Based on feedback from our ACE Community Chat event on animal advocacy research, we have compiled a list of frequently asked questions.
Does the open-science policy limit to which journals researchers can publish?
No, our open-science policy only requires that researchers pre-register their projects and then upload their results in full to be freely accessible at any time. Our funded researchers are welcome to publish in any journal they deem appropriate. As long as the results are available on an open-access platform, the journal itself does not have to be open access.
Can you speak to the difficulties you mentioned around employing open-science policies?
At its inception, the open-science policy developed for the AARF was one of the most stringent compared to other research funds. For many researchers, this was their first experience pre-registering a study and uploading their results to an open-science platform. Much of the challenge was explaining this process and ensuring researchers felt comfortable with navigating this new terrain.
Have you had any conflicts between keeping the research free and accessible and other benefits (e.g., publishing in a major journal)?
We have run into conflicts in the past where researchers were not comfortable making their results freely accessible, often because there was hesitation around potentially providing sensitive information to agriculture lobby groups. Depending on the journal, there can also be a cost for open-access publication. This cost can be significant, in some cases up to 9,000 USD.
What happens if partway through a research project, the project is determined to be ineffective?
We do regular check-ins with our funded researchers and strive to have open and honest conversations about whether projects are progressing as expected. If a project has experienced roadblocks, we do everything we can to help mitigate those issues and encourage progress. Sometimes, partway through a project, a researcher will realize the project is simply not viable. At that point, we would request that any remaining funding be returned to the AARF.
Does AARF funding limit the research to only that which does no harm to any animal?
We would not consider funding a project that directly harms animals in the pursuit of its goals.
How do you prioritize specific problems researchers could help solve (e.g., consumer behavior and meat consumption, animal welfare policy support, climate impacts on animals, and wildlife impacts)?
The focus areas of the AARF have been reevaluated over time by exploring the ever-growing body of research available. As other funding sources have become available, we have also looked at where funding gaps exist. We have tried to outline focus areas for the AARF that are nascent, have the potential for high impact, and aren’t being explicitly funded through other agencies.
Does the AARF pay indirect costs to universities for a funded grant?
The AARF caps indirect costs at 10% of the total grant budget. For more information, please read our indirect cost policy.
For researchers belonging to a nonprofit or animal advocacy organization, does their research have to be formally published in academic journals?
No, research results do not have to be published in a peer-reviewed or scholarly journal. Our only requirement is that research results are made freely available in full.
Can you go a little more into the trade-off between using donations for publication fees versus publishing via free channels only? Something like Faunalytics seems to work pretty well, where you just publish on a centralized platform for free.
Particularly for students or early-career researchers, publishing in peer-reviewed journals is a key step to growing a publication record and attracting further grant funding.
What are the most important factors that make an excellent application?
Several factors contribute to the overall quality of an application. Some things that successful applications have in common are the following:
- An investigator or team with the requisite skills and experience to help ensure a high likelihood that the project will be successful
- A project that addresses one of the focus areas of the AARF, along with a clear and important research question
- A solid understanding of existing literature
- Thoughtful design and clearly outlined research methods with an appropriate sample size
- A reasonable scope and timeline for the proposed research
- A realistic budget with a clear outline of expenses
- A thorough understanding of the limitations of the project and possible confounding variables
How do you tell which research into animal advocacy is high quality?
Within effective animal advocacy research we use many of the same metrics utilized by other fields of research to identify which published results are high quality. Peer review, transparency around methods, and transparency regarding possible conflicts of interest are indicative of a good piece of research. Overstating results/sensationalist headlines, confusing correlation with causation, and potential conflicts of interest with funding sources are some red flags to watch out for.
If researchers need 40% of their time to apply for grants, would it be better to fund a team of researchers interested in animal advocacy research and let them decide what animal advocacy research they do, without requiring them to apply?
We have considered funding chairs or professorships as part of the AARF but have run into two major issues with this model. The first is that choosing an appropriate researcher and affiliated research team is also a time consuming endeavor, both in terms of application and review. From our experience, there is variance in the expected impact of a single researcher’s work, and so some selection process seems necessary. The second is that these types of programs are usually multiyear endeavors and therefore require a significant amount of funding to support them. If a donor was interested in supporting a research chair, we would be open to discussing this as a potential avenue for high impact.
Are there researchers working without being linked to academic institutions or charities?
Yes, we do have a few funded researchers working on projects who are not associated with any specific institution.
Do the results from research projects funded by the AARF inform ACE’s charity recommendations? If so, how?
ACE takes into account various sources of information and any new research when making charity recommendations, including research funded through the AARF, though there is no added weight given to work funded through the AARF.
Would the AARF fund work around communications and messaging, or do you tend to fund mainly scientific/lab research?
The AARF has funded several studies around communications and messaging and will continue to consider these projects in the future. One example is a study that focused on messaging regarding cell-based meat.
If a researcher has received funding from the AARF in the past, can they reapply for more funding in the future?
The AARF employs a conflict of commitment policy, which means a lead investigator can only hold one AARF grant at a time. Once the project is complete, researchers are both welcome and encouraged to apply for funding for a subsequent project.
How often can a researcher apply for funding?
As many times as they wish. We encourage researchers to rework and improve previously denied applications or apply with an entirely new project idea.
Does the AARF favor university-backed research or independent nonprofit sector research?
We assess all applications on a number of criteria under the headings of “impact” and “feasibility.” There is no category or consideration given to institutional affiliation, and the AARF has funded both researchers at universities as well as those working for animal advocacy organizations.
How can I donate to support the Animal Advocacy Research Fund?
Thank you for your interest in supporting this important work! Please reach out to Heather Herrell, our Director of Philanthropy, to discuss donating to the AARF.
Can individual donors donate specifically to the AARF?
The AARF was founded with a generous gift from a single donor. We are open to exploring different avenues of funding for the next iteration of the AARF, but it would require a significant investment to ensure we maintain the integrity of the research fund. The average cost of one AARF project is 18,057.90 USD, and we distribute an average of 106,779.24 USD in each funding round.
Wouldn’t a donor be more assured that the research would be useful if effective animal advocacy organizations were able to specify what research would benefit their work and then researchers be sought for that? Often research equates to “pet projects,” which are not subsequently used in sustained advocacy.
There are benefits and drawbacks to moving to a strategic granting model, where the AARF would suggest topics and recruit researchers rather than let researchers come up with their own topics/projects. We agree that connecting animal advocacy organizations to research teams would be ideal, even if only for researchers to listen to what is most important to advocates and solicit feedback on their research plans. Collaboration between stakeholder groups is something we may plan to facilitate, such as through research workshops, in the next evolution of the AARF.
How’s the AARF doing? Should we worry that it will dry up soon?
The AARF has completed eight successful funding rounds and distributed all funding currently available. We are currently seeking additional support. We are confident in our prospects given the strong track record of the AARF and the high need for animal advocacy research. Thus, we are optimistic that additional research funds will be available in 2021.
What do you think will be the newest area of research for animal advocacy?
As plant-based and cell-cultured products continue to be developed and go to market, we anticipate more studies being done around consumer preferences and how to advertise these products while mitigating legal challenges related to product branding and communication. With some good foundational pieces around wild animal suffering now published, we hope to see more investigation done in this area, hopefully leading to some executable strategies for reducing suffering. With aquaculture growing so quickly, we also anticipate that fish welfare will become an important research topic. Finally, in light of the current pandemic, we may see more research done around zoonotic disease and the related public health problems caused by our current agricultural system.
Are there any projects that you have in mind that would have a high likelihood of receiving funding?
We do not have specific projects in mind. We want to again emphasize our focus areas and point out that projects seeking to address topics related to these areas would have a higher chance of obtaining funding.
Do you think there’s space and potential to include citizen science?
We see the value in many of the tenets of citizen science and are actively working to implement practices such as connecting researchers with advocates. We would be very excited to see a project that utilizes technology to allow the public to contribute to data collection.
Which areas of research currently need more attention?
Effective animal advocacy is still an extremely nascent field of research. We believe that all of our focus areas—farmed animal advocacy, plant-based and cell-cultured alternatives, and wild animal suffering—need attention.
What focus areas are you moving into?
Our focus areas will likely remain largely the same, though our role may evolve as we explore the possibility of acting as more of a facilitator between academic researchers and animal advocacy groups.
What are some newer, less explored areas of research?
Research into tractable interventions to mitigate wild animal suffering is one example of a newer, less explored area of research. Fish welfare is another emerging area of research.
For someone with a psychology background who is thinking about pursuing a career as an animal advocacy researcher, would you recommend pursuing that career in an academic institution (e.g., university) or in an animal advocacy organization?
There is no shortage of ways to have a positive impact on animals. We recommend exploring both avenues by speaking to individuals employed in either capacity and deciding which path feels right for your interests. We also recommend checking out the Animal Advocacy Careers website.