and relative risk:

            Earp said, paraphrased “circumcisions can perhaps prevent these problems, but the absolute amount of the problems means the circumcised/not circumcised binary has a value of 1/100th of a disorder. It’s not worth mentioning”. He then said, paraphrased, “Circumcisions can cause these problems, at a value of 1/7000th of a disorder per circumcision. This effect is worth mentioning despite being 70 times weaker, and absolute value is now not worth bringing up as an objection”.

            If you consider that to be honest and evenhanded, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do to convince you. I found it to clearly inconsistent in a way that conveniently supported his position.

          • Thegnskald says:

            GearRatio –

            …or at least unwilling to do the reading necessary to actually back it up.

            You mean like when you cited a study whose details relevant to your argument were based in turn on studies that didn’t control for the details that were relevant to your argument?

            Let’s turn down the “Shill for the cause” rhetoric, it isn’t helpful.

    • cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

      I’m surprised and kind of disappointed that Scott still doesn’t think that the evidence supports the sensitivity function of the foreskin. If there were five studies showing (hypothetically) the clitoris didn’t matter, and only those studies, then I would still disbelieve them because it’s obvious from looking at the biology of the clitoris and talking to women who have clitorises that it does have a lot of sensitivity.
      Briefly stated:
      You can see the hardening of the skin on the tip of circumcised penises on a microscope. (apparently there’s debate about this, I’ll look into it)
      The foreskin has a lot of nerve endings.
      The most sensitive part of the circumcised penis for (I think) most circumcised men is at or just below the circumcision scar. Look at a video of a circumcised man and an uncircumcised man masturbating and report back. All of you do this right now. Unless you’re at work. (jk, btw) Also it has to be a candid video, not from porn.
      The foreskin slides up and down the penis in a way that is highly suggestive of sex and sensuality.
      The foreskin has a mucuous membrane. You might recall that mucous plays a big role in penis and vagina sex.
      If you were an asexual alien who had never seen a penis before, and you were introduced to every fact about the foreskin and sex in general except the debate in the scientific literature… you must admit that you’d probably guess that the foreskin would be sensitive, right? Does that framing make sense? It makes sense in my head but I’m not sure I’m phrasing it right. If you (the reader) think it’s a stupid thing to say, just ignore it.

      • John Schilling says:

        If there were five studies showing (hypothetically) the clitoris didn’t matter, and only those studies, then I would still disbelieve them because it’s obvious from looking at the biology of the clitoris and talking to women who have clitorises that it does have a lot of sensitivity.

        So, “obviousness” trumps data in your world view?

        • Thegnskald says:

          Obviousness is prior to data. You can’t have data without it.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m not sure what that even means. And I wasn’t asking which came first, but what happens when in the end you have both.

  5. Aapje says:

    I think that most collaborations suffered from not focusing (sufficiently) on scientifically answerable questions, instead focusing too much on ethics (or simultaneously too much and not enough), going too far beyond the facts (like the meat eating model which is full of assumptions & which compares apples and oranges) and/or not diving deeply enough into the available science.

    As it is, I can only say I’m delighted to have stumbled into the one part of the world where “people are too likely to change their mind when presented with new evidence on controversial issues” is a problem.

    True in general, but in the context of the ACC, a significant change of mind strongly suggests that this collaborator had a weak position: a poorly researched one, a weakly held one, etc.

    Certainly the comments in the comments section were overwhelmingly negative even for the winning collaborations (seriously, what was up with this?)

    Perhaps the standards were very high. I was hoping for something on par with or better than the investigations by Scott, which doesn’t seem to unreasonable, given that it’s two people vs one.

    • caryatis says:

      Agreed. I didn’t think the problem was that people were too quick to change their minds, but that they were basically on the same side all along.

    • Orion says:

      I was hoping for something on par with or better than the investigations by Scott, which doesn’t seem to unreasonable, given that it’s two people vs one.

      Suppose that Scott needs to read 20 studies to write one of his “much more than you wanted to know” pieces. To produce an adversarial collaboration of equivalent quality, you would presumably need two people each to read 20 studies. My intuition is that it’s more difficult to get 2 people to read 20 studies than to get one person to read 20 studies.

  6. rop says:

    If you like this kind of collaboration, you might want to check out Kialo.com. It’s about people on both sides of an argument splitting the argument into sub-arguments and arguing them as best they can. I think it takes the whole idea of collaborating on arguments to the next level.

  7. Frederic Mari says:

    Congrats to the winners! And thanks to Scott for organising this ACCs.

    FWIW, I feel the whole (societal) debate around the ethics of vegetarianism is a bit of a waste. Of course, vegetarianism is superior to meat eating, morally speaking. We (meat eaters – i am one) kill animals, living, conscious entities! And we do so mostly for our enjoyment (I’m not getting into the debate on whether we *need* animal proteins, at what age etc. I assume I could eat a lot less meat and still be okay or indeed better, health-wise). There’s no moral way to defend that.

    But I just like steaks. So that’s that – until we can vat grow animal meat, that is.

    FWIW, I try and stick to “bio”/high quality meat (in France, so we don’t have the hormone beef stuff) that is supposedly raised, treated and killed as well as can be done. But I didn’t go checking the brand’s slaughterhouses to verify that claim.

    • FWIW, I feel the whole (societal) debate around the ethics of vegetarianism is a bit of a waste. Of course, vegetarianism is superior to meat eating, morally speaking. We (meat eaters – i am one) kill animals, living, conscious entities! And we do so mostly for our enjoyment (I’m not getting into the debate on whether we *need* animal proteins, at what age etc. I assume I could eat a lot less meat and still be okay or indeed better, health-wise). There’s no moral way to defend that.

      But I just like steaks. So that’s that – until we can vat grow animal meat, that is.

      If you learn that eating meat is immoral, then you can become a vegetarian, but the other way is to simply reclassify your behavior as evil and live with it. When I interrogate my feelings on the matter, I won’t stop eating meat, so therefore I am at least some portion evil. Whether that cancels out moral positives enough to make me a net evil person, I don’t know.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        If you learn that eating meat is immoral, then you can become a vegetarian, but the other way is to simply reclassify your behavior as evil and live with it.

        You said it better than I did.

        Whether that cancels out moral positives enough to make me a net evil person, I don’t know.

        OTOH, who cares? there is no God to judge you. As long as you don’t trigger some humans enough for them to seriously want to end you, it’s not exactly a big deal either way.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          OTOH, who cares? there is no God to judge you.

          What the hell? I thought this was a theist strawman of atheism?!?! (equivalent to the death-bed “magic words” confessional strawmanning of theism)

          • alwhite says:

            To me it reads as, morality is entirely subjective. “There is no God” is a statement similar to “there is no objective morality”. Being a little evil doesn’t matter because morality doesn’t matter except to the point that you subjectively want it to matter.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            What alwhite said.

            It’s not that atheists don’t have moral codes or are more prone to evil b/c there is no God to judge them.

            It’s and I can’t put it better : “Being a little evil doesn’t matter because morality doesn’t matter except to the point that you subjectively want it to matter”.

            My only extra add (but I can’t meld it well to the elegant summary above) is that you don’t want to go being massively evil/anti-social b/c unless society is in total breakdown, it’ll put you down. So – it’s usually not worth it being evil. Too much hassle.

            And that’s not even exploring the fact that your guts might not be okay with you being evil, even if your head was.

        • there is no God to judge you.

          In thread 144.75 I asked whether a vision of Jesus should be sufficient to push you towards Christianity. I haven’t read the Bible for a long time, but it’s possible that if there is a God to judge us, he will not weight vegetarianism at all… unless it’s some deity from the Indian subcontinent.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            In which case, isn’t He a little evil since He doesn’t mind a tremendous amount of (animal) suffering?

            Then again, He doesn’t mind a tremendous amount of human suffering so I guess He’s even handed in a way…

        • Nick says:

          there is no God to judge you.

          Yes there is. The Good News is, He’s fine with you eating meat.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Same remark as above. If He’s fine with his followers eating meat, He’s fine with some amount of evil in his followers.

            Hard to make the case He’s holy and want his followers to be too?

          • albatross11 says:

            Why, it’s almost as though the question of whether eating meat is morally evil is not something everyone agrees on, even if it’s one you’ve apparently settled your own mind on.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Why, it’s almost as though the question of whether eating meat is morally evil is not something everyone agrees on

            Dear albatross, feel free to show me how killing living, conscious entities for entertainment can be seen as moral, assuming a fairly standard morality of christian niceness and an ideal of loving others as oneself…

          • gkai says:

            it all depends which others you consider worthy enough to be loved as yourself. It can not be everything, or even every living organism (else you (and your followers) starve, and it become a very short-lived philosophy/religion).
            It will almost always be your family (because biological altruism)
            It will be your fellow disciples (for increased in-group altruism that should help your philosophy/religion succeed and gain followers)

            After that, who knows? Extending it to all humans is already not obvious: historically, it has been rare in principle, and even more so in practice.

            So what? sentient animals? cute animals? all animals? all living things except soy?

            Personally I think demanding altruism is hard, if it’s not biological or reciprocal.

            Other humans have in principe a chance to reciprocate, so I can give them the benefit of doubt (and will reconsider without guilt for anyone not reciprocating). Animals could not really reciprocate, you could make a case from pets maybe…

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Frederic Mari:

            assuming a fairly standard morality of christian niceness and an ideal of loving others as oneself…

            That is one heck of an assumption there. Clearly, if you simply assume your conclusion, you can easily win any argument.[1]

            But in reality, not everyone is Christian, or has a Christian morality; nor does everyone hold “loving others as oneself” as an ideal. (Some people even consider such a principle to be not only not good, but actually evil!)

            [1] Of course, in this case, what you’ve assumed turns out not to even work as a conclusion, because (as gkai points out) “others” is underspecified, and is doing quite a bit of work in your assumption…

            EDIT: Other things to disagree with in your comment include the (rather absurd) description of eating meat as “entertainment”, as well as the claim that meat animals are “conscious”.

          • Aapje says:

            @Frederic Mari

            Christianity has quite a bit of history of admiring sacrifice/martyrdom. Telos is also a fairly common part of it.

            I also think that equating killing for food to killing for entertainment is a rather dishonest way to put it.

            You seem to have a strong bias against entertainment, which makes me wonder what you consider to be the point of living, if it is not at least in part to be entertained.

            A society that has eradicated all enjoyment, offering people only the barest they need to survive, seems immense cruel to me. If you believe humans should be happy with that, then why not animals as well? Aren’t you undermining your own position here, for anyone who doesn’t see living as immensely beneficial, regardless of how pleasant that life is?

            If entertainment has non-zero value, then it seems to me that you should accept some suffering for that benefit.

            For example, there are quite a few sports that entertain a lot of people that injure or even kill a decent number of the participants, like:
            – Boxing
            – Bicycle racing
            – Car/motorcycle racing

            Should we ban these? Anything that is dangerous? Anything that is (sometimes) unpleasant?

            PS. Of course, one can argue that certain suffering/risk outweighs the benefits, but that is different from rejecting the value of the benefits outright.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Sometimes I think I shouldn’t comment. I clearly can’t express myself correctly. For the sake of clarity, I’ll address everyone in turns.

            @gkai : You’re right but this is grounding altruism in some sort of rational/biological/historical context. Jesus didn’t. He grounded his altruism in morality. “Love thy enemies” isn’t exactly a good idea, survival wise and pretty hard to justify on the basis of kinship/reciprocity.

            And so it is hard. Impossible even, you might argue. Certainly, it wasn’t observed, historically speaking. But if Nick wants to use his faith in relation to meat eating, I’m going to take him at his Holy Book’s words and use that to highlight the contradictions.

            NB: Maybe I am reacting too much to what might have been a funny little jab. Fair enough.

            @Said: Sure, not everyone is Christian and not all Christians follow exactly the same morality, though I’d argue that major Christians groups tend to be fairly compatible in terms of general moral outlook. But I assumed that Nick was talking about the Christian God. “Good News” is culturally specific in that context.

            “others” is unspecified and Jesus/the Bible isn’t exhaustive in its rules-giving. But I think it’s not too hard to get a general sense of things and know that serious Christians (Christians who take their faith seriously as opposed to using it as a cultural/tribal tag) would be against, say, dog fights, animal blood sport and random cruelty to animals.

            Where they’d draw the line is unclear and susceptible to evolve over time, using common sense (draught animals in mines might have been necessary once, no longer, etc.) but, again, I don’t think it’s too much to state they would demonstrate “standard” morality i.e. they’d believe that, while animals are inferior to us in moral worth and can be used by us for our purposes, this purpose can’t be entertainment or wildly cruel simply for making an extra $.

            Replying to your edit – I don’t want to redo the ACC, you can read it but it’s pretty clear most animals have some form of consciousness AND eating meat is not a necessity in (most?) adults i.e. we eat meat coz we like it, not coz it’s necessary.

            @Aapje : Martyrdom? Yes, sure. How is that related to either altruism or meat eating?

            Killing for food – see above ; if it’s not a necessity but done because it is pleasing to us, it starts to get close to entertainment. A gourmet meal, one that stimulates your taste buds, rather than your intellect/emotions like a book or a movie is “entertainment”, conceived broadly.

            But there’s also the manner in which our food is killed. We’re factory farming not because we have to but because 1- we tend to want to eat more meat than our forebears AND 2- we want to do it at the cheapest price point possible / farmers and agro businesses want to make as much money as possible.

            None of those reasons add up to anything a Christian ought to recognize as moral. Greed, gluttony and pleasure seeking at the expense of others (even if lesser) beings.

            Wrt entertainment – I obviously have no bias against it whatsoever. Except – you can’t hurt others to get it for yourself. Otherwise, serial killing is just someone having a bit of fun. We don’t tolerate it. Similarly, we ban gladiatorial combats to the death, though I dare say many of us would find it entertaining (I would, as long as I don’t end up in the arena against my will). In all of those cases, we give up on entertainment b/c there are other considerations to take into account.

            You mention boxing. Or car racing.

            As you probably know, both sports have evolved over time, to reduce the odds of injury to the participants. But I would argue that part of the spectacle was those odds of being injured. Even these days, I suspect that seeing one of the player getting injured gives the crowd an illicit thrill.

            EDIT : https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1888781-formula-1-and-the-relationship-between-death-danger-safety-and-popularity%23- : Ah! So clearly I’m not the only twisted soul on this Earth…

          • acymetric says:

            Christianity has quite a bit of history of admiring sacrifice/martyrdom. Telos is also a fairly common part of it.

            There is some pretty strong basis in the Bible that animals are here at least in part to serve our (humans’) purposes, from what I recall. A Christian morality seems like one of the least likely moralities to lead to vegetarianism/veganism.

          • Aapje says:

            @Frederic Mari

            Statistically, I cause a non-zero number of deaths of others for every time I travel, for many sports, etc.

            As for efficiency, this brings more benefits at lower costs, all other things being equal. So therefor, you’d want to accept an amount of extra suffering due to efficiency, if it brings more benefits.

            Of course, the question can be asked whether the current trade-off is correct, but this is a far more subtle decision than simply rejecting all suffering to bring pleasure, which you deem irrelevant, but which for many people is the sole reason they want to live.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Statistically, I cause a non-zero number of deaths of others for every time I travel, for many sports, etc.

            Yes but even then I’d argue there’s a difference between deaths as collateral (birds getting whacked by a plane, say) vs. death as entertainment (shooting doves by the buckload on a private farm in Brazil). Where does killing for food fall? Clearly somewhere in between but, again, the key is that it’s not necessary (by and large) but pleasurable.

            As for efficiency, this brings more benefits at lower costs, all other things being equal. So therefore, you’d want to accept an amount of extra suffering due to efficiency, if it brings more benefits.

            Sure. But 1- it’s always a dubious proposition when the suffering is done by someone else (see child labor in 3rd world countries) and 2- that’s my point : we are accepting the suffering provoked by factory farming b/c we want low prices/high profit margins. That’s legal as of now and thus okay under capitalism but you cannot claim that’s morally good, let alone Christian moral good. It’s putting greed above all else. Not very Jesus-like.

            Of course, the question can be asked whether the current trade-off is correct, but this is a far more subtle decision than simply rejecting all suffering to bring pleasure, which you deem irrelevant, but which for many people is the sole reason they want to live.

            ? I really can’t express myself? I pointed out specifically I got nothing against pleasure. Indeed, truly nothing… 🙂

            Now – as to the trade-off between suffering and pleasure. Well, sure. If you’re exercising at the gym or into boxing, fine. But it’s a bit of a different equation when the suffering is done by someone other than yourself.

            What’s your reasoning against slavery then? If I am the master, it’s very pleasurable and profitable to me. And there’s no drawbacks! If I’m the slave, it sucks. Yet no one would seriously argue that slavery is a moral good.

          • Aapje says:

            Ultimately the main reason why most modern people are against (chattel) slavery seems to be that we have certain beliefs about human equality (to a certain extent). Some people argue against eating animals for that reason, but it seems very far from a generally accepted belief that humans are on par with (other) animals.

            In the absence of such a belief, the comparison fails to persuade.

            PS. Note that slavery is still legal in the US, if done as punishment. Also, slavery seems more of a spectrum than a black/white issue, so arguably we commonly accept millislavery.

          • Frederic Mari says:

            Ultimately the main reason why most modern people are against (chattel) slavery seems to be that we have certain beliefs about human equality (to a certain extent). Some people argue against eating animals for that reason, but it seems very far from a generally accepted belief that humans are on par with (other) animals.

            I think that’s more the core of the issue. But I do find it funny that people tolerate treatment for the animals providing their food they would scream bloody murder about if it was inflicted on their pets.

            By the by, elsewhere in this thread, @chrisdrhodes mentions we don’t like pet abusers b/c serial killers often start on animals… Ok. So why do we turn a blind eye to so many slaughterhouse workers who enjoy inflicting pain on the animals they’re supposed to butcher as painlessly as possible?

            It’s as if most of us were pretty hypocrite and/or willing to tolerate a little bit of evil whenever convenient.

            And please remember that this was my main point – contending that eating meat made you a little bit evil by standard morality reasoning (but that it didn’t matter anyhow since we don’t truly operate according to a moral standard).

            In the absence of such a belief, the comparison fails to persuade.

            It’s a question of degree. I don’t really like the arguments around “moral worth” b/c I’m not clear about what’s moral and what’s worth in those context but, again, while most people intuit that animals are inferior to us and can be used *somewhat* as property for our purposes, they’re not worthless. Just abuse someone else’s pet and see his reaction if you require proof. So it’s on a scale (for most people; it’s true I tend to view that as speciesism and prefer to reason from an utilitarian base).

            PS. Note that slavery is still legal in the US, if done as punishment.

            Are you referring to the treatment of prisoners in jail, forced to work for little to no money? Or something else? When was the last time a criminal was gifted to the victim and her family as slave for compensation of his crimes?

            Also, slavery seems more of a spectrum than a black/white issue, so arguably we commonly accept millislavery.

            I’m well aware it’s a spectrum. But what is millislavery? Your link goes to something about radiation? Was that a joke I didn’t get?

          • acymetric says:

            Ok. So why do we turn a blind eye to so many slaughterhouse workers who enjoy inflicting pain on the animals they’re supposed to butcher as painlessly as possible?

            You’re going to need to cite some sources to show this isn’t an entirely rare occurrence that you (or people who share your beliefs that you borrowed the claim from) fabricated to make eating meat look worse.

          • Aapje says:

            @Frederic Mari

            But I do find it funny that people tolerate treatment for the animals providing their food they would scream bloody murder about if it was inflicted on their pets.

            They do this for mostly the same reason(s) they tend to care more about their family/friends than about people they don’t know.

            So why do we turn a blind eye to so many slaughterhouse workers who enjoy inflicting pain on the animals they’re supposed to butcher as painlessly as possible?

            Do we?

            Animal cruelty is illegal and slaughterhouse workers have been prosecuted for it.

            Of course, the justice system is not perfect, people don’t always get outraged over crimes against animals and there are considerations/interest that sometimes cause people to protect criminals…but the same is true for crimes against people. British authorities have repeatedly rape gangs that targeted girls, for example.

            If you want to argue that humanity is treating animals worse than people, you don’t merely have to show that they treat animals badly sometimes, but also that they don’t do the same to people.

            It’s as if most of us were pretty hypocrite and/or willing to tolerate a little bit of evil whenever convenient.

            Yes, that’s how humans work. If you want to get rid of this, you have to get rid of humans (although animals merely lack this hypocrisy because they lack ideology and thus can do harm without this conflicting with their ideology).

            while most people intuit that animals are inferior to us and can be used *somewhat* as property for our purposes, they’re not worthless.

            Animal cruelty laws show that animals are not treated as worthless.

            Are you referring to the treatment of prisoners in jail, forced to work for little to no money?

            I was referring to the fact that slavery is formally not entirely abolished in the US, as there is an exception for humans who committed a crime. This suggests that the commitment to not treat people as slaves is less strong than you claim.

            But what is millislavery? Your link goes to something about radiation? Was that a joke I didn’t get?

            Millislavery was intended to evoke the notion of evil lesser in quantity, but similar in kind. Exposure to radiation is commonly accepted as bad, but is a limited amount of radiation exposure not something that we must accept, for we can only prevent it by adopting greater evils?

            I was gesturing to two things. Firstly, how people often accept abuses of (certain) humans that we describe as the evil parts of slavery, suggesting that the rejection of slavery is not that strong and more a case of the total amount of evil passing a threshold.

            Secondly, the human tendency to black/white thinking that is rhetorically exploitable. People commonly are unable to recognize and/or emotionally accept that something that is similar to a great evil, but much smaller, can actually be a lesser evil that we may not be able to eradicate without causing a greater evil.

            Because of this weakness, a common and often successful debating tactic is to associate things you reject with very bad things and what you prefer with very good things. The same person will then tar things they dislike with a brush (slavery, antisemitism, socialism, etc), while not doing the same or doing the opposite for something they prefer.

            Anyway, ‘slavery’ doesn’t even apply to animals that well, because one of the major things that people dislike about it is the lack of agency of beings that are capable of advanced reasoning, which animals cannot do. When humans become less capable of this, the acceptance of applying elements of slavery to them seems to be more accepted. For example, buying/selling babies (adoption) is a lot more accepted than buying adults. Making decisions for small children and the mentally disabled is a lot more accepted than for normal IQ adults. Etc.

            Invoking a term that we use for cases that are less comparable to the situation at hand, but not for cases that are more comparable, is sophistry.

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Frederic Mari

            Jesus himself ate meat. As a Jew, he would have sacrificed animals at the temple, and eaten the Passover lamb at the very least, and the Bible specifically records instances of him eating fish (not to mention helping the disciples catch/kill a whole lot of fish).

            From a Christian perspective, that right there would be enough to definitively settle the case against vegetarianism as having any moral claim. Even if the Bible didn’t go ahead and make it explicit later on.

  8. JN340 says:

    Scott, I agree entirely with yours and the voters’ rankings. Particularly enjoyed both of the top two pieces.

    I recently started doing intermittent fasting again. I know! I voted for that piece too! The reason is that reading it inspired me to check out the latest review article from the New England Journal of Medicine on intermittent fasting – I’d link it here, but it’s behind a paywall. Basically, top medical researchers are converging on it being one of the best ways to lose weight and be healthy. At least some of that is due to the hormonal effects of fasting, which was outside the scope of the original question.

    I’ve already tightened my belt a notch and it’s only been three weeks.

  9. J.D. Sockinger says:

    With regard to the collaboration on eating meat: The positive (?) comments that Scott cited (and the article itself) just make me sad. It’s akin to Southerners in the antebellum South saying, “As a result of this wishy-washy article on slavery, I’m going to stop beating my slaves on weekends. From now on, I’ll just do it on weeknights”.

    Animals are sentient beings with their own interests. We don’t have the right to treat them as property and exploit them for our own purposes. The proper response to slavery is abolition. The proper response to animal exploitation is veganism.

    • Frederic Mari says:

      And what about plants? They’re alive, right? They seem to react to damage, which, while people insists isn’t a reaction to pain, fulfill the same biological imperative : a preference for staying alive and not being eaten.

      I know this conversation has been had before but I find vegans utterly unconvincing on that point. They exhibit as much bad faith as meat eaters insisting it doesn’t matter coz they’re just dumb animals.

      • J.D. Sockinger says:

        Plants don’t have a nervous system. In any case, producing meat is an inefficient process. A beef cow has to eat an awful lot of plants to produce a pound of meat. So a vegan diet still results in a smaller number of plants being consumed.

        • Frederic Mari says:

          That’s true. But there’s something weird about you talking about quantities of evil, especially after your comparison to slavery and beatings and making it an absolute.

          I’m sure the slaves would have taken the “less beatings” option if they could have – even if the proper moral option is “no slavery and no beatings”.

          Either plants deserve to live and we don’t have the right or it’s all relative.

          • Grantford says:

            Either plants deserve to live and we don’t have the right or it’s all relative.

            Why? What if plants don’t have some sort of right to life, but it’s also not all relative? Whether or not plants have moral worth seems like a separate question from that of moral realism.

    • chrisdrhodes says:

      We don’t have the right

      Without a description of what you think rights are, and at least some attempt to tackle how that definition might be applied to relationships between humans and other species, this is just an unconvincing assertion.

      • J.D. Sockinger says:

        The best thinking in this area is by lawyer/philosopher Gary Francione at Rutgers Law School. See his books, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach and Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals (the latter book is aimed at a general audience and is a very readable introduction to the subject of abolitionist veganism).

        • chrisdrhodes says:

          The book blurb looks like it assumes the very premise I’m questioning:

          We all claim to care about animals and to regard them as having at least some moral value. We all claim to agree that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals and—whatever disagreement we may have about when animal use is necessary—we all agree that the suffering and death of animals cannot be justified by human pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

          That feels a lot to me like “Assuming animals have rights, what does that mean for eating meat?” That’s a perfectly fine topic for a book, as it goes, but what if someone doesn’t agree that animals have rights? Or “moral value”? Does the book explain how one gets to to an “animal rights” position in the first place?

          • Baby Beluga says:

            If you really don’t think animals don’t have any moral value, that makes it tough to advocate for veganism within your framework–but I think it’s worth pointing out that your view puts you in a tiny minority. Even though most humans are omnivores, most still share a basic intuition that animals shouldn’t be harmed or abused, and will react with horror at depictions of animal abuse. And many Western countries have laws on the books with stiff punishments for animal abuse outside the context of factory farming. To me, that makes the “common-sense” or “popular” intuition one where animals have moral value, even if most people eat meat anyway.

          • chrisdrhodes says:

            most still share a basic intuition that animals shouldn’t be harmed or abused, and will react with horror at depictions of animal abuse. And many Western countries have laws on the books with stiff punishments for animal abuse outside the context of factory farming.

            True, and I even share that “basic intuition”, but these things don’t require animal rights or some nebulous concept of “moral value” in order to justify.

            Imagine for a moment that the human brain is just a giant pattern-matching machine. And imagine that it matches “people who enjoy causing suffering to animals” with “people who enjoy keeping the heads of other humans in their freezer”. You might see a strong public push to criminalize “animal cruelty” as a subconscious bid to rid their communities of potentially dangerous predators.
            Meanwhile, it’s perfectly consistent for those very same people to turn a blind eye to eating meat, or even factory farming, since there exists no pattern matching between “wants to eat a steak” and “wants the people they kidnap to keep their skin supple”.

            People can’t even agree on what human rights are, how they came to be, or which things they actually cover. Trying to apply that same framework onto the relationship between a human and a wolf is just madness and completely unnecessary.

          • gkai says:

            Yes, his premises makes sense until this one:

            we all agree that the suffering and death of animals cannot be justified by human pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

            Obviously not everyone agree there, especially as it implicitely define pleasure, amusement and convenience as not enough to be “necessary”. I do not know exactly what “necessary” then means to the author, but I guess it’s along “if you don’t do it, it reduce your life expectancy”…
            There is a lot of things that would not reduce my life expectancy but that I will not accept, and I do many other things that reduce my life expectancy just because they are pleasurable.
            So the author lost me there, and I think he also lost a vast majority of people if they carefully consider what this premise would mean…

          • Aapje says:

            @gkai

            My guess is that the author of the books gets to “we all agree” by arguing that everything that harms man and/or animal that the author & his friends still want to keep doing is actually not done for “human pleasure, amusement, or convenience,” but some other reasons that he makes up, while behaviors that he dislikes is done merely for “human pleasure, amusement, or convenience.”

          • gkai says:

            Yes, makes sense: declaring such and such is trivial amusement and completely unnecessary is almost always used to ban something.
            Second step is to say it’s unhealthy, so banning is in fact is in the interest of the people, for their own good.
            oups, seems we reached second step already…
            Third step is “think of the children”, and Fourth is “only the terrorists would do it”.
            I can’t wait to see those instantiated…

          • gkai says:

            this ended up as too harshly ironic for the general tone here, i have to force myself to tune down my natural level. What I mean, in a more factual and nice tone, is that discarding things because it’s “not necessary” and “bad for you” is not enough, and completely unconvincing (to me), because those two arguments are almost systematically used to ban whatever the argumenter want to ban.
            Even more, by carefully defining “necessary” and “bad for you”, it is also often completely true…
            So for me, just using those bare arguments is a way to avoid a classic cost/benefit analysis, which is always needed as people doing the X thing some wants to ban are not doing it for nothing, they gain pleasure/money/whatever from it.
            Cost benefit here is doubly difficult: you have the usual (but difficult) pleasure vs health angle, the more easy cost (vegan food) vs cost (normal food), and the super tricky human life enjoyment vs animal life enjoyment. Then authors of the AC attemted to do it, it is difficult and I think they did a good job, especially on the 3rd: it’s hugely debatable (and I expected it), but it’s original and they put a big amount of work following their idea. On the other hand, I think telling “everybody agree it’s wrong to make animals suffer if it’s not necessary” just hide the cost/benefit analysis and thus the debate.

          • John Schilling says:

            We all claim to agree that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals

            I make no such claim. Suffering, perhaps, depending on what is meant by those scare quotes around “unnecessary”. A quick and painless death for chicken, cow, rabbit, or deer, is fine by me.

            If this is what the best thinking in the area can come up with, I’m going to be eating a fair bit of meat in the years to come.

          • Jiro says:

            Imagine for a moment that the human brain is just a giant pattern-matching machine. And imagine that it matches “people who enjoy causing suffering to animals” with “people who enjoy keeping the heads of other humans in their freezer”. You might see a strong public push to criminalize “animal cruelty” as a subconscious bid to rid their communities of potentially dangerous predators.

            I think you can use this without the pattern matching.

            Someone who is cruel to animals in the way we normally think of probably *is* messed up in a way which, unchecked, will lead to cruelty to humans. In fact, I’d change your premise slightly and point out that the cruel person’s brain is also a pattern-matching machine and he might not be cruel to animals unless he had the impulse to be cruel to humans and this impulse misfired on the animals. We probably agree that flies don’t really suffer, but an adult who enjoys pulling the wings off of flies just to see them squirm probably enjoys seeing suffering.

            This is also why a lot fewer people care about using animals in scientific experiments than about animal abuse.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        With regards to ‘rights’ and our relationship to other species, what about “limit suffering as much as possible and don’t allow it for entertainment alone”?

        • J.D. Sockinger says:

          I’ll answer your question by quoting Gary Francione:

          We all agree that it is wrong as a moral matter to inflict unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on animals. We can, of course, have an interesting discussion on what constitutes “necessity,” but, thankfully, there is no need to do so. If a moral rule about unnecessary suffering means anything, it means that we cannot justify animal suffering or death for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience.

          But the only justification that we have for eating animals and animal products is that they taste good. We do not need to do so for health reasons. Even mainstream health care people are telling us that animal products are detrimental to human health; and, in any event, they are certainly not necessary for optimal health. And animal agriculture is an ecological disaster. Therefore, if we take the moral principle seriously that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on animals, then we really have no choice but to go vegan.

          • Jiro says:

            Cars have a small but nonzero risk to the public, so if I drive a car to a baseball game, I have statistically increased the suffering of humans by a nonzero amount solely for my pleasure. Almost nobody thinks it is bad for me to do that. If we accept pleasure as a reason to cause humans to suffer here, we should accept it for animals.

            Of course the chance of someone suffering when I drive to a baseball game is not 100%, but even a small chance of suffering is enough to rebut such an absolutist argument that demands precisely zero suffering. You’d have to change the argument to “it is acceptable to cause X amount of suffering to animals, but eating meat causes more than that”. No vegetarian is willing to make that argument.

        • chrisdrhodes says:

          That seems perfectly sensible, but perhaps not obviously justifiable.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        @gkai:

        What I mean, in a more factual and nice tone, is that discarding things because it’s “not necessary” and “bad for you” is not enough, and completely unconvincing (to me), because those two arguments are almost systematically used to ban whatever the argumenter want to ban.

        I think telling “everybody agree it’s wrong to make animals suffer if it’s not necessary” just hide the cost/benefit analysis and thus the debate.

        It may not be phrased the way you want and it may be used to hide censorship impulses but aren’t the sentences “not necessary” and “bad for you” related to the “benefits” side of your preferred cost/benefit analytical framework?

        Eating meat has a cost – it hurts animals and factory farming really hurts them badly. The benefits are “but I like the taste of meat”.

        That benefit ought to be somewhat reduced if I can show meat is not necessary for your health and even further reduced if I can show meat consumption actually hurts you.

        You might still decide that the benefits of the pleasant taste of meat outweigh everything else (my personal choice, though I try to avoid factory farmed meat) but it doesn’t mean those 2 arguments aren’t part of your own framework.

        • B_Epstein says:

          Also those animals get to exist – and the extent to which this counts as a positive is very much a core component of the debate.

          Also also “meat is bad for you” depends on the actual alternative that will take place. How many vegetarians in our culture (as opposed to a tribe somewhere that does not consume meat) do indeed replace meat with a balanced, well-research healthful diet vs. getting anemia in droves or augmenting their dishes with highly-processed food and saturated fats? I feel that many studies under-emphasize this point.

        • Aapje says:

          @Frederic Mari

          Eating meat has a cost – it hurts animals and factory farming really hurts them badly.

          Animals living in nature also get hurt. To what extent is the lives of farmed animals worse/better than the lives of animals living in nature? Humans seem to prefer having a roof over our heads, so perhaps animals like that too?

          Civilization also has a cost, it hurts humans, sometimes very badly. To what extent is the lives of ‘civilized’ people worse/better than the lives of uncivilized people?

          I see none of these question as having an obvious answer, but I strongly reject your apparent insistence to only look at the negatives. It seems to me that the only possible choice to minimize suffering, while not caring about pleasure, is to eradicate life. Not just of farmed animals, but wild animals too, as well as humans.

        • gkai says:

          It may not be phrased the way you want and it may be used to hide censorship impulses but aren’t the sentences “not necessary” and “bad for you” related to the “benefits” side of your preferred cost/benefit analytical framework?

          Of course, but I do not think those are necessarily big plus, or even small plus:

          – “not eating meat is good for you health”. A plus. How big it is depend on how my health will be improved exactly. I get my life expectancy will get (slightly?) better, and I like that. What is not much mentioned is ca I expect detrimental effects? Vegan says no, but for pure anecdote, the few times I bought some grocery in vegan food shops or see vegan who loudly self-identify, they do not look healthy, they look either weak (like people with an eating disorder) or have a lean, marathon-like physique that I do not really want to have (I am not in endurance sports, the sports I do do not demand this body type). This is completely unscientific, but enough for me to need really good studies to be convinced, because now it reminds me what I got from calorie restriction: you get healthier as live longer, but feel older than your age (reduced strength and energy, prone to depression). Health as extended life expectancy is not everything, I already do a lot of things that reduce my life expectancy either for fun, or for some obligations. Obviously other things may count more than a few added years, things that sometimes look trivial. And if you observe how the majority of people behaves (not necessary what they claim), I am not alone preferring fun now than maybe a few extra years at the end of your life. In fact, I am part of the overwhelming majority…

          “meat is unnecessary” is not a plus, as I and other said, doing only things that are necessary (in the sense that not doing it will not kill you or decrease your life expectancy) can easily turn in hell on earth (and hell for a long time, as you live longer). It’s a rebuttal to anti-vegan that says you can not live without eating meat. But this rebuttal is not really needed, this anti-vegan position is not valid, as we have examples of purely vegan people who manage well enough.

    • elizhy says:

      Abolitionists in the early days fought quite hard to restrict slaveowners’ rights to beat their slaves to death, and frequently enabled meaningful social change around treatment of slaves.

      I’m not a vegan, and I don’t believe it’s remotely comparable to slavery, but if you’re upset that a good-faith argument succeeded in bringing people closer to your view and committing fewer of the things you consider grievous harms, you might be failing to properly prioritize the value of outcomes.

      • J.D. Sockinger says:

        if you’re upset that a good-faith argument succeeded in bringing people closer to your view

        The argument didn’t bring people closer to my view. If anything, it did the opposite. It’s much harder to solve a problem when you are faced with people who have adopted half-measures (at best) and have come to the erroneous conclusion that the issue has been resolved.

        • Frederic Mari says:

          so, hum, what’s your view on Voltaire’s saying that “the best is the enemy of the good”…

        • elizhy says:

          This seems like a “heighten the contradictions” argument. Should anti-slavery activists not have encouraged better treatment of slaves, because it’s a “half-measure” that “come[s] to the erroneous conclusion that the issue has been resolved?” If you’re against any outcome other than the one where you win 100%… that’s not so great for the slaves (originally wrote “slaves/animals” but that seems obviously wrong) in the meantime.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Many people, when presented with a partial victory, see it as a chance to abuse the other party.

            Just avoid these people.

          • Baby Beluga says:

            @Edward Scizorhands: I don’t agree with J.D. Sockinger’s absolutism–I think half-measures are generally good and should be encouraged–but I don’t see how they’re “abusing” anyone here, and I think they’re arguing in good faith.

    • Aapje says:

      @J.D. Sockinger

      Animals are sentient beings with their own interests. We don’t have the right to treat them as property and exploit them for our own purposes.

      We ‘civilize’ humans too.

      If you think that your choices are free, rather than in many ways imposed upon you, you are deluding yourself.

      Why should we exempt animals?

  10. anonymousskimmer says:

    I wasn’t able to finish all of them on time, so didn’t vote.

    Criticism on the eating meat one: You reify consciousness as a baseline for suffering, but never justify this reification. I would have liked to see scientific justification.

    If we’re going to make individual suffering the be all and end all (okay, you also factor in individual happiness, too, but still, justifications, please, also for the “individual” part), then anyone who has waited years to visit the dentist knows what it’s like to have pain you aren’t consciously aware of suddenly removed. Also, the literature on reactions toward pain experience while under anesthetic (versus pain killers).

    Criticism on the abortion one: You make this an ethical issue on pro/anti abortion, and never even consider the fact that having such a debate encourages some limitation on abortion, with consequent real-world effects on abortion (and non-abortion family planning) access. You talk about cut-offs to the allowability of abortion vis-a-vis fetal mental development, without ever mentioning that none of “rape, incest, health-of-the-mother” factors address that the vast majority of late-term abortions are of *wanted* babies who themselves have extraordinarily serious defects. The argument against late-term abortion thus becomes an argument as to why women should be forced to carry to term a child who will die shortly after birth. You did a relatively good job on treating the mother as a sapient incubator, capable of experiencing harm. She’s more than that.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      You make this an ethical issue on pro/anti abortion, and never even consider the fact that having such a debate encourages some limitation on abortion, with consequent real-world effects on abortion (and non-abortion family planning) access.

      I don’t think that the pro-choice position (though it is indeed generally the one I endorse) is so clearly the correct position that we ought to be avoiding debates lest we legitimize a horrible fringe view…that’s already held by about half the US. My impression of the commentariat here is that there are enough pro-life SSC readers that a debate over the ethics of abortion could conceivably change minds in favor of easy access to legal abortion. And on the other hand, how do we know that we’re not advocating evil in the name of good if we don’t engage with the good-faith arguments of those who claim that we are?

    • Aapje says:

      @anonymousskimmer

      Of course it is possible to exempt such cases from a ban. A common pro-abortion tactic is to deny this possibility.

  11. Froolow says:

    Thanks so much for running the contest Scott, and thank you to everyone who voted for David and my meat collaboration

    Having just done a collaboration, I disagree that the adversarial collaboration space has been well explored, although I think I agree that the format of ‘two opponents throw citations at each other until one relents’ has probably reached its limit as a testbed for the idea. I had some ideas about methods of approach to a collaboration that could be hypothetically run next year, which I thought I’d drop here for comment:

    * Someone upthread has already mentioned https://www.kialo.com/, but this seems like a really interesting group adversarial collaboration platform. Perhaps we could run a SSC Kialo on a topic the community is interested in (X-risk EA vs charity EA?)

    * Group consensus techniques like Delphi, which might have some value of solving the drop-out problem mentioned. I moderated some ACC a few years back using this method and it worked really well but was painfully time consuming for me. I’ll probably go back to running these if there’s no central SSC ACC, but perhaps they could be community proposed and recruited?

    * Deeper exploration of the idea that David and I had of explicitly modelling elements of disagreement, but working harder to elicit an actual range of uncertainty rather than just what we reckoned (maybe using MTurk?). I love modelling and would be happy to put some time into this even if it wasn’t in the form of a formal contest.

    * I swear I read somewhere on this blog an idea for having scientists prewrite papers (but leaving the actual numerical results blank and writing ‘TBC’ in the discussion section) as a form of trial preregistration, and I think this could apply to ACC very easily – “Here is a point on which I disagree and (placeholder) I would change my mind if a study found that grimping the fleegle had a big impact (/placeholder)”. I think that would have a huge impact on reducing the tendency for ACCs (ours included) to become just a survey of the literature, because crux issues are identified before you’ve identified where the literature supports your argument

    * 50% of the collaboration is down to the partner you get. I was incredibly lucky to find a very dedicated partner who was as keen as me to just bulldoze ethical issues with hard work, but it doesn’t surprise me that so many ACCs ended with a dropout if you hit an issue you simply can’t get past. I wonder if randomly assigning partners to issues might solve that (maybe seeded based on historic reliability or something)

    * On a similar theme, breaking a topic down into some ultra-discrete factual questions and then crowdsourcing answers to those questions (perhaps in a traditional ACC format). If people found the topic too big to answer in (say) 500 words, split the discrete factual question into an even MORE discrete question and repeat

    * On a similar theme, Multiple groups exploring the same topic, and then the consensus taken from the results of those multiple groups. Our collaboration got some criticism because it looked a bit like I was a rabid vegetarian (which I am) and that my partner was just ‘along for the ride’ (which he was not). This solves that problem by guaranteeing via some central limit theorem analogue that major areas of disagreement are not missed and the personality of the participants is of limited importance

    * A commitment to only do ACC which generate testable predictions on the scale of a year or so, and a requirement that the ACC generate numerical predictions as an output. Any remaining meaningful disagreement flattened with a prediction market (so the ACC becomes a vehicle to generate, rather than resolve, meaningful crux issues)

    * I believe the original impetus to do this was the slightly one-sided nature of ‘Vox-splainers’. Perhaps collaborations could be restricted to factual explanations of complex contemporary events, with disagreement highlighted but not necessarily minimised (“We both agree that Iran did X, but I think they did it because Y, whereas my partner thinks they did it because Z”)

    I’m super interested in adversarial collaboration as a platform, and I’d be really sad if SSC dropped them – but I also totally appreciate the enormous amount of work Scott puts in to get the posts ready and how annoying it must be to interrupt your planned posting schedule for a bunch of random other people. I’m just being greedy for the sort of content I really enjoy!

  12. TK-421 says:

    One reader said they were going to boycott my blog from now on for not having no-platformed this ACC, and a few others seemed only slightly less angry.

    This sentence surprised me so much. What SSC reader stops reading because of an article analyzing a controversial subject in depth? Did they think they were reading some different blog up until now?

    • Thegnskald says:

      I think the issue is that it doesn’t come across as analyzing the topic in depth, if you’re familiar with both sides of the argument, it comes across as propaganda pretending to analyze the topic in depth. Notably, nobody complained the pro-circumcision side was missing critical arguments, which occurred for both sides of the argument for every other article I myself read.

    • Frederic Mari says:

      Yeah. It still shocks me the variety of stuff that gets different people riled up. For the life of me, I would not have thought that circumcision, pro or anti, could be a hot topic.

      You Learn Every Day.

      • caryatis says:

        It’s a big issue on Reddit for some reason. Just try expressing any not-completely-anti-circumcision opinion there!

      • Mitch Lindgren says:

        You would not have thought that cutting the genitals of infants, who cannot consent, could be a hot topic? I find that perplexing. Even if you support or are indifferent to circumcision, surely you can see why others might be strongly opposed to it. If people started performing labiaplasty on infant girls, do you not think that would be controversial to say the least?

        • caryatis says:

          I don’t understand why it’s so much more controversial than all the other medical interventions parents commonly do to infants. The idea that infants must consent to all medical procedures (or all preventative procedures) is obviously not feasible. I guess the obvious answer is that people have especially strong emotions about genitals.

          • Aapje says:

            Another very common medical procedure on children, vaccines, is also quite controversial (although not here).

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      If someone threatens you with boycotting your web BBS, you should make it real easy for them and just block their IP.

  13. alwhite says:

    – After this, I expect to restrict more strictly to chicken and fish, and alternate more aggressively towards fish as a hedge against the possibility I’m undervaluing chicken sapience.

    This is a little disturbing to me. The fishing industry is pretty awful and is harming our oceans and marine life to really bad effects. I really dislike that people would read the ACC and think “let’s eat more fish” because the damage that has already done means we should eat less fish. This seems a major weakness of the ACC to have ignored such a large consideration on what to eat. But it also falls under the ethics/facts discussion. The ethics of the consciousness of animals vs the ethics of the sustainability of certain diets.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Which fishing industry? The Canadian fishing industry? The US fishing industry? The Japanese fishing industry? The Chinese fishing industry?

      Personally I generally try to eat farmed fish, but I think blanket statements about “the fishing industry” aren’t very helpful, as they come across as more alarmist than informed.

      • Frederic Mari says:

        does it matter much? it’s a global industry with global suppliers i.e. even if the US fishing industry is a paragon of good behaviour, if Heinz and Tyson Foods get their fishes from other sources, what difference does it make?

        https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/22/half-of-worlds-oceans-now-fished-industrially-maps-reveal

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Yes, it does matter much.

          Some fish are smarter than others. Shellfish and clams are incredibly stupid (but the most expensive, IIRC).

          Some fish are farmed instead of caught ought of public waters.

          Some farms are more damaging to their environment than others.

          Some farms are “crueler” (which again depends on how smart the fish are) than others.

          There can be a lot of variation here.

  14. Thegnskald says:

    I didn’t finish reading them, so I didn’t vote, but of the articles I did read, the meat-eating one was definitely the best. Kudos to the pair who wrote that one. About the only change it elicited in me was slightly more awareness/consciousness about what I choose to eat, but I suspect that will end up being a pretty significant change over the long term.

    For context, that and circumcision are probably the topics discussed I feel most strongly about; I’m a carnivore (not devoutly, I just feel strongly there is nothing wrong with eating meat qua eating meat) and anti-circumcision. The meat-eating article changed my opinion a bit. The circumcision article just annoyed me – and no, it wasn’t the title, it was the content.

  15. Manx says:

    For what it’s worth, I really liked the article on spirituality. I just read it this morning (after voting was closed). I think it suffers from being TLDR, but the actual content is excellent. Perhaps if the authors cut out some of the extensive use of quotation and tightened the writing a bit, it would be an excelled Atlantic article. Full disclosure is I just came back from a meditation retreat, and found the content quite relevant to my personal spiritual experiences. I just ordered the book on near-death experiences they referenced.

  16. elizhy says:

    I’ll second the strong effect of the vegetarianism article. I don’t intend to stop eating meat, never intended to stop eating meat, and certainly didn’t expect to change what I ate based on the ACC. My own moral evaluation has always been that death is worse than suffering (i.e. existence is always net positive) and that therefore there’s not a meaningful difference between factory farmed vs. other meats. The article successfully convinced me that, although it never occurs “”naturally,”” there are indeed circumstances significantly worse than nonexistence, and that factory-farmed chickens are subject to them. I’m trying to cut back on non-free range chicken, & am pleasantly surprised to see that beef is an ethical option!

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      There are significant price differences in the kinds of chicken I have at the grocery store. The normal (presumably factory-farmed) is $2 a pound. It goes up to $9 a pound, I think — I don’t really look too close at the super-expensive stuff.

      But there is a lot in between. Some is “free range” and “vegetarian fed” and “organic” and many other labels. What is the minimum I need?

      • elizhy says:

        1) I would *love* to get chicken at $2 a pound!
        2) Since what hit me hardest about the article was the description of cages, I go for free range when I can.
        3) I’m not at all perfect on this — I bought factory farmed chicken this week. But I’m going to try, which is a lot more than I was doing before.
        4) Interested in recommendations on similarly cheap but less ethically fraught meat — the problem with beef is that it’s about as expensive as free range chicken. How are turkeys treated?

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          There is some skepticism that “free range” just means the chickens had access to a door that leads outside, not that they used it. There is some counter-skepticism that the chickens are fine with it.

          I try to get the “kind of fancy” chicken when it is on sale, and I think it says cage-free. But I’m not sure if I’m hitting what needs to be hit.

          Beef is priced around where the “kind of fancy” chicken is, but I don’t have recipes for cooking it that are as easy as cooking up a breast.

          • elizhy says:

            I love my slow cooker– makes it very easy.

            I actually avoid “organic” &etc when it comes to meat, since that stuff means I’m paying a price premium for it to be better for me, rather than for the animal. Honestly though, “chicken has access to a door” is already so many levels above “chicken spends its entire life stuffed into one cage with no room to turn around” that I’m ok if it doesn’t spend its whole life frolicking.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Also, I hit the grocery store today and checked, and the “kind of fancy” chicken that I try to get on sale is only vegetarian-fed, not cage-free.

            Which I guess I told myself was better than them being cannibals. But probably is not really that much better.

            I guess there’s always pork chops.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          @elizhy
          Re. 2) meat chickens are neither raised in cages or debeaked. The collab was wrong about this (commenters pointed this out, authors acknowledged the error). That (in modern times, in the west) only happens to egg laying hens (who don’t face the hormones, selective breeding for supergrowth, or bright lights to encourage eating that meat chickens do).

          I agree with your conclusion and now buy cage free eggs only, just wanted to point out the fact you used to get there was the main thing I remember them getting wrong.

          • elizhy says:

            Ooh, thank you! That’s really, really good to know. Will switch to buying cage-free eggs but normal chicken — probably save me some money, too!

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            2) meat chickens are neither raised in cages or debeaked. The collab was wrong about this (commenters pointed this out, authors acknowledged the error).

            I searched for “cage” on the original ACC page for the piece, got 17 hits, and did not see this. Did I look in the wrong place?

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @Edward, @elizhy sorry, I conflated debeaking/cages, which I think of as ‘going together’ because I am familiar with how chickens are raised.

            The original collab stated clearly “in the West cages are used for egg laying hens only.” I don’t know why @elizhy thought meat chickens are caged.

            For debeaking, and where the authors appreciate the correction, search
            “I read that debeaking is only done for egg-laying chickens, not eating-chickens?”

          • SamChevre says:

            Meat chickens do NOT get hormones–it’s seriously illegal, and easy to test for. (The use of hormones is beef-specific – they’re illegal in fattening animals for pork and poultry; for pork, there’s a bit of use of reproductive hormones in breeding sows, but not in animals that will be eaten any time soon.)

          • NoRandomWalk says:

            @SamChevre thanks for the correction

    • SamChevre says:

      It’s interesting–I found the article very unconvincing. I’m very familiar with factory farming for chicken (one of my first memories is washing waterers in a chicken house, I’ve been in broiler houses fairly recently.) To me, the chickens seem bored, but unstressed – and as far as I can tell, chickens like boredom – they are either hungry, stressed, or bored. I’ve never been in an egg house-only broiler houses.

      • Aapje says:

        I sometimes wonder what aliens would say if they would look at humans the same way that many animal activists look at animals:

        They forcefully separate their children from their parents at an age where attachment is very strong, to place the children in ‘school’. This leads to heartbreaking scenes with crying children and children clinging to their parents. These ‘schools’ provide insufficient space for natural play and strongly increase bullying, causing severe suffering. The cramped, overcrowded environment makes it easy for disease to spread.

        Once mature, members of this species are often forced into very unnatural environments like ‘offices,’ where they are made to engage in behavior that they rarely perform in their ‘time off.’ These ‘offices’ look nothing like the natural habitat of humans and the behavior they are forced into is similarly totally dissimilar to the natural hunter-gatherer behavior.

        We can only conclude that the natural rights of this species are violated to a great extent, causing immense suffering.

  17. anakinklee says:

    If I had infinite resources, I would fund adversarial collaborations between well-known and universally-recognized intellectuals on different sides of a topic, who everybody trusted to stick to their guns.

    Interesting… isn’t this precisely what universities and the scientific community should be doing? It’s what Lukianoff and Haidt call institutionalized disconfirmation. I think these people are also trying to promote adversarial collaboration in some way.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Universities and the scientific community want to foster a culture where each individual does their best to de-bias themselves and don’t *need* an adversary. This is platonic ideal of truth seeking club, not debate club. I’m not joking, and think this is totally possible for most objective things, like particle physics.

      Adversarial collabs are more useful for partisan topics where debiasing yourself is hard, or claims of not being biased are not believed.

      • whereamigoing says:

        think this is totally possible for most objective things, like particle physics

        That’s surprising — my impression is that this hasn’t been working well outside of physics and chemistry. And even there it doesn’t always work.

      • NoRandomWalk says:

        Science is hard. The more ‘objective’ the field (i.e. the more relatively easy it is to confirm results than to generate hypotheses or test them) the less bias/replication issues there are. I’m not sure how pointing at the failure of scientific fields to arrive at a consensus on the latest issues of the day is strong evidence in favor of any other particular model.

        In my mind, the main advantage of an adversarial collab (call it two biased people exploring common ground, compared to two somewhat-biased people trying to independently determine where the center should be) isn’t truth seeking – it’s credibly communicating to an uneducated public audience that it doesn’t need to dig into the details to know that an obvious counterargument isn’t being hidden.

        Academia is an in-depth discussion among an already-expert audience that doesn’t need this; you can just jump directly to the truth seeking, and be more efficient.

        – is my, not being in academia, uninformed understanding of why an adversarial collaboration structure would add transaction costs and strengthen biases without much value

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          At least in the field of pure math, this is basically correct. There is little need for adversarial collaboration because we all pretty much agree on what constitutes a proof. *leans casually against the door to keep any intuitionists from opening it and protesting*

          The only area in modern pure math that I am aware could use an adversarial collaboration is Mochizuki’s alleged proof of the ABC conjecture… and we more or less got one!

      • Aapje says:

        @NoRandomWalk

        Then why is there so much weight placed on peer review and to a lesser extent on replication?

        I agree that the ideal is that researchers don’t need these mechanisms, but the idea is that scientists de-bias each other, not themselves.

  18. Erusian says:

    Purely out of curiosity (and the desire to optimize processes): How much did being early or chronological order correlate with score? Because it looks like (from your data) the first three chronologically (Calorie, Meat, and Circumcision) got a minimum of 80% of the votes.

    • Grantford says:

      I also noticed that the first three collaborations to be posted appeared to be most successful in the contest. Also, the first collaboration posted last year was the one that won last time around. It does seem plausible that the serial-position effect, specifically the primacy effect, could be playing some role in which collaborations are most salient to people when casting their votes. I did also think the first three were particularly good, but of course my own judgment may be partly influenced by the primacy effect.

    • whereamigoing says:

      Alternatively, it could be that not being in a rush to finish (e.g. due to being more conscientious) was a common cause of earlier submission and higher post quality.

      • Grantford says:

        That’s a good point. I had kind of assumed they were all submitted before the posting order was (randomly?) determined. Do we know whether the order Scott posted them in reflected the order in which they were submitted?

  19. Freddie deBoer says:

    The weakness of the pro-circumcision side in that debate demonstrates the fundamental flaw in this model: you will never adequately match argumentative ability levels between participants.

    • Viliam says:

      The circumcision debate in a nutshell:

      Pro side: “Circumcision cures cancer and HIV. Risks of surgery? They are smaller for kids, so let’s do it sooner rather than later. Lubrication is unnecessary for sexual satisfaction, except when masturbating. Restoring the foreskin is easy. Ethics depends on your ethics system, but utilitarianism clearly commands: cut the weenie.”

      Comments:
      “Finally I know the truth. Circumcision is simple and fun.”
      “European pediatrists seem to have opposite opinions on health benefits than the American ones.”
      “Either coincidence or anti-Semitism.”
      “Wow, I never realized that circumcision is even more useful than I thought.”
      “For more nuanced debate about ethics, read Brian Earp’s paper.”
      “Why woud anyone read papers on ethics from academic philosophers?”
      “I hate my parents for having me circumcised.”
      “I love them for having me circumcised; being circumcised is my identity.”
      …religion, Paul and Timothy…
      “Anecdotal evidence: circumcision increases sexual pleasure.”
      “Anecdotal evidence: circumcision reduces sexual pleasure.”
      “My circumcision was botched; I have a scar and it hurts.”
      “All circumcised men I dated had some problem with circumcision.”
      “Circumcision is not that bad, babies cry all the time anyway.”
      “It’s cultural; I want my son to look like his dad.”
      “Hey, where is the ‘anti’ side in the article?”
      “I am circumcised and I have no problems.”
      “Imagine the horrors of not being allowed to circumcise your son!”
      “Men in UK are mostly uncircumcised and they don’t seem to be all dying from penile cancer.”
      “This post was well balanced, thank you!”
      “HIV studies? The men who were just circumcised didn’t have sex immediately, that’s why fewer of them got HIV.”
      “People have different experiences with circumcision, because different doctors do it quite differently; here are some NSFW pics.”
      “I am Brian Earp, here are my links. Oops, did I come too late?”

  20. broblawsky says:

    The meat-ethics collaboration convinced me to try to reduce my meat consumption by ~20%.

  21. whereamigoing says:

    I found the meat-eating collaboration fairly convincing apart from the section about nutrition. If not for that, I would be perfectly willing to stop eating meat (though not dairy). I tend to not eat much of it anyways unless I remind myself to eat some.

  22. caryatis says:

    Scott, are you interested in any particular topic for book reviews?

  23. Simon_Jester says:

    If that was your crux, I wish you had analyzed it in more depth. If the whole point is to make something that can’t be defunded, couldn’t the government (or whoever) give the money to a private foundation with really good trustees, no takebacks? Maybe there’s a problem with that idea, I don’t know, but if you’re going to make defundability the center of your conclusion, I wish you had examined it more closely.

    I don’t disagree with the idea that things should be examined closely… buuut…

    Two problems with that idea.

    Firstly, “no takebacks” is usually not how governments work. By their nature, governments need to have the power to revisit or alter bad decisions. It is a common principle of legislative government that a current session of the legislature cannot pass legislation banning a future session from voting on an issue; the potential for abuse of that would be obvious. If a truly large sum of money needs to be committed to the Build Vaults Foundation on an ongoing basis, enough to sustain the project indefinitely, keep maintaining and upgrading the self-contained “in case of apocalypse” vaults, and so forth…

    Well, sooner or later, someone is going to covet those resources. And the constitutional structure of government makes it difficult to ensure that the resources used to build the vaults will remain inviolate just because “they’re private property” or some such argument. 100 years from now governments may have less interest in “but it’s private property” than they do today. You don’t want to bet your counter-X-risk plans on socialists never taking power.

    Secondly, even if socialists DO never take power, private organizations are not immune to having their money siphoned off, even if their trustees are very honorable and free of corruption. Other private actors will want some of that cash, and there are a variety of ways for them to get at it.

    The most reliable ways to ensure that a private organization devoted to maintaining a pool of assets lasts a long time is to make it profitable (long-lived corporations) or to give it lots of prestigious allies in the community at large (Ivy League university endowments). The Build Vaults Foundation is of necessity a nonprofit organization, and it will have trouble maintaining prestigious allies in society over time, at least assuming you have the kind of society where it’s still hard to get people to care about X-risk mitigation in the first place.

    • ana53294 says:

      Firstly, “no takebacks” is usually not how governments work. By their nature, governments need to have the power to revisit or alter bad decisions.

      One of the reasons Aramco’s IPO was such a disaster is that nobody trusts the Saudi Government to keep their hands of Aramco. True, Saudi Arabia is not a constitutional democracy, but if a government cannot meaningfully commit to something that would bring them lots of money, when can they do it?

  24. Roakh says:

    The post about whether eating meat is a net harm may have been thorough by the standards of this sort of part-time project by non-experts, but it seems dangerously slapdash and shallow in its examination of the issues if SlateStarCodex readers are actually going to update their diet choices on the basis of it.

    For example, the conclusion that we “can be very confident” that fish are not conscious, seems to be based solely on one article and the judgement that “fish do not have any neural architecture unique to the consciousness-related parts of the brain and are probably unable to feel fear or pain in the way a human would.” But there are a large number of independent lines of evidence relevant to whether fish are conscious (in a morally relevant sense), and we should be less than “very confident” that different neural architecture, in itself, is conclusive. I think just reading the wikipedia article on pain in fish would give a much better overview of the controversy and the numerous issues involved.

    Another datapoint, Luke Muehlhauser, of OpenPhilanthropy and LessWrong fame, carefully considered a wide array of factors relevant to whether various animals were conscious, and assigned rainbow trout a 60% probability of being conscious (according to a definition in the report) and 70% probability of consciousness of a sort that he intuitively morally cares about. (2017) This in itself should probably be grounds for being less than “very confident” that fish are not conscious on peer disagreement/epistemic modesty grounds alone, let alone based on the content of his report itself. Notably, he also directly addresses the question of whether a cortex or neocortex is necessary for consciousness in section 3.3.1 of his report.

    • Froolow says:

      I think you might be slightly misremembering the critical line in the meat collaboration; the line about fish is “we think we can be reasonably confident fish don’t suffer in a morally relevant way”. ‘Very confident’ is much stronger than the conclusion we actually came to.

      I don’t quite fully understand the charge that the collaboration is ‘dangerously’ slapdash if people update their diet choice as a result. Unless you think eating less meat is dangerous, I don’t see how it could be dangerous even if it was literally made up out of whole cloth (which is of course not what we did)

      • Roakh says:

        [Apologies if this is a double-post]

        I’m not misremembering: the quote “can be very confident” from the diagram, which places fish inside the category labelled “can be very confident these things are not conscious.” But thanks for highlighting the later sentence. I don’t know, now whether your considered view is merely that we can be “reasonably confident” but not “very confident” or whether you think we can be both reasonably confident and very confident.

        I don’t quite fully understand the charge that the collaboration is ‘dangerously’ slapdash if people update their diet choice as a result. Unless you think eating less meat is dangerous, I don’t see how it could be dangerous even if it was literally made up out of whole cloth (which is of course not what we did)

        The concern is that people may eat more fish, either to replace other meats, or simply because they feel more confident that it is not morally harmful to do so. At least one of the commenters that Scott quotes said that they plan to do so: “I expect to restrict more strictly to chicken and fish, and alternate more aggressively towards fish as a hedge against the possibility I’m undervaluing chicken sapience.”

        Even encouraging people to eat more fish (or, for that matter, chicken) but less of other animals is highly risky, due to the fact that due to differences in size between the animals (and so number of animals per serving), a moderately fish heavy diet might affect 10s or 100s of individuals per year (it varies a lot depending on the size of fish), whereas even a very heavy beef consumer would likely cause less than 1 cow to be consumed per year. There’s also the risk that the typical level of fish suffering is much higher than typical cow suffering (with how much you morally weight the suffering of each being a separate question.

        • Froolow says:

          Oh I see – that wasn’t the intent of the arrow (which was intended to show that as you moved along that axis you could be more and more confident about the consciousness of that thing) but I see where the ambiguity arose, apologies.

          For clarity, fish are the most nearly-conscious thing we think are probably not conscious on balance, so we think it is ‘reasonable’ to think they are not conscious (I couldn’t persuade my partner that they were, and he is reasonable), but we are not ‘very confident’ about that (I think my partner is, but I am not, and the collaboration as a whole does not take a ‘very confident’ position on it)

          And I see what you mean about dangerous – not dangerous in the sense you could seriously harm yourself but rather that you could be lulled into a sense of false security about the consciousness of fish and make bad/harmful/risky moral choices as a result. I probably wouldn’t myself use the word ‘dangerous’ for that, but I understand what you mean now – thank you for the clarification.

          • Telomerase says:

            Groupers ACT conscious… I’m not too hopeful that Colossal Squid aren’t mollusc buddhas, either.

            We just need all the animals to be p-zombies. And especially the humans, look at how those things live.

  25. Jiro says:

    How about an adversarial collaboration that combines two of these and makes the question “do the arguments for vegetarianism also imply that you should oppose abortion?”

    • caryatis says:

      Seems difficult considering that the potential benefits of meat eating are completely dissimilar to those of abortion.

    • schoen says:

      I’ve been interested in this question for a while, and I think there’s something interesting for advocates of either to ponder at the high level of “it seems like you think that more beings have interests or rights than some of the people around you are prepared to acknowledge”. What’s more, many people believe that some nonhuman animals have more consciousness and capacity to suffer than some embryos or fetuses do, so if people care mainly about consciousness and/or the capacity to suffer, they might think that at least the view “all animals may properly be killed for food, and no pregnancies may properly be terminated electively” is untenable.

      Overall, I don’t think that this is likely to be a knock-down ironclad argument (that one should either support both views or oppose both views), because so many people see important differences between the two cases. Especially someone who doesn’t agree that personhood, consciousness, or capacity to suffer is the most important or uniquely dispositive issue in these debates would probably not agree that one’s position on one should bear on the other.

      For example, the abortion debate includes things like the Violinist Argument, which don’t really have a counterpart for vegetarianism. Meanwhile, religious people may emphasize how fundamental their religious traditions say the species barrier is. (I’ve personally had this debate—in Latin—with a Catholic priest who explicitly relied on Genesis 9:3.)

      I think an adversarial collaboration on this question would have to rule a ton of issues and arguments out-of-bounds (or just personally reject them) in order to reach a firm “yes”.

  26. Telomerase says:

    Turns out I voted for the winner.

    I’m so mainstream…

    • Aapje says:

      I’m sure that you have eccentric traits that make people fear and hate you.

      …I may not be the best at consoling people.

  27. schoen says:

    I’d like to share a few thoughts as an author on the spiritual experiences collaboration.

    First, congratulations to the highly-deserving winners, and thanks to Scott for creating and hosting this project.

    Second, I agree with some of the concerns that people have raised about whether this format readily meets Scott’s original goals. It’s hard to be sure that adversarial collaborations were done by experts (I’m definitely not an expert on our topic). It’s hard to be sure that they were done by people who were well-matched in skill, knowledge, resources, or commitment. The format also may not be helpful for readers who are outside of a collaboration’s Overton window (such as someone with a more radical view than either collaborator would accept), or who think that the collaborators otherwise overlooked the important point.

    Third, I told a number of people that I felt this project had a great feature of giving people the experience of working constructively with someone they disagree with, and also creating public examples of the fact that this is valuable and often achievable. One might say that it’s a form of advocacy for mistake theory over conflict theory. Instead of trying to get each other in trouble somehow, adversarial collaborators show respect and appreciation for each other.

    Fourth, I think adversarial collaboration projects may sometimes benefit the collaborators more than they benefit the public. Some readers of our project felt that it didn’t help them reach practical conclusions about our topic. (Sorry! That’s fair.) For my part, I got a huge amount out of it because I got to read multiple interesting books and articles about religion, philosophy, and entheogens, and discuss them at some length with a really interesting and pleasant person. Plus, I bought several other philosophy of religion books which I didn’t finish in time for the project but will get to read in the future. And I got to tell people the good news, so to speak, that I was enjoying working with someone who had a different perspective.

    My conclusion is that these projects are especially educational to the people who undertake them, and perhaps as lessons in collegiality, civility, and to some extent humility. I don’t think those were Scott’s highest priorities compared to actually making some concrete collective progress on resolving disputes, but I still certainly feel like a winner for having gone through this (and met Jeremiah). So thanks again, Scott!

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed your submission and was disappointed it got relatively less engagement from the community though I can see why. Am very glad to hear you look back on the experience as having been worth the significant effort.

  28. Mark V Anderson says:

    Certainly the comments in the comments section were overwhelmingly negative

    Yes I was in disagreement with most of the comments on all the ACCs because of their negativity. I loved them all. Of course they were amateur works, so you need to follow the footnotes before you seriously change your mind about something. But I found all of them very interesting, and learned something new from most of them. I find that very little of what I read in magazines or the Internet tells me anything new, so I found reading these very useful.

    But I continue to be interested in adversarial collaborations. If you happen to do one, please tell me – there’s a decent chance I’ll publish it.

    I hope this means folks will continue to so these. I doubt that most of the collaborators did these for the money, so if folks are interested in doing more of these they should find readers on SSC.

  29. bartleby says:

    Sorry to be late in the game. I just read with great interest the winning essay. However, I wonder how it relates to the recent review article on The New England Journal of Medicine “Effect of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease”, December 26, 2019. It seems to me that the conclusions reached therein are rather different.

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Thanks for linking it, will check it out!

    • NoRandomWalk says:

      Okay I read it…I see nothing new here, or different from the collab?
      I see the same 2 most-famous studies in monkeys (calorie restriction increases lifespan if eating bad diet, only improves health if good diet)
      I see similar findings re. rodents (it’s good for rats, less good but still good for mice and depends on the strain).
      Like, all that’s here is a ton of evidence about how intermittent fasting improves health, which anyone who’s familiar with fasting has already seen before. The collab was about longevity from calorie restriction. Calorie restriction is not the same as fasting, and health is not the same thing as lifespan.

  30. Reasoner says:

    For another thing, it involved a surprising amount of work on my part converting whatever Word or Google Docs file people sent me into a format I could use on the blog.

    You could have people format their collaboration using markdown and make a markdown-to-blog converter. Or something like that.

  31. devonian22 says:

    > I take a small amount of blame for [the circumcision piece] not being more popular – I retitled it to be about the ethics of circumcision, whereas the original title had been about benefits vs. harms

    Given that the piece took a utilitarian stance, there’s basically no difference between ‘the ethics of circumcision’ and ‘benefits vs. harms’ – though as plenty of others have noted, its treatment of ‘benefits vs. harms’ was deficient. It’s at odds with medical consensus, which largely views circumcision as an anachronism and not worth the cost and dangers (see e.g. the UK NHS stopping neonatal circumcisions because the costs don’t outweigh the benefits). The benefits are slight – a reduction in the (small) risk of UTIs and in the rate of an already vanishingly-rare cancer (and a reduction in HIV transmission in countries with epidemic HIV; hardly an argument for circumcising all boys worldwide). Brian Earp’s response to the piece was longer than the piece itself…

    I’m really surprised it was one of your favourites.