Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Non-Profit Bias: Studies by Non-Profits, for Non-profits

Networks, community support, and Nonhuman Animal rights turn people vegan and keep them vegan.

Last week the Humane Research Council published a study on vegan and vegetarian numbers and recidivism, which was widely shared in the Nonhuman Animal rights community. The report was created with the assistance of Vegan Outreach's Matt Ball and Farm Sanctuary & The Humane League's Nick Cooney. It was funded by VegFund. I wasn't particularly impressed with it, as there are already many, many recent studies already addressing these questions, and I was rather wary because the way the study was framed seemed particularly conducive to justifying counterproductive welfarist approaches.  Indeed, One Green Planet, a notorious supporter of welfare reform, published an essay citing the study as a reason to stop using oppressive vegan labels and basically keep full steam ahead with the welfarist tactic of promoting reductionism (cutting back, switching from one animal carcass to another animal carcass, Meatless Mondays, flexitarianism, pescetarianism, vegetarianism, etc.). The problem is that there is no evidence to support their approach. Other studies that explore why people go vegan, why people stay vegan, and why people stop being vegan, which rely on valid and reliable scientific methods, make it clear that the process has little to nothing to do with the movement labeling veganism too strictly (this is probably because the movement has never collectively supported veganism to begin with).

This is precisely what happens when you have non-profit elites compose a study on vegan recidivism and it is funded by another non-profit: bias. Non-profits will interpret the results to legitimate their compromised position and to support their approach in annual reviews that are sent out to foundations for grant requests. Probably as a result of abolitionist push back, they feel the need to pull "evidence" and "science" in to support ineffectual advocacy that is functional for fundraising, but nonfunctional for liberation.  Radical claimsmaking (especially icky, scary "veganism") is off-putting to conservative foundations that keep non-profits afloat.

When we see such a huge recidivism rate, this isn't the result of oppressive labeling, it's the result of non-profits failing to make Nonhuman Animal rights the bottom line, demonizing veganism, and telling people whatever they do (or are already doing) is just fine (every little bit counts! DONATE!).  I'm convinced the only real behavior change that non-profits are concerned with is not getting people to turn into vegans, but getting people to turn into donors. We already have many scientific studies conducted by unbiased academics who answer to the science, not the funders. This research makes it quite clear that networks and support for Nonhuman Animal rights are the most important reasons people go vegan and stay vegan. In a social movement environment that actively works to destroy vegan networks and promotes veg eating as a diet, why would anyone be surprised that so many view veganism as unachievable or temporary?

UPDATE 12/11/2014:  The HRC contacted me to let me know that this study is sound and bias-free. However, claiming that there is no bias is evidence in of itself of bias and a failure to apply the scientific method adequately. This is because basic scientific principles acknowledge that no research is bias-free. Furthermore, before publication, authors are required to report any funding and non-profit affiliation in academic, peer-reviewed, scientific journals because the scientific field understands these as introductions of bias.