Date: Sept 16, 2020 03:00pm -4:30pm

Location: Online

Title: Modeling uncertainty in animal welfare and ethics

Speaker: Jim Davies


When evaluating the moral impact of actions that affect animals in a utilitarian framework, numbers are used in calculations. However, there is a great disagreement among scholars involved with animal ethics, both in terms of how much different animals can suffer and how much that suffering morally matters in comparison to human welfare. These different positions can be represented with different numerical estimates. Although a particular analysis might generate an answer for a set of viewpoints on these issues, this paper focuses on modeling the uncertainty itself. We ran 10,000 Monte Carlo simulations that sample the ranges of major viewpoints scholars hold in the field to show a spread of uncertainty for how we should treat six representative animals: crickets, salmon, chickens, pigs, cows, and elephants. The results show that the uncertainty is very large, with a 90% confidence interval ranging between an animal having no value and being valued as much as a human being. Respecting the variance in views of experts in the field means that values for animal welfare numbers are so uncertain that it casts serious doubt on our confidence in estimates of good or bad done with any given intervention, and that activism in areas where there is less uncertainty, such as human welfare, might be more defensible.