There are no peer-reviewed publications about the effects of producing advocacy research—research that contributes to an understanding of effectively helping animals—in the animal advocacy movement. Despite this absence, there is reason to believe that producing relevant research can affect the animal advocacy movement in different ways. Advocacy research can impact the priorities set by animal advocates in regard to focus areas, methods, and regions. It can also inform the implementation of interventions by providing knowledge that can help advocates do their daily work. Long term, conducting animal advocacy research could grow research fields and increase support from academics and other researchers, as well as members of the public and other social sectors. The formalization of fields in academia could provide information and ideas that could be more useful for future animal advocates, researchers, and decision-makers.
We believe that conducting advocacy research is a generally promising intervention, especially when considering its potential effects in the longer term (defined as more than one year). Due to the lack of research about the extent to which animal advocacy research results are actually used by the movement to prioritize and implement their work, our confidence in the short-term effects of this intervention is low. Also, we acknowledge that we may be generally biased to favor this intervention because part of our work consists of conducting and supporting relevant research.
Research results can influence how animal advocates prioritize interventions and actions—especially those relating to focus areas, methods, and regions of operation.
For example, the prioritization of farmed animal welfare over other animal-related cause areas has been informed, at least to some extent, by research on (i) animal behavior and welfare, (ii) the number of animals used for different purposes, and (iii) the distribution of resources allocated to each cause area.1 On the basis of similar evidence, some advocates have prioritized work targeting farmed chickens and fishes over other farmed mammals.2
The consideration of wild animal welfare as an important cause area by some charities and individuals is another example of the impact of research on animal advocacy priorities. Preliminary research on the number of animals living in the wild and their quality of life has been used by advocates to focus on this cause area.3
Research on the impacts of specific interventions can inform advocates’ decisions about which methods to use. For example, research on the short-term effects of different campaigns to help farmed animals may have influenced some animal advocates to prioritize corporate outreach campaigns.4
Geographic or regional data can also be used to prioritize advocacy initiatives. Advocates may choose to concentrate their work in an area with strong animal protection laws and policy commitments, or they may decide to intervene in a country with significant room for improvement. Information on various socio-economic factors across countries and regions ultimately may help guide global prioritization.5
Potential limitations of conducting advocacy research projects of this type include researchers’ (i) measurability bias, which might lead them to prioritize projects with easily measured short-term results,6 and (ii) confirmation bias, which might lead them to research interventions they already think are effective.
Informing the Implementation of Interventions
Although we are not aware of any empirical studies on advocacy research, we believe that conducting research relevant to helping animals produces knowledge that could be used by the animal advocacy community to inform the implementation of their work.
For example, research on animal welfare can inform advocates about the quality of life of farmed animals and ways to improve their welfare status.7 This knowledge can be used to inform interventions aimed at increasing the welfare standards for farmed animals, such as corporate asks or policy and legislative campaigns to achieve welfare regulations in public policy and law.
Research on alternatives to animal products can also be used by advocates working on transforming the food industry. For example, market research on plant-based products8 and research on consumer preferences9 can inform charities’ work engaging food businesses and consumers.
One potential limitation of conducting research projects of this type is how challenging it is for advocates to navigate mixed research findings, especially in areas where studies depend heavily on the context and audience.
Building the Field
Producing research relevant for helping animals more effectively can promote the genesis of research fields and subfields. Engaging in interdisciplinary research is one method of growing fields that have the potential to become independent disciplines with unique theoretical and methodological frameworks.10 Long term, research fields can grow and be formalized through the creation of academic courses, events, and journals. A topic relevant to animal advocacy could gain enough support and reputation to be recognized by the academic community as an independent sub-discipline or discipline.
For example, due to research conducted by the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s, climate change was identified as an important social problem.11 Further concern and research about the complex problem of climate change contributed to building the interdisciplinary field of climate justice. Counterfactually, it seems that without the research completed by environmental groups, it is less likely that the field of climate justice would have emerged.
An example of a new field proposed by some advocates and researchers is “welfare biology”, research aimed at understanding the welfare of wild animals and the best ways to improve their welfare status.12 Publishing more research focused on understanding and helping wild animals will contribute to strengthening our current understanding of wild animal suffering, while also building welfare biology into a unique research sub-field.
We think advocacy research is an intervention with particularly high variance when it comes to having an impact. We think that some research projects can be far more influential than others, and researchers’ rigor seems to be a key factor for their impact. However, we believe that the effects in the longer term of advocacy research projects are generalizable in terms of their potential to contribute at least to some extent to the accumulation of knowledge and field building.
Beggs, T. (2020, November 11). Beliefs About Chickens And Fish & Their Relation To Animal-Positive Behaviors. Faunalytics. https://faunalytics.org/chicken-and-fish-1/
Bianchi, F., Dorsel, C., Garnett, E., Aveyard, P., & Jebb, S. A. (2018). Interventions targeting conscious determinants of human behaviour to reduce the demand for meat: a systematic review with qualitative comparative analysis. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 15(1), 102. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-018-0729-6
Broad, G. M. (2017, June 8). Want to help animals? Don’t forget the chickens. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/want-to-help-animals-dont-forget-the-chickens-78585
Broad, G. M. (2018). Effective animal advocacy: effective altruism, the social economy, and the animal protection movement. Agriculture and Human Values, 35(4), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-9873-5
Burggren, W., Chapman, K., Keller, B. B., Monticino, M., & Torday, J. S. (2017). Interdisciplinarity in the biological sciences (R. Frodeman, Ed.; Vol. 1). Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198733522.013.9
Good Food Institute. (n.d.). 2019 U.S. State of the Industry Report: Plant-Based Meat, Eggs, and Dairy. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://gfi.org/resource/plant-based-meat-eggs-and-dairy-state-of-the-industry-report/
Jamison, A. (2010). Climate change knowledge and social movement theory. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 1(6), 811–823. https://doi.org/10.1002/wcc.88
Mellor, D., Stafford, K. J., & Patterson-Kane, E. (2009). The Sciences of Animal Welfare (1st ed., p. 224). Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.
Mercy For Animals. (n.d.). Farmed Animal Opportunity Index. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://data.mercyforanimals.org/
Ng, Y.-K. (1995). Towards welfare biology: Evolutionary economics of animal consciousness and suffering. Biology & Philosophy, 10(3), 255–285. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00852469
Onwezen, M. C., Bouwman, E. P., Reinders, M. J., & Dagevos, H. (2021). A systematic review on consumer acceptance of alternative proteins: Pulses, algae, insects, plant-based meat alternatives, and cultured meat. Appetite, 159, 105058. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2020.105058
Piper, K. (2019, January 29). Want to help animals? Focus on corporate decisions, not people’s plates. Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/10/31/18026418/vegan-vegetarian-animal-welfare-corporate-advocacy
Sanchez-Sabate, R., & Sabaté, J. (2019). Consumer attitudes towards environmental concerns of meat consumption: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(7). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16071220
Tomasik, B. (2015, April 9). The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering. Center on Long-Term Risk. https://longtermrisk.org/the-importance-of-wild-animal-suffering/
Weinrich, R. (2019). Opportunities for the Adoption of Health-Based Sustainable Dietary Patterns: A Review on Consumer Research of Meat Substitutes. Sustainability, 11(15), 4028. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11154028
Wilcoxen, T. E., Horn, D. J., Hogan, B. M., Hubble, C. N., Huber, S. J., Flamm, J., Knott, M., Lundstrom, L., Salik, F., Wassenhove, S. J., & Wrobel, E. R. (2015). Effects of bird-feeding activities on the health of wild birds. Conservation Physiology, 3(1), cov058. https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/cov058
World Animal Protection. (n.d.). Animal Protection Index. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from https://api.worldanimalprotection.org/
See, for example, Beggs (2020).
See, for example, Tomasik (2015).
See, for example, GFI’s 2019 U.S. State of the Industry Report.