My personal interest in wild-animal suffering (WAS) research, and in spreading knowledge about WAS, is mostly in assessing existing wild-animal suffering – wild animal experiences, quantifying the amount and severity of suffering, and capacity to suffer. I believe that in order to assess where we should focus our concern, and what kinds of effective suffering-reducing actions we could take, answers to these basic research questions are critical. They’re also in short supply.
For instance, I think that for most people introduced to WAS, the main source of doubt – past simply the oddness of the idea and whether or not humans are responsible for intervening – is if common animals are capable of suffering, and if wild animals truly have net negative lives or not. The answers to these questions are partially based on philosophy, but also on a detailed understanding of the lives and experiences of wild animals.
The most common wild animals are small – nematodes and tiny zooplankton outnumber all other animals. In terms of more complex animals, insects outnumber vertebrates. Even in terms of vertebrates, small fish outnumber land animals. A consequentialist approach to research and effort suggests that the experiences of these tiny and common animals have been given much less consideration than they deserve.
The other set of key questions centers around the fact that WAS research is, of course, an extremely obscure field. Having a solid research background might be enough make the idea more popular and acceptable among policymakers, but the concept is still generally thought of as quite unusual and there are likely many obstacles to its wide acceptance. Research into how WAS and welfare biology might be generally popularized, or how successful interventions might be enacted, are still a crucial consideration.
In the near to medium term, my interests and comparative advantage are in assessing how bad and common animal experiences are, and which animals are morally important.
I plan on researching these specific questions in the near future:
- What are the gaps in current invertebrate suffering research?
- What causes most animal deaths?
- To what extent do welfare considerations (sentience, capacity to suffer, life experiences, etc) seem to vary between juvenile and adult animals? (Particularly insects and other invertebrates.)
- Do social insects seem to experience more or less suffering than non-social insects?
If each of these pieces were to be fully fleshed out, I suspect this progression would take 4-12 months at my current pace. This could be shortened if I’m able to write more, and may be interspersed with other shorter projects as they come up (blog posts, revisiting older pieces with new information, etc).
That said, as I do future research, my views on what the most important and perhaps interesting topics are may change, and I want to leave room for re-evaluation. Obviously it’s good to prioritize more important work, and in the case of interesting, I believe that a driving curiosity is one of the best research tools and tends to yield better results. If other quality reports on these topics is published in the meantime, I will happily adjust my priorities accordingly.
After these topics, I will probably have a better sense of what the most important and interesting next research questions are, and will re-prioritize at that point.