Tuesday, December 23, 2014

An Update on Non-Profit Bias and the "Downright Stupid" Vegan Position

Last week I published a brief critique of the Humane Research Council's new study on vegan recidivism, which I suggested was conducted to legitimate compromised welfarist tactics. I argued this because 1. there is considerable preexisting research on this very topic that comes to much different conclusions and is conducted by academics who are not on the non-profit payroll, and 2. the study was conducted by a non-profit, with the help of other non-profits, and was funded by non-profits. That is, this was conducted by movement elites who specialize in grant-writing, not the scientific method.

Indeed, I have become increasingly concerned at the misappropriation of science to support some very unscientific claims. "Science" and "evidence" works to legitimize the welfarist position. I worry that few actually question who is conducting this research and how affiliation and funding sources may seriously bias the procedure and interpretation of results.

The Animal Charity Evaluators sprouted up over a year ago to offer assistance to those who want to help animals (ie. potential donors) by identifying, through "science" and "research," which non-profits are most effective. The group explicitly rejects veganism in their mission statement, so we should be immediately suspicious that donating money is considered more effective than eschewing the consumption of other animals. Also concerning is that several of the organizations that are voted most effective are also those that collaborate with ACE. Furthermore, these organizations are deemed "effective" in the sense that they "effectively" raise money and "effectively" spend the small percentage of money not funneled back into fundraising on reform (not veganism).

The Humane Research Council contacted me after publishing my essay, claiming that my critique was ill-conceived and their work is impervious to bias, but I implore that the connections couldn't be clearer (and no research is ever bias-free, but the academic community does see funding and non-profit affiliation as introduction of considerable bias). Just today, I received a newsletter update from VegFund, one of the non-profits that funded the HRC study. The main story featured was that of Vegan Outreach's founder Matt Ball pressing hard for end-of-the-year donations in his "A Radical Pragmatist's Guide to Animal Liberation." Hardly radical at all, the essay repeats the same non-profit rhetoric we have come to expect: veganism is too "puritanical," "egotistical," and "superior" (even "downright stupid"), but we are winning (?), give us more money.  On liberation, Ball writes:
Of course part of me wants everyone to hold all my views. But this will never happen. And if I insist “veganism” must encompass all my views, I make it significantly harder, if not impossible, for others to even consider the animals’ plight. 
The Vegan Outreach (and perhaps Vegfund by association) "guide to animal liberation" rejects veganism and advocates instead for making oppression "less cruel." In other words, they advocate for reform, although there is considerable evidence that reform further institutionalizes oppression by maintaining animals as objects of resources and by making industry more profitable and resistant.

The movement's "pragmatic" approach does not lead people to anti-speciesism, it feeds false post-speciesist ideology

In effect, what we have is the creation or promotion of seemingly unbiased funding or evaluation groups to produce "evidence" that non-profits work.  This "evidence" is extremely important to grant applications for demonstrating that the non-profit is using funding effectively and is worthy of receiving more. Leaders of non-profits like Vegan Outreach work closely with middle-man funding non-profits like ACE, HRC, and VegFund to create an image of efficacy and normalize their approach as "pragmatic" (with radical positions framed as "stupid"). This strategy is actually quite similar to that of American "meat" and "dairy" industries. They expend considerable effort painting veganism as dangerous or "stupid" (even bad for the animals), while creating "impartial" boards to make "impartial" statements and policy recommendations on their products and funneling millions of dollars into biased research that supports and legitimizes the "science" of their position.  In both cases, for non-profits and for speciesist industry, the goal is the same: maximize financial returns. Indeed, a link prominently displayed beside Ball's essay in the Vegfund newsletter reads: "One Quick Click for Animal Liberation." It leads to their donation page.

At the end of the day, the true nature of non-profits is to grow and protect resources. Veganism interferes with profits. Almost all funding comes from conservative elites who use foundations as a tax evasion technique. Instead of using the money they have amassed by exploiting vulnerable groups to help those vulnerable groups through the redistribution process of taxation, they hide it in foundations where they have full control over disbursement. Groups that demand radical structural change and could impede on the exploitative privileges of the elite will not be funded. This is why Ball, VegFund, ACE, HRC and others advocate for more "practical" efforts; these positions do not scare off funders. Constructing research that supports this compromised approach and featuring essays by prominent non-profit leaders in "impartial" evaluation groups keeps the movement satiated. Anti-vegan reformism becomes "common sense." Unfortunately, the Nonhuman Animal rights movement begins mirror its industry-led, state supported countermovement as a result.