At Compassionate Action for Animals, we explicitly do not promote veganism using arguments about human health. We are happy to talk about how to be a healthy vegan, but we don’t try to convince people to go vegan for their own health.

Some people find this odd. Isn’t veganism obviously the healthiest diet? Why wouldn’t we use such a powerful argument? Shouldn’t we make the best case we can for veganism?

I came across a blog post titled “The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?” that reminded me so well why we don’t engage in this argument.

Go ahead, take a moment to read (or at least skim) that blog post.

Are you back? Great.

The China Study was big news in the animal rights world when the book first came out. I haven’t read it, but from what I’ve heard it basically says “go (mostly?) vegan”. Wow, a whole book backed by lots of data telling people that veganism is the way to go! How exciting!

That blog post a perfect illustration of why this isn’t exciting. The blog post contains 9,000 words of statistical analysis, complete with tables, charts, and more. In the end, the author of the post concludes that The China Study is extremely flawed.

Is she right? Who the f*ck knows?

And that’s the real problem. It is incredibly difficult for someone without expertise to assess claims about health. How do I know if the blog post author has any credibility? For that matter, how do I know if T. Colin Campbell (author of The China Study) has any credibility? I am not a biologist, epidemiologist, statistician, or dietitian. That blog post sure has a lot of numbers and charts, though! I bet The China Study has some too.

It’s trivial to find health arguments for dozens of radically different diets (vegan, Atkins, paleo, raw, and more). If I, as an animal rights activist, start making claims about human health, why should anyone listen to me? There are lots of people with better credentials ready to disagree with me. I can cite sources, but so can others. Without a lot of independent research, it’s very difficult for a layperson to figure out the truth, and that assumes there is one truth to figure out. Scientific research is full of contradictions, especially in a field as complex as diet and human health.

Health arguments are a distraction from the real key issue, animal suffering. Animal suffering in factory farms is undeniable and easily proved. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to understand that being crammed in a tiny cage unable to move is torture. Few people in the general public will argue the opposite. An argument based on animal suffering appeals to the fundamental empathy all of us possess, and doesn’t require statistics or studies to suport it.

I realized that the migrations I wrote were very buggy. Now I’ve written a test system to help me test future migrations, but the existing releases are problematic.

I can create a set of schema changes to fixup a schema which has been migrated, but the changes will have to be applied manually.

Note that if you’re comfortable wiping your existing schema because you’re just playing with Silki then this is a non-issue.

Please email me if you are using Silki.

There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of TPF lately, both at YAPC and on blogs. The most recent discussion is in the comments of a recent blog post by Gabor Szabo asking people to weight in on what TPF should be doing.

In the comments, Casey West says:

It’s a striking sign that The Perl Foundation is expected to pay for open source contributors

Right now TPF is using money to demotivate the Perl Community! It’s killing the Perl [sic].

This is a bold and, in my opinion, incorrect statement.

Casey is no doubt referring to the well-known research suggesting that payment reduces performance by replacing intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation. Let’s assume that this research is true for the sake of this blog post.

Does it necessarily follow that TPF grants reduce motivation? I don’t think so. There are a number of ways grants can help people get more work done. In fact, I think there are several ways that grants can boost intrinsic motivation.

Public Promises

When a grant is approved, the recipient is promising to do something with the community’s money. I can’t speak for others, but I know that when my grant was approved, I had made a promise to the Perl community to follow through.

My experience with volunteers suggests that people are more likely to follow through when they make a firm commitment to someone. My understanding is that this is also backed up by modern psychological research.

I think this is one reason why regular grant reports are crucial to the grant process. This follow up makes it clear that the community is paying attention to the grant recipient.

The public nature of the grants should motivate the grant recipient. If the recipient doesn’t find this motivational, I don’t think they should be getting a grant in the first place!

Validation of Competence

Getting a grant can be an external validation of one’s self-worth. I know that I felt good about the fact that my grant proposal got a lot of public support, and was eventually approved. Effectively, the Perl community agreed that my skills were worth $3,000 of their money.

I can’t speak for others, but this sort of ego boost is definitely motivational for me.

Resume Building

A successfully completed grant is a nice bit of resume building. How many developers out there have been paid by their peers to work on a project? I make a point of mentioning the Moose docs grant in my bio, and I would hope that this helps sell my Moose class.

Money = Time

One big obstacle to getting stuff done is lack of time. This is one area where a grant can help, by effectively allowing a person to take unpaid leave from a job, or a sabbatical from self-employment. In practice, most TPF grants don’t do this. The grants program limits grant requests to $3,000, which doesn’t compensate for much time off, at least for people living in a large chunk of the world.

David Mitchell’s grants are a good example of a grant that aims to provide time. His current grant pays for 500 hours of his time at $50/hour. This is probably a lot less than he could earn freelancing, but is definitely enough to allow him to live comfortably while working on the grant.

It’s hard for me to see how a grant like this could be de-motivating. In this case, the grant isn’t about the money per se, it’s about freeing up time that would otherwise have to be spent on paying work.

Forcing Me to Plan

While not directly connected to motivation, I found that the grant proposal process was very useful because it forced me to think about my project. My grant proposal was my project plan after the grant was approved, and it gave me a lot of direction for working on the Moose docs.

I imagine that other grant recipients also benefited from going through a planning process. I’m not sure I would have done as much thinking if I’d written the docs without having to write a proposal first.

Summary

In my final grant report for the Moose docs grant, I wrote:

I’d like to thank the Perl Foundation again for sponsoring this work. The grant was motivational for me, because this was a huge amount of work. I might have done some of it over time, but I doubt I would have done all or done it nearly as quickly without the grant.

There are probably other ways that grants affect recipients. I’d love to hear from other grant recipients and/or submitters, either in the comments or on their own blogs.