Hide table of contents

Before getting mini-famous, I did not appreciate the degree to which people would misrepresent and lie about other people.

I knew about it in theory. I occasionally stumbled across claims about people that I later found out were false. I knew, abstractly, that any particular accuser is telling a truth or a lie, but you're not sure which one.

But now, I'm in the unique position where people say things about me all the time, and I hear most of it, and I have direct access to whether it's accurate or not. There's something about the lack of ambiguity that has left me startled, here. Something was way off about my models of the world before I had access to the truth of a wide range of accusational samples.

In the last few years, I've risen in visibility to the degree it's started to get unpleasant. I've had to give up on the idea of throwing parties at my house where guests are allowed to invite unvetted friends. There are internet pockets dedicated to hating me, where people have doxxed me and my family, including the home addresses of my parents and sister. I’ve experienced one kidnapping attempt. I might have to move. One stalker sent me, on average, three long messages every day for nearly three years. By this point death threats are losing their novelty.

Before I was this visible, my model was "If a lot of people don't like you, maybe the problem is actually you." Some part of me, before, thought that if you were just consistently nice and charitable, if you were a good, kind person, people would... see that, somehow? Maybe you get one or two insane people, but overall truth would ultimately prevail, because lies without evidence wither and die. And even if people didn't like or agree with you, they wouldn't try to destroy you, because you can only really incite that level of fury in someone if you were at least a little bit at fault yourself. So if you do find yourself in a situation where lots of people are saying terrible things about you, you should take a look in the mirror. 

But this sort of thing doesn't hold true at large scales! It really doesn't, and that fact shocks some subconscious part of me, to the degree that even I get kinda large-scale gaslit about myself. I often read people talking about how I'm terrible, and then I'm like damn, I must have been a little too sloppy or aggressive in my language to cause them to be so upset with me. Then I go read the original thing they're upset about and find I was actually fine, and really kind, and what the fuck? I'm not used to disagreements being so clearly black and white! And me in the right? What is this, some cartoon children's book caricature of a moral lesson? 

And I have a similar shock when people work very hard to represent things I do in a sinister light. There've been multiple writeups about me, either by or informed by people I knew in person, where they describe things I've done in a manner that I consider to be extremely uncharitable. People develop a narrative by speculating on my mental state, beliefs, or intentions ("of course she knew people would have that reaction, she knew that person's background"), by blurring the line between thing I concretely did and vaguer facts about context ("she was central to the party so she was responsible for that thing that happened at it"), and by emphasizing reactions more than any concrete bad behavior (“this person says they felt really bad, that proves you did a terrible thing”).

Collectively, these paint a picture that sounds convincing, because it seems like all the parts of the narrative are pointing in the same direction. Individually, however, the claims don’t hold up. (In this case, “someone got upset at a party I attended” is a real fact. But I didn't know that person's background, I didn't ask to be central to the party, and they were crying because of something someone else did completely unrelated to me.)

But I think the point of this isn't that people can develop warped narratives about you, but rather that they do. People in your circles, in real life, maybe people you thought you could trust. I not only have internet people lying about me, but people brought by friends to parties, people who helped me move, and in one case, someone I considered a friend. If you're high enough volume/visibility, if you're controversial or weird enough that people can score points by hating on you, if you're anywhere close to touchy political battlegrounds, then it seems inevitable to me that you will get attacked by people who are best to model as bad actors - people who will confidently misinterpret and misrepresent you to others no matter how weak the evidence is. There actually exist people who see their conflict with you as war in which anything is justified to vanquish the enemy, even if you’re doing your best to empathize with their perspective and seriously consider whether they’re right.

I think this is dramatically underweighted by people who haven't personally experienced this (and the ability to experience this at scale is very rare, which is why I’m trying to share my experience with others). I occasionally see someone who seems to me to be likely a bad actor, where the correct response should be "I am really skeptical of your claims," but the people around them are like man, your complaints are important and we should take them seriously. I get the impulse, but ahh! 


I had a lot of skepticism of the recent TIME article claiming that EA is a hotbed for sexual harassment, I think in large part because of those experiences I've had. We're dealing with something high visibility (EA), where the most popular political coalition in journalism (people on the left side of the political aisle) can score points by hating you (insufficiently woke), and that is politically controversial (polyamory, weird nerds, SBF). It seems obvious to me that the odds of having some people with personal experience in the community who also regularly uncharitably misinterpret interactions, and uncharitably speak to a journalist (with both political and financial incentives to be uncharitable), are very high.

This is why it strikes me as alarming to see a relative lack of skepticism in the EA forum response. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone explicitly state the hypothesis of bad actors (though it’s possible someone did and I missed it). My guess is that people are making the error that if you inspired this level of vitriol, you must be at least somewhat at fault, or if enough people all agree that you’re bad, denying this is arrogant. 

But after being mini-famous, my priors on people lying about you once you’re visible are really high. I’m not saying that EA is perfect or that nothing in the article is true, but rather that reading it, my gut instinct was that roughly 80% was entirely misleading - by which I mean, if I could pop back in time to witness the reported interactions, I personally would think in 80% of cases that the accused had done nothing wrong. The elements here are the perfect setup to pluck out the least trustworthy, uncharitable people and elevate their story into the political crossfire.

(As an data point: I’m aware of one person who talked to the TIME reporter who, before any of this happened, I concluded might be mentally unstable and had decided to stop interacting with them.)


To do some analysis of ways people have done this to me

I've debated a bit about sharing specific examples here - the important stuff is in cumulative details, which is annoying to communicate, and on principle I don't like to give these people any direct attention. I also don’t want to turn this into “and now Aella hijacks this issue to talk about personal social drama where she picks through the details of every rumor in order to convince you she’s not a terrible person”. But still, it's hard to convey exactly how this works without examples, and specific instances of this happening to me are what have so strongly updated my views, so I’m going to pick just a few. 

I was friends with someone who wrote a piece with a bunch of accusations about me here. My (and others) response is here, if you’d like to read through the whole thing. But if not, here’s one piece of it, one of the reports that the author compiled:

  • I’ve only been to one of Aella’s parties but one was enough. The environment felt so uncomfortable that I spent hours and hours hiding alone and crying. The party had a lot of nudity and sex, everyone was on drugs, and it was set up so that consent as a guiding light was being continuously questioned.

I can’t remember any event I threw that fits this criteria in the last few years. The nudity/sex parties I organized or co-organized had either very little or no drug use.

I pointed this out in response to their post, and they updated their response to include:

  • There have been questions posted on social media about whether my account of Aella’s party is real. I stand by the account, but I decline to give a year or other specifics, because I’m worried that providing that information would help Aella triangulate my identity. However, in the interest of intellectual honesty, the single detail I think someone could contest is whether Aella was the “actual” organizer of the party I attended. It’s true that she wasn’t the only one organizing it but she was easy to observe as central to the event while it was happening and it was privately described to me as being her party. Obviously it was a party full of illegal activity so it’s not surprising that it’s hard to prove it was “really” organized by her.

A few points here. 

  1. There's nothing inherently wrong with disliking running into nudity/sex (say, outside of a romantic relationship), but there's also nothing inherently wrong with liking those things. Ideally, people with different preferences here can just self-sort into different kinds of events, and it shouldn't be a scandal to people with one preference if they find out that people with a different preference exist. The word "uncomfortable", however, points at a bad thing; and by juxtaposing it with neutral things (nudity/sex), the latter can be made to sound like bad things in their own right.
  2. They didn’t say anyone violated anyone else’s consent or boundaries at the event, something I assume they would have shared if it’d happened, since their goal was to establish that I’d done a bad thing. Instead, the emphasis is on feelings and high-level descriptions (“The environment felt so uncomfortable” / “consent as a guiding light was being continuously questioned”). Concrete examples make it possible for people to see what they think about the example, whereas staying at the level of interpretation/narrative forces the reader to trust the interpretation wholesale (or look like an asshole), and staying at the level of follow-on response forces the reader to trust that the writer’s emotional response was grounded and proportionate (or look like an asshole).
  3. To be clear, it’s okay to have any reaction to anything, even if it seems disproportionate. My issue here is the unnamed implication that other people would also have this reaction, or that the party was at fault here. It might have been at fault, but the concrete cause was not named. The reaction is stated mostly on its own, in some detail, and the reader is implicitly being asked to assume that concrete things must have happened at the party that are so terrible that of course they’d produce that bad reaction. This leaves out the fact that sometimes, unfortunately, no one does anything wrong and feelings can still end up hurt.
  4. In the response, they express fear of me being able to “triangulate [their] identity”, which implicitly frames me as a scary person who’s likely to try to hurt people who criticize me. If they’d included examples of any other time I’d tried to take revenge on someone, I think this move would have been explicit and much more reasonable. Instead, it just adds to this weird narrative that’s lying over everything like a funhouse mirror distortion of who I am. 
  5. This person says it’s true that I wasn’t the only one organizing, but I was “central” to the event. This makes me suspicious that they’re describing an event I didn’t actually organize, especially given that I can’t remember hosting any event that fit their description. I can think of maybe one event, but it was a bigger, festival-type production where I was a volunteer to help check people in, and helped set up and break down. I wasn’t an event organizer, and had no control over the principles or activities. But this doesn’t matter - I seemed “central” to someone, so I get the blame for anything bad that other people did at this event, and this gets cited in a list of reasons to think I’m “probably evil”.
  6. When they say “Obviously it was a party full of illegal activity so it’s not surprising that it’s hard to prove it was “really” organized by her.”, the writer is implying that we deliberately hid my role in organizing the party in order to avoid legal blame, framing me as the kind of person who lies about stuff like this. To be explicit here, I have never tried to hide the fact that I organized a party I did in fact organize.

Common in these examples is leaving the exercise to the reader.

The accuser doesn’t offer concrete behaviors, but rather leaves the badness as general associations. They don’t make explicit accusations, but rather implicit ones. The true darkness is hinted at, not named. They speculate about my bad traits without taking the risk of making a claim. They frame things in a way that increases my perceived culpability. 

(They also position themselves as afraid of what I’ll do to them if they give more details, which also serves the function of making them safe from the possibility that I might clarify or deny any of their claims. This type of thing is present in the TIME article. One example - “Many of them asked that their alleged abusers not be named and that TIME shield their identities to avoid retaliation.” Possibly reasonable, except in at least one of the examples covered by this, the person had already publicly named the accused, and the accused was kicked out of the community. The claim is that this is purely a strategy to shield against retaliation, but the effect is to discourage fact-checking and skepticism on all points, even using information that’s already public.)

They continued:

Corroboration of this account comes from another friend, who has told me on condition of anonymity that one of the features of Aella’s parties is a game called “drugs roulette,” in which people consume various substances without knowing what they are. Many of the substances one can imagine employing here — most saliently, rohypnol, the date rape drug; but also others — would put people into compromised states in which they could not consent to further sexual activity imposed on them by people who may not even have known that their sexual partner was thus compromised. To make matters worse, this is apparently being done under a house rule of “you are never allowed to talk about it with anyone."

This assertion is (in a way that still sort of shocks me) false in every single detail.

I’m not going to keep analyzing the hostile framing, but here’s a running tally of the ways the account so far has gotten things wrong:

  • The nudity/sex parties I helped throw had either very little or no drug use.
  • I have never tried to hide the fact that I helped organize a party that I helped organize.
  • I've never played drug roulette, nor has it occurred at any of my parties.
  • There has never, to my knowledge, been rohypnol at any of my parties.
  • Nobody has ever, to the best of my knowledge, drugged someone in attempts to make them more sexually pliable to others at my parties.
  • I’ve never told anyone they can’t talk about an experience at one of my parties.

I have joked about the idea of drug roulette before (without ever asserting, even in a joking way, that I’d actually done it). I’m not fundamentally opposed to the idea, for a small group of friends who all agreed (with full knowledge of what they were doing) to randomizing drug use between them, if various logistical issues (about when the drugs kick in) could be resolved. But I have never actually done this.

The other parts of the claim above are, as far as I can tell, fabrications, like telling people that they can’t talk about their experience at my parties. I have asked people to keep identities of party attendees private, typically at kink events, but never the experiences themselves.

In the case of the TIME article, I’m not clear on the degree to which the claims were lies, but there were at least a few lie-like omissions - I’m under the impression that the main people accused may not have even been EAs, and some of the accused in the article had already been banned from attending EA events - something that is presumably exactly what the article author is advocating happen, but doesn’t mention that it’d already been done.

I’d also like to point out that, both in these allegations against me and in the TIME article, we have corroboration - a group of people who shared complaints about my parties and agreed they’d shared similar sinister experiences. The existence of corroboration alone is not, to me, significant evidence of truth, especially in a highly polarizing context. If the corroboration is by more trustworthy people, with concrete claims, then I consider this to be much stronger evidence.


Someone who attended the same meetups with me at a rationalist group IRL was later banned from that community and several other communities for bad behavior. They then wrote a long writeup on a forum about me. I won't directly link this, because the thread is dedicated to doxxing me and my family members. The writeup includes a lot of incorrect claims, but I’ll include one that addresses more intentions:

  • She will deliberately center the conversation around herself at the expense of the conversation or others. (The card game "AskHole" is ulteriorly designed to do this; there are a disproportionate amount of questions about sex work.) During the 2021 Astral Codex Ten Megameetup, she advertised it on her page and it was derided as "the Aella meetup" because she occupied a central table and this was described by one guest as "holding court." One person who showed up to see Aella asked a pregnant wife holding her baby if she was a sex worker. She was described as "a goddess." To test my hypothesis that she will be unable to handle a conversation sufficiently not about her, I sat next to her for about ten minutes and talked with some friends about nothing related to her. At some point she petulantly said "I'm moving" and relocated to a spot where she would get more attention. During the dinner, she spent about a third of the time looking at the ceiling — like a child would do to over-advertise to their parents that they were bored. Once, when she felt a concept was socially important (this is key; she does not care about its real importance) she petulantly said "I DON'T UNDERSTAND" and either turned her head away or outright walked away, my memory fails me here. But the expectation was that we were supposed to care, and go out of our way to make it friendly to her.

Breaking that down:

  1.  This example is full of assumptions about my intent - I “deliberately” center the conversation; I “ulteriorly designed” my card game to orient around me; I relocated “to get attention.” I “don’t care” about a concept’s importance; I “expected people to go out of their way.” None of these assumptions about my intent match my internal experience about my intent, but nevertheless he presents them as fact, not guesses.
  2. Using other people’s actions to frame me. People “derided it as the Aella meetup”, someone described me as “holding court”, someone who came see me dared ask a mother if she did sex work. Someone described me as a goddess. It’d be one thing if he was trying to describe how people behave around and towards me, but his actual claim is that I am pulling attention towards myself in a way that’s damaging for others, and using other people’s behavior - most of which I didn’t even know happened - as proof.
  3. He frames normal and okay behavior as somehow pathological. I moved to a different spot, and this action on its own is narrativized as damning (“petulantly”, to “get more attention”). But if your desire is to exit a social interaction, that’s fine. Leaving conversations because they aren’t relevant to you or because you aren’t interested in the topic is fine too, as is joining a conversation because someone is paying attention to you (and vice versa). If you make a card game where you put in questions about a topic that you’re interested in, that’s also fine. If you are looking at the ceiling because you’re bored, hell, that’s fine too. The author is weirdly overconfident when it comes to inferring my mental state, but he's also taking completely normal human emotions and framing them as things to be ashamed of. But because the narrative is so heavy, and everything is phrased with a thick layer of connotation, a lot of the implicit claims being made about which emotions are acceptable to feel versus unacceptable are harder to notice and draw out so that they can be questioned.
  4. The actual damning point he attempts to make is that I’m incapable of being interested in any topics besides myself, and I read the implication here as being that I’m thus incapable of caring about anyone else besides myself, and that this lack of care is the dangerous thing. You can’t trust Aella to have your interests at heart. You need to model her as bad. The attempt here is not a compassionate understanding of another human being, but rather an implicit request for enmity.

In general, the author sets up the conclusion of a narrative - (you need to model Aella as bad) - and fills out the narrative with assumptions about my intentions, claims about how other people behave, and anecdotes about objectively pretty normal-sounding things (‘she walked away to join another conversation’) intoned in dire-sounding language that’s meant to make the walking-away sound like actually this is all secretly very bad and shameful. 

This is what it sounds like when someone (unsophisticatedly) is trying to force facts into a particular narrative mold.

The above example is quite obvious, but I also see lots of this done more subtly in the TIME article, though the most egregious examples are about polyamory -

  • Three times in one year, she says, men at informal EA gatherings tried to convince her to join these so-called “polycules.” When Gopalakrishnan said she wasn’t interested, she recalls, they would “shame” her or try to pressure her, casting monogamy as a lifestyle governed by jealousy, and polyamory as a more enlightened and rational approach.”
  • He asked how old she was, she recalls, then quickly suggested she join his polyamorous relationship. Shortly after agreeing to date him, “He told me that ‘I could sleep with you on Monday,’ but on Tuesday I’m with this other girl,” she says. “It was this way of being a f—boy but having the moral high ground,”

Here, they “tried to convince her”, they “shamed” her, the man is attempting to “have the moral high ground”. A woman describes a man asking her out as “being recruited to join a polyamorous relationship”.

And while some of this is a bit unclear - like it’s possible someone was like “man but don’t you think monogamy is embarrassing”, or otherwise said specific things that actually were shamey - other parts seem to just be assuming intent or mental state, or taking something that should be fine and framing it in a way where we’re supposed to be skeeved out (“recruited”, as opposed to “asked out”). 


  • In 2018, as she was starting her career in AI research, Joseph recalls being introduced to a prominent man in the field connected to EA. Joseph was 22 and still in college; he was nearly twice her age. As they talked at a Japanese restaurant in New York City, she recalled, the man turned the conversation in a bizarre direction, arguing “that pedophilic relationships between very young women and older men was a good way to transfer knowledge,” Joseph says. “I had a sense that he was grooming me.”

What actually happened in this interaction? The word “grooming”, generally reserved for interactions pedophiles have with children, is here being used about an interaction with a 22-year-old woman. I’m unclear if the guy was actually in EA, because ‘connected to EA’ is really vague. I’m also unclear on who did the ‘introducing’. And on what the guy actually said (did he use the word “pedophilic”? how much is being read between the lines or stylized here, versus quoted verbatim?).

I’m also unclear on what the concrete bad things happened that made Joseph feel uncomfortable and made her worry that she was being groomed. He was older, he told her a controversial opinion once, she thought the conversation was bizarre. Did he ask her out? Did he make any move on her at all? Was she pressured into doing something uncomfortable? Was any boundary violated? I’m taking away that the weird opinion is the only concrete thing that happened (mostly because if those other things had happened we’d almost certainly be hearing about it), but it isn’t made clear. Instead we’re asked to assume, through the few details provided, that the weird view must be a mask for a hidden bad thing (malicious and predatory intentions).

Maybe he did in fact have weird, hard-to-put-a-finger-on vibes, maybe her intuitions were correctly responding to some odd signals - but based on the details provided, this should not justify going to TIME to use this guy as evidence that EA has a sexual assault problem. 


To be clear, sometimes abuse of power and sexual assault does happen in a controversial community. Just because you have high visibility and there are political incentives to misinterpret things that happened to you doesn’t mean that all claims of wrongdoing about you are false. 

It’s really important to be able to suss out false claims from true ones, and it’s deeply unfortunate that sometimes the rate of false claims gets high enough that we have to be suspicious about the true ones. It’s crucial that we handle the process of figuring out which is which with a great deal of patience, effort, and compassion, because the stakes are so high. If someone was actually abused, we should try hard not to let the required inquiry, fact-finding, and baseline uncertainty disincentivize them from coming forward. 

I acknowledge my post here is focused pretty disproportionately on skepticism, and a healthy balance in a community would not look like a bunch of people making only skeptical points. I think it would also include lots of people focusing hard on the dynamics around making it safe for people to speak up, on discussing the ways power imbalances can distort incentives for self honesty, on pointing out how scary and frustrating it can sometimes be to have your claims not taken seriously enough.

I’m mostly posting this because to me, it feels like there’s an imbalance in the models people are using to make sense of this. I don’t want EA to overcorrect, but I want it to reach a reasonable equilibrium, which requires that thoughts pointing in both directions be thinkable and discussable.

It’s okay to entertain the possibility that EA is already doing a pretty good job handling sexual assaults and that occasionally alienating non-good-faith actors is part of the cost.

It’s okay to have a bit of weight on the theory that "maybe the people in that article are the kind of people very likely to aggressively overinterpret mundane interactions as meaningfully bad".

Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but this should not be a taboo thought to voice. Especially given that sometimes, you do find yourself in a children’s cartoon version of a moral lesson, where you didn’t actually do anything wrong and no matter how much you try to understand and empathize with the criticism, at the end of the day it’s not true. (Which has often been my experience. And having had that experience, I have an easier time suspecting that other people are in the same shoes.)

I don't think that all the claims in the TIME article are definitely untrue. The only thing I’m strongly endorsing is that the default orientation to this should be "Let's carefully evaluate each claim by the evidence we have for it, and assess the context of those claims", instead of an automatic "believe and support every claim in this article, both the facts and the narrative the writer is trying to use those facts for." Sexual assault especially has a sort of mind-numbing effect where it’s scary in blue-tribe society to do anything except for automatically support the person with the most legible claim to the victim role.

I want to help create space for people to be allowed to say things like “yes, that happened, it was six years ago, by someone on the fringes of the community, and then we banned them pretty fast, and we do not feel bad about our community’s response”, if true. 

My hope is that people can become better calibrated about how common lies and ridiculous levels of spin are, so they can apply the proper level of skepticism to claims and look into them before believing them. My hope is not that people pick out whoever they think the “good guys” are and then refuse to ever believe any criticism about those good guys. Just... use the tools that help you figure out truth, rather than feeling like it’s immoral or unnecessary to poke around and try to figure out what’s real.


(Also, just to be explicit - I don't want to accidentally imply that I haven't made mistakes or treated people poorly ever; I'm referring mainly to claims about me I find to be unambiguously ridiculous to outright false. There are in fact non-ridiculous criticisms of me, and I have occasionally hurt people in my circles because I behaved in an unskilled manner, and just because someone is like "Aella made me feel terrible" doesn't mean that person is automatically a bad actor, and you should not use this post to dismiss their concerns.)


Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:42 PM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Hey Aella, I appreciate you telling your story. I’m really sorry that you’ve experienced people lying about you, and making harmful assumptions about your intent . That really really sucks. 

I’ve put more information about most (not all) of the Community Health team’s understanding of the TIME cases in this comment:
It might clarify some of your questions about individual cases. 

I am at best 1/1000th as "famous" as the OP, but the first ten paragraphs ring ABSOLUTELY TRUE from my own personal experience, and generic credulousness on the part of people who are willing to entertain ludicrous falsehoods without any sort of skepticism has done me a lot of damage.

I also attest that Aella is, if anything, severely underconveying the extent to which this central thesis is true.   It's really really hard to convey until you've lived that experience yourself.  I also don't know how to convey this to people who haven't lived through it.  My experience was also of having been warned about it, but not having integrated the warnings or really actually understood how bad the misrepresentation actually was in practice, until I lived through it. 

An attempt to help more EAs "get it": Almost every old-school vegan or vegetarian should instantly "get" that people will just lie about you. I think that most of us have experienced growing resentment toward us, built on false claims that we are rude about animal products, insulting, hate humans, etc. Or if we haven't experienced this ourselves, surely we have seen fellow veg*ns share stories like "I tried to be so polite at Thanksgiving.. I brought my own meal and didn't request anyone else make modifications, but now my family is saying I made a big fuss and was rude, and I should apologize?" The meat-eaters who say such things may genuinely believe their claims, IDK, but it certainly looks like (years ago anyway, before veganism entered the overton window more) some people would just lie so they'd have a dramatic story to tell about vegans and cement their own ingroup status or so they'd have a seeming-reason to dismiss animal welfare asks and play the victim themselves and cement their control for future interactions. There are many reasons, some conscious and some unconscious, why people lie, but they do lie and those lies even become big cultural narratives about who to stay... (read more)

>Almost every old-school vegan or vegetarian should instantly "get" that people will just lie about you.  I was sure you were going to talk about other vegans attacking you for not being "pure" enough.  

You don't actually have to be famous in order to experience this; it's sufficient to be the kind of person who is easy to tell lies about. For instance, when I was in high school, other kids spread some really wild rumours about me, including that I had gotten in a fistfight with my English teacher and got away with it (without even getting detention), or that I cheated on all my tests. I did judo outside of school, and other kids apparently found that implausible enough that the majority of my school peers believed I was making it up and couldn't possibly actually do judo. I think this rumour got started just because I was pretty bad at the sports we played in school, like netball and hockey, so people told each other I was clearly lying about being good at judo.

When I was like twelve I identified as asexual, and I remember a group telling me that they'd heard I just pretended to be asexual in order to cover up being a sex addict. As far as I can tell, this just happened because other kids didn't think twelve was old enough to know my identity was asexual (and apparently they found the sex addict thing more plausible somehow). I assure you I was not famous, neither was that rumour... (read more)

Selfish piggyback plug for the concept of sazen.


I think your general point is a good one—EA has been criticized for a lot of things, many critiques of EA are unfair, and journalists score points by writing salacious stories. I also agree that it's really hard to interpret some of the anecdotes in the TIME article without more context. But I don't agree with this:

I’m not saying that EA is perfect or that nothing in the article is true, but rather that reading it, my gut instinct was that roughly 80% was entirely misleading

I think we have good reason to believe the article is broadly right, even if some of the specific anecdotes don't do a good job of proving this. Here's a rough summary of the main (non-anecdote) points of the article:

  1. EA involves many "complex professional relationships" (true)
  2. "Most of the access to funding and opportunities within the movement [is] controlled by men" (true)
  3. "Effective altruism’s overwhelming maleness, its professional incestuousness, its subculture of polyamory and its overlap with tech-bro dominated 'rationalist' groups have combined to create an environment in which sexual misconduct can be tolerated, excused, or rationalized away." This language is inflammatory ("overwhelming", "incestuou
... (read more)

This language is inflammatory ("overwhelming", "incestuous"), but we can boil this down to a more sterile sounding claim

A major part of the premise of the OP is something like "the inflammatory nature is a feature, not a bug; sure, you can boil it down to a more sterile sounding claim, but most of the audience will not; they will instead follow the connotation and thus people will essentially 'get away' with the stronger claim that they merely implied."

The accuser doesn’t offer concrete behaviors, but rather leaves the badness as general associations. They don’t make explicit accusations, but rather implicit ones. The true darkness is hinted at, not named. They speculate about my bad traits without taking the risk of making a claim. They frame things in a way that increases my perceived culpability.

I think it is a mistake to steelman things like the TIME piece, for precisely this reason, and it's also a mistake to think that most people are steelmanning as they consume it.

So pointing out that it could imply something reasonable is sort of beside the point—it doesn't, in practice.

I took Aella's post to be making a point about how EAs should read the article ("I’m mostly posting this because to me, it feels like there’s an imbalance in the models people are using to make sense of this. I don’t want EA to overcorrect, but I want it to reach a reasonable equilibrium").

I agree that "most of the audience," i.e., readers of TIME who largely aren't familiar with EA, may well walk away from this article with an impression that's inaccurate. But why shouldn't EAs steelman it, especially when we have independent reasons to think many of the major claims in the article are true?

Trying to "steelman" the work of an experienced adversary who relies on, and is exploiting, your tendency to undercompensate and not realize how distorted these things actually are - which is the practical, hard-earned knowledge that Aella is trying to propagate - seems like a mistake.

(Actually, trying to "steelman" is a mistake in general and you should focus on passing Ideological Turing Tests instead, but that's a much longer conversation.)

I admit that my desire to steelman this article stems from my personal experiences in EA, and my general sense—as a woman in EA, who is friends with other women in EA, and has heard stories from still other women in EA—that this article does get at something important about the Bay Area EA community, even if it makes some important mistakes, many of which Aella helpfully identifies.

To steelman your comment, I assume by "your" you mean the EA community's (not my) "tendency to undercompensate and not realize how distorted these things actually are" (although I'm still not sure quite what this means), but as I said before, I have seen very little evidence that the community's response to the TIME article has been uncritical or unreasonable. I'd be eager to hear specific examples of the mistakes you think the community has made since the article came out.

I mean the human tendency, not the EA tendency.  TIME does it because it's effective on their usual audience.  EAs, evidently, have not risen above that.

If you think there's an actual problem, I think the correct avenue is doing a real investigation and a real writeup.  Trying to "steelman" a media version of it, that is going to be incredibly and deliberately warped, adversarially targeted at exploiting the audience's underestimate of its warping by experienced adversaries, strikes me as a very wrong move.  And it's just legit hard to convey how very wrong of a move it is, if you've never been the subject of that kind of media misrepresentation in your personal direct experience, because you really do underestimate how bad it is until then.  Aella did.  I did.

EAs, evidently, have not risen above that.

Again, I would love for you to provide an example of something unreasonable the community has done in response to the TIME article. As far as I can tell, the community is trying to figure out what is going on, but people's responses have generally been compassionate, open-minded, and reasonable.

If you think there's an actual problem, I think the correct avenue is doing a real investigation and a real writeup.

This would not be a good use of my time, in part because others are much better positioned than I am to do this (and are). I also don't think the bar for making the point in an EA Forum comment that "these kinds of claims are hard to substantiate with stories" should be that I myself have to go substantiate these claims with stories.

Notably: I think what happened to Aella is really bad. I don't think we should steelman the claims made about Aella, which I have no reason to doubt are lies, and are cruel. I'm really sorry this happened; it shouldn't have.

But I think steelmanning the TIME article is importantly different: among other things, this article is based on interviews with dozens of EAs who level critiques against a community of t... (read more)

David Thorstad
Let's be clear: the article in question was written by an internationally-renowned journalist in a major international publication. It went through all of the usual processes of careful research, writing, editing and fact-checking at the highest international standard. This article was written as a way to convey the experiences of women within the effective altruist community and to drive positive change in the way that women are treated within the movement. This article is not the work of an "adversary" intent on taking someone down. They are not "exploiting" anyone, and the insinuation that readers of a major international publication fail to "realize how distorted these things actually are" and have a "tendency to undercompensate" from this distortedness lacks a credible basis in fact or reason.

I've had worse experiences with coverage from professional journalists than I have from random bloggers.  My standard reply to a journalist who contacts me by email is "If you have something you actually want to know or understand, I will answer off-the-record; I am not providing any on-the-record quotes after past bad experiences."  Few ever follow up with actual questions.

A sincere-seeming online person with a blog can, any time they choose to, quote you accurately and in context, talk about the nuance, and just generally be truthful.  Professional journalists exist in a much stranger context that would require much longer than this comment to describe.

If you want to insinuate that a major international publication is likely to be less reliable than a blog on issues of sexual harassment and abuse within the movement, it would be appropriate for you to write up the much longer description that you mention. This is a striking claim that is at odds with established views of what constitutes a trustworthy source. Most educated readers think that a publication such as TIME is among the most reliable sources that can be found on such a subject.

I don't deny that journalists sometimes have trouble understanding academic research. Blogs written by professional academics are often in a much better position to understand academic research, because their authors have more relevant expertise. I would be highly skeptical of the claim that, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, blogs are better equipped than major media companies to conduct serious investigative journalism on sensitive issues. Publications such as TIME have been doing that kind of work successfully for many years.

If you do write this up, please be careful to respect the anonymity of those whose names were redacted in the TIME article. 

The usual argument, which I think is entirely valid, and has been delivered by famouser and more famously reputable people if you don't want to trust me about it, was named the "Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect" by Richard Feynman.  Find something that you are really, truly an expert on.  Find an article in TIME Magazine about it.  Really take note of everything they get wrong.  Try finding somebody who isn't an expert and see what their takeaways from the article were - what picture of reality they derive without your own expertise to guide them in interpretation.

Then go find what you think is a pretty average blog post by an Internet expert on the same topic.

It is, alas, not something you can condense into a single webpage, because everybody has their own area of really solid expertise, even if it's something like "the history of Star Trek TOS" because their day job doesn't lead them into the same level of enthusiasm.  Maybe somebody should put together a set of three comparisons like that, from three different fields - but then the skeptics could worry it was all cherry-picked unusual bad examples, even if it hadn't been.

I will note that I do think that the grea... (read more)

To be clear, at the risk of repetition, the question is not whether journalists should be considered reliable in their explanations of academic research. Although some journalists explain academic research quite well, others lack the training to do this as well as professional researchers.  I would much rather turn to a colleague's blog than to a TIME magazine article to understand issues in academic philosophy, and I suspect that academics in most other fields would say the same.

The question is whether a major international publication should be considered a reliable source of investigative journalism into issues of sexual harassment and abuse. Most educated readers would consider such a publication to be among the most reliable sources on such a topic. Most readers would express some skepticism about the ability of a typical blogger to conduct serious investigative journalism of the same calibre. These readers would cite the relatively stronger training that journalists have in the practice of investigative journalism, as well as the relatively stronger track record of successful investigative journalism at major international news outlets, when compared to blogs. They might also cite specific institutional features of news outlets, such as more time devoted to research, more people devoted to fact-checking, and a higher reputational and legal stake in getting things right.

Is there a reason why we should distrust TIME's discussion of sexual harassment and abuse within effective altruism?

Uhhh no, I don't trust them, and consider trusting them to be a pretty intense mistake. I'm friends with some very well-known people, where respected journal institutions (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc.) report about their lives. So I get to know them up close, and I get to directly see how the reporting misconstrues them. I've come away from this with intense distrust, to the degree that, similarly to Eliezer, I just don't bother reading stuff they write about people anymore (unless it's simply to track what news outlets are saying about people). 

I'll grant that fancy news outlets are more careful about being technically correct about facts (I've been interviewed by both high and low profile news outlets, and have in fact found the high profile ones are more dutiful in doublechecking concrete facts I tell them), but they are not trustworthy in terms of trying to present an accurate picture. It's trivially easy to say only technically true things in a manner that leads people to a misleading conclusion.

One example is how the New York Times decided that they wouldn't cover tech positively: https://twitter.com/KelseyTuoc/status/1588231892792328192
(Matt's original tweet thread is saved here: https://web.archive.org/web/20221104004538/https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1588190763413868553 )

One example is how the New York Times decided that they wouldn't cover tech positively: https://twitter.com/KelseyTuoc/status/1588231892792328192

My understanding from those links is that NYT's actions here is a significant outlier in journalistic/editorial ethics, enough that both Kelsey and Matt thought it was relevant to comment on in those terms.


I'd never heard anything like it[...]

For the record, Vox has never told me that my coverage of something must be 'hard-hitting' or must be critical or must be positive, and if they did, I would quit. Internal culture can happen in more subtle ways but the thing the NYT did is not normal.


But what happened is that a few years ago the New York Times made a weird editorial decision with its tech coverage.

Douglas Knight
The NYT may be an outlier among papers, but this instance is not an outlier of the NYT approach.

Yeah I've heard elsewhere that NYT is pretty unusual here, would trust them less than other media.

Aside, but that was Michael Crichton.
Ivy Mazzola
[strong upvoted because this thread is currently condensed for a new reader, and this thread is the most noteworthy place to see OP's further thoughts. I'm tryna make it expands so her comment is visible]

I wonder how people here would react if this article were about another social movement that had some enemies. For instance, I'm guessing there are lots of people in the press who despise the Latter Day Saint movement (LDS or Mormonism), for instance for its political stances against same-sex marriage. Would people going to bring this sort of skepticism to an article about sexual abuse within the LDS movement? Or any other controversial social movement?

Also, many of the alleged wrongdoers referenced in this article are somewhat to quite identifiable with some degree of effort (please don't post names though!). They are likely private figures who could sue under ordinary libel standards if the statements were libelous, so it is reasonable to assume Time did its due dilligence on this one.

[Note: I am not a LDS person, pro-LDS, or anywhere adjacent to being LDS. That was just the first example that popped into my head of a group much of the media would dislike.]

I'd absolutely bring the same kind of skepticism.  I would refuse to read a TIME expose of supposed abuses within LDS, because I would expect it to take way too much work to figure out what kind of remote reality would lie behind the epstemic abuses that I'd expect TIME (or the New York Times or whoever) would devise.  If I thought I needed to know about it, I would poke around online until I found an essay written by somebody who sounded careful and evenhanded and didn't use language like journalists use, and there would then be a possibility that I was reading something with a near enough relation to reality that I could end up closer to the truth after having tried to do my own mental corrections.

I want to be very clear that this is not my condescending advice to Other People who I think are stupider than I am.  I think that I am not able to read coverage in the New York Times and successfully update in a more truthward direction, after compensating for what I think their biasing procedures are.  I think I just can't figure out the truth from that.  I don't think I'm that smart.  I avoid clicking through, and if it's an important matter I try to find a writeup elsewhere instead.

Would you trust a report from (say) the LDS church about the prevalence or non-prevalence of abuse in its ranks? [Continuing with example, not trying to say anything about the LDS church here.] 

Organizations and movements certainly have an incentive to spin, minimize, and distort in their favor. And it's arguably easier to distort on the defensive side.

The epistemic challenge is that, unless abuse allegations result in judicial proceedings or some other public airing of evidence, we cannot realistically evaluate the underlying evidence directly. So if journalists aren't reliable on these matters, and organizations/movements aren't reliable, where does that leave us? If one is being highly skeptical, there are few if any individuals who would have the resources and inclination to accurately probe into a question like this without some sort of stake in the question. If you're deep inside the movement/organization, you may be able to figure out the answer for yourself -- but if you're that deep in, outsiders could reasonably conclude that you weren't an unbiased reporter and discount your conclusions on that basis.

I mean, sometimes we just dont have very good information about a topic we'd like to know about. Perhaps we need to accept that a garbage information source can be worse than nothing, even though it is the only source we have - I suspect there is not really any way for me to know if there is a serious sex abuse problem in the LDS. Maybe adversarial attacks are useful though: if there was a really bad issue in the bay area EA scene, the TIME article ought to have found juicier stories than what I've seen.

Thanks, Tim. Your second paragraph is basically what I was trying to get at with my response -- often, we are faced with the choice of using potentially biased information sources and de-biasing them as best we can, or just throwing our hands up in the air and admitting we can't obtain any reliable information. 

I'd suggest the latter approach is actually bad for EA: if saw some sources claim that EA is a dangerous place for people like me, saw some sources claim it isn't, and concluded I couldn't obtain reliable information because all the information was infected by bias -- I would stay far away from EA. Ditto in the LDS hypothetical -- I would not let my child attend an LDS camp if I didn't feel confident it was safe. (I wouldn't allow my child to attend such a camp in any event because my beliefs do not line up with LDS theology, but you get the point.)

To your second point: I think that kind of reasoning often has validity, but there are several reasons to exercise caution in deploying it here. First, finding survivors is not easy; most survivors don't exactly talk about their experience in a way that is easy for a reporter to find. Second, many survivors do not want to tal... (read more)

Sure, I think we agree, with the caveat that if the media says anything whatsoever is dangerous, without showing the statistics to establish that it is scarier than driving to work every day, I automatically disbelieve them.

It's highly unlikely anyone could sue for libel in the United States. The Time doing even a little bit of fact checking would allow them to say they were not negligent and avoid liability. Which leaves you suing the individuals who spoke to the Time. Which will likely require getting the Time to reveal their sources which would be quite hard.

In addition, the vast majority of the claims in the article are not "factual" in a legal sense. People are reporting their impressions, opinions, etc... For instance, if you had dinner with someone and you say that they were "grooming" you, that's protected opinion even if it's an absurd description of what happened.

Then you would have to show that you suffered harm from the libel. Which will be pretty hard given the anonymity in the article.

Finally, the people you're suing probably don't have a lot of assets. After paying for their court fees and representation, you'll be lucky if you get anything. You probably won't even get enough to cover your own legal expenses. But you will draw attention to yourself and the statements in question so your reputation will likely suffer.

(US perspective here) There are definite statements of fact, and identifiable people, in that article. Three have been identified already. Opinion isn't quite as clear cut as you imply-- opinions that imply knowledge of undisclosed false facts can be defamatory. Here, the reason for the opinion was stated (a particular advocacy for age-gap relationships) so I agree "grooming" is likely protected opinion here. Most of those figures are private, so the standard is mere negligence (but for Owen, likely actual malice). I don't see how Time could protect source identity from disclosure in a libel suit by a private individual. Without putting in evidence about their contacts with the person, they'd be hard pressed not to lose on negligence. Some courts have allowed anonymity in cased like this, at least early on. Opinions differ, but if I were the judge, I'd allow it at early stages in the litigation here. An opponent's lack of money can go both ways -- it can make litigation unattractive, but plaintiffs can often use the financial ruin that even "winning" would cause a poor defendant to get concessions.
This is incorrect. Firstly, you probably meant "successfully sue for libel" - anyone can sue for libel, in principle. Secondly, in the United States, people who are considered "public figures" have to prove actual malice, which means that establishing negligence had occurred would be insufficient to establish libel had occurred; however, this is not the case for people who are not public figures. In most cases, they only have to show negligence had occurred. From what I have seen on social media from time to time, the world is suffering from an epidemic of entire political and social movements, such as Effective Altruism, being libelled periodically, with no real consequences. I am not saying this particular article is an example of that, I don't know, but it could be in principle. If that sort of behaviour (again, I'm not speaking about the Time article) isn't considered libel by the law, amounting to billions of dollars in damages from libelling thousands of individuals simultaneously, it ought to be, because it's greviously immoral and sociopathic. Just my opinion, but fiercely-held.
Large group libel isn't a thing. You can sometimes sue if the group is small enough -- lying about someone with characteristic X could lead to a libel suit if the description would only match like a dozen identifiable people (e.g., someone who lives in that house).
Duncan Sabien
The essay itself is the argument for why EAs shouldn't steelman things like the TIME piece. (I understand you're disagreeing with the essay and that's :thumbsup: but, like.) If you set out to steelman things that were generated by a process antithetical to truth, what you end up with is something like [justifications for Christianity]; privileging-the-hypothesis is an unwise move. If one has independent reasons to think that many of the major claims in the article are true, then I think the course most likely to not-mislead one is to follow those independent reasons, and not spend a lot of time anchored on words coming from a source that's pretty clearly not putting truth first on the priority list.

I think we have good reason to believe the article is broadly right, even if some of the specific anecdotes don't do a good job of proving this. 

If someone invests a lot of effort into searching for good evidence and comes up empty that's a signal for the availability of good evidence. 

But it's just hard to present evidence that conclusively proves 

That leaves the question of why it's hard. In plenty of communities, it's easy to find a lot of women who were sexually touched without their consent. 

The fact that the article suggests that this is very hard to find that in the EA community, suggests that something goes right. 

"#MeToo urged society to 'believe women;' EAs tend to be a bit more skeptical." (also seems true)

This seems to make it sound like society on average updated due to #MeToo to 'believe women;' and EAs didn't. In reality, most of society didn't update. I would expect that on average EA might even lean more toward  'believe women;' than the average person.

partly because there are many polyamorous people in the EA/rationalist communities; this creates an environment in which sexual misconduct may be addressed suboptimally." This strikes me

... (read more)

Thanks for your comment, which has been helpful in clarifying my own thinking. Particularly this:

If someone invests a lot of effort into searching for good evidence and comes up empty that's a signal for the availability of good evidence.

I take the article's thesis to be:

(1) The culture of EA is characterized by a skewed gender ratio, gendered power imbalances, mixing of professional/personal relationships, etc; (2) this (Increases the risk of? Leads to more of? Undermines reporting of?) sexual misconduct

I think the article does a pretty good job of proving (1), which is what I meant when I said the article is "broadly right." Perhaps the crux of our disagreement is that it's not exactly clear what claim (2) is. 

I think it's pretty intuitive that (1) would increase the risk of a weak version of (2): i.e., the cultural dynamics in EA lead to women having encounters of a sexual nature that they don't want to be having (e.g., getting hit on at professional events, feeling like they'll suffer professional repercussions for rejecting people, etc). I also think this kind of claim is hard to prove—it's just difficult to establish causation between one amorphous cultural phenomenon an... (read more)

"Given that, I think the article does a good job of showing that women EAs in the Bay Area were repeatedly made uncomfortable by men's behavior towards them." Even this isn't really established in an interesting way. If out of thousands of women in a group dozens feel this way, it is probably actually a really safe place, while if half of them feel that way there is an issue that probably should be addressed. And I seriously don't know which is going on (and sampling women who stay in the EA community about how they feel creates a survivorship bias, because they are the ones who aren't offended enough to leave). But the TIME article is weak evidence in either direction, because the reporter is simply not trying to establish base rates.

Given you aren't commenting on the truth value of the claims, just thought I'd nitpick that I don't think establishing base rates is required for updating (or perhaps more accurately, some stories are sufficiently bad that even 1 credible case in the EA movement may be seen as bad enough). For example, what do you think is the acceptable base rate of this allegation? Can you think of stories that "if true", would be sufficiently bad that it would make you think EA wasn't a safe space for women, even without interviewing thousands of women? How do you feel about reading a report about sexual abuse of young children by Catholic priests which were not taken seriously by the Catholic Church - do you also suggest that this is "weak evidence in either direction, because the reporter is simply not trying to establish base rates?"

So first, the story in time is stripped of context - it is impossible to judge from that story being told by a journalist how serious it is, because I know the journalist stripped out any information that would make it seem less bad. Second, that one individual in a group of thousands did something is never, ever, ever enough to judge the whole group - though the official reaction to that individual of course might be. I think that you are referring to Owen not being banned from all community positions immediately after this was reported to the community team by the anonymous woman. If you judge that as a reason to say the whole movement yas a problem, and I see it as totally reasonable, we disagree. But yes: That some priests sexually abuse children is irrelevant. There are tens of thousands. That a reporter claims that covering this up is a systematic issue is something that I will only believe if the reporter does the work to prove it. My extremely uninformed impression was that this had been proven in that case, but you correctly have pointed out to me that I should lower my confidence in the view that the catholic church pre 2010 or so had a real problem with sexual abuse. Thank you

Second, that one individual in a group of thousands did something is never, ever, ever enough to judge the whole group - though the official reaction to that individual of course might be.

Never, ever, ever? Are you saying you'd put a 0% chance that applying any kind of judgement on the group based on the actions of one individual is appropriate? This just seems clearly misguided. 

In any case, I never made the claim that "Owen not being banned from all community positions immediately after this was reported to the community team by the anonymous woman" means that the EA movement as a whole has a problem, that's a strawman. I just expressed skepticism around your view that base rates are a necessary condition for you to consider something good evidence, by asking you whether there was anything at all that was qualitatively bad enough such that even 1 case would make you think it would be reasonable for a woman to conclude that EA in the Bay area, or even EA more broadly, isn't a safe space for them. but sounds like you think the answer is a firm and absolute no, which is pretty surprising to me.

I think we might be attaching different concepts to the same words here. When you say that one incident could indicate there is a problem, are you including the way the surrounding community reacts in what you mean by the 'incident', or does the 'incident' only include the fact that one individual who was part of the community acted that way?

The pressing question for EA is not whether or not EA has a base rate of harassment that is worse than average. The question is "is there reasonable room for improvement?". I think the answer is yes, and I think the time article provides helpful evidence of that. It's not impossible that the answer is no and EA is already perfect on this issue, but from I've read it seems unlikely. 

As a sexual abuse survivor, I want to thank you for what this courageous post means to people like me. I also want to make the broader point that epistemic integrity is beneficial in so many unpredictable ways that it should be highly valued even in emotionally sensitive topics. 

First I want to say that I think the dynamics of isolated incidents of rape, sexual assault and harassment are different from being  a victim of all these things constantly over many years, and I don't claim to speak for victims of the former. Also, even though I think my experience gives me a good understanding of dynamics of sexual abuse that apply to many people who don't feel as comfortable speaking about it as me, I recognize that different victims and people at different stages of recovery from me probably feel differently .

I read the Time article much the way you did; It was generally too vague to give a good idea of how common sexual misconduct is in EA. It often referred to incidents that could have been terrible, or could have been fine. It just didn't give us enough data to decide for ourselves. Instead it expected us to assume the most terrible version of the story was true. It means t... (read more)

Lorenzo Buonanno
9moModerator Comment47

Hey everyone, as usual, the moderators want to point out that this topic is heated for several reasons:

  • Lots of relevant information comes from people's personal experiences, which will vary a lot.
  • These situations can be very serious and disturbing, and readers may have experienced appalling episodes.
  • Harassment and power dynamics are often emotionally loaded and can be difficult to discuss objectively.

Some recent threads on similar topics devolved into fights, sometimes on things very tangential to EA, so we want to ask everyone to be especially thoughtful when discussing subjects this sensitive.

And as a reminder, harassment is unacceptable.

Thanks for writing this, I appreciate it a lot, especially that you wrote it on the forum. I recall you once said EAs wasn't edgy enough for you. How are we doing now?

Regarding the time article my feelings are that several of the men in the article are no longer EA's, one having been banned from events for years. That said, discussion of the article has lead me to think there is a reasonable amount of undiscussed sexual harassment (notably J_J saying she gets far more reports about EA than comparable communities, Julia Wise treating J_J as a reasonable source and our community having a lot of men who struggle with social norms (myself included) and young women. so I buy the conclusion that there are harms here)

So what, am I gonna tweet at Time and say that they were wrong, even though I think there is a problem roughly of the size they describe? I mean if you want to defend EA go for it, but I find that us doing it on Twitter is just a mess.

And so if there is actually a discussion around sexual culture, it seems better to try and have that discussion then endlessly push back against Time. It's not that I'm skeptical or not - they are largely anonymous accusers and anonymous accused. My question is what happens (if anything) going forward.

Aella -- thanks for writing this.

I strongly endorse your central point that in modern social media culture, our normal intuitions and heuristics about how to assess people's moral traits get completely derailed by the power of bad actors such as stalkers, grudge-holders, mentally ill people, and unscrupulous journalists.

From an biological perspective, there's probably some deep 'evolutionary mismatch' at work here . We evolved for many millennia in small-scale tribal societies including a few dozen to a few hundred people. In such societies, if some person X is subject to serious accusations of unethical misconduct by several independent people, it's prudent to update one's view of X in the direction of X being a bad person, psychopath, liar, harasser, or whatever. The reputational heuristic 'where there's smoke, there's fire' can be reasonable in small-scale contexts. If 5 people out of 50 in one's clan report seriously negative interactions with person X, that's a pretty high hit rate of grievances.

However, in modern partisan social media culture, where someone can have many thousands or millions of followers, including hundreds to thousands of ideologically motivated hostile cri... (read more)

I also don’t want to turn this into “and now Aella hijacks this issue to talk about personal social drama where she picks through the details of every rumor in order to convince you she’s not a terrible person”. But still, it's hard to convey exactly how this works without examples, and specific instances of this happening to me are what have so strongly updated my views, so I’m going to pick just a few.  

I appreciate your taking care here, and concreteness is valuable in conversations like this. Even so, I'm not sure what I can take away with respect to EA from this middle half of your post. I don't know you apart from your two prior comments on this forum. It's hard to distinguish your account here from what I'd expect to read from a verbally skilled actor who's fluent in the strategic use of bright lines to avoid getting pinned down. Narrative may be the best remaining means to warn against such an actor, and by construction that narrative can just as well be framed as mere insinuation or hostile framing. So it's hard to treat statements like yours as evidence without a foundation of trust in involved individuals or even just familiarity with their community. Separately, th... (read more)

Aella is a leader in the rationalist community. As such, she’s interacted with us frequently outside the forum and a lot of EAs have developed a lot of trust in her over a long period of time. I can see how this post wouldn’t be as persuasive for someone who didn’t know of her through that.

What do you mean by "leader in the rationalist community"? I neither know aella well nor the rationalist community well and am unsure where the "EAs have developed a lot of trust in her over a long period of time" comes from. Obviously not saying she's untrustworthy!

In many areas, the EA community and rationalist community overlap a lot (for example, in the San Francisco Bay Area where I socialize , and in the AI alignment cause area where I have some experience). I realize this isn’t true in a lot of parts of EA.

The part of the post this comment is objecting to relies on that prior trust and familiarity with the rationalist community. If you’re not its’ target audience, I wasn’t objecting to you not getting anything useful out if it. I was just trying to provide some helpful context for why so many people have upvoted this post despite Aella’s sparse and recent presence on the forum.

Can someone who downvoted my replies explain why they chose to? I didn’t think I was saying anything controversial, so I’m confused.

I disagreed but didn't downvote. I mostly just found the word "leader" to be extremely strong. It might be the case that this is true in the SF scene  (but I wouldn't know given I have no exposure to that) but I had never heard of aella prior to this post and would guess this is likely true for many people who live outside of SF. Also, leader usually implies some level of giving directions, having power, commanding, etc which I found pretty unlikely given what I know of EA organizational structure and helped the fact I had never heard of this person.

I also disagreevoted for similar reasons. I'm familiar with Aella, but I would call her well known rather than a leader, such that similar to the top level comment here I don't really know how much to update on her description of events.

(I’m also confused about it and the disagreement votes in your „ Aella is a leader in…“ comment.)
I didn't downvote/disagreevote either comment, but clearly if one disagrees that Aella is a leader then they may disagreevote. similarly, if they think the merits of this post stands independently of who Aella is as a leader and is based on the idea that she is famous, then they might also disagree with the last sentence.
Thanks for explaining!

I disagree. This section of the post would presumably be useful to people who lack awareness of the extent of the problem, either because they have not famous and have not ever been the main character on social media, because they are extremely young, or because they are autistic. I am not such a person, but I do think it exposes the nature of the problem vividly and persuasively, in a way that helps you empathise with the victims of such defamation - or "quasi-defamation", as we might call defamation through innuendo and ethereal claims lacking all specificity or falsifiability. If you are not such a person either, it's something you could have just skipped over when reading the post.

Thank you for writing this, even after hearing your perspective I still can’t let go of the same feeling you initially described, that surely people wouldn’t just make up arbitrary lies to hate someone.

I wonder to what extent untruths are exacerbated by telephone games. The whole Elon musk emerald mine nonsense, for example, seems to be uttered mostly by people who don’t know any better rather than by people intentionally trying to distort the truth.

As an initial matter, there any evidence that Ms. Joseph "[went] to TIME to use this guy as evidence that EA has a sexual assault problem"? Even if she did, it's OK for people to share their stories in whatever medium they feel comfortable with. They should not feel the need to censor themselves because their story might make EA look bad. 

There is no evidence Ms. Joseph told the TIME reporter anything that was untrue or unfair. The described conduct was wildly inappropriate, and I don't think it is our place to criticize her reaction to it. Based on the presumptive identification of the other person, there seems to be a general consensus that he engaged in misconduct justifying a ban from EA and rationalist spaces.

The original poster, being "mini-famous", has a relatively effective platform to present whatever information she would like to present. Most of us do not, and can only bring significant public attention to our concerns through the media or other intermediaries. The reality is that the intermediary controls a lot of the message that actually gets published, but I don't think it is generally appropriate to attribute any problem with the intermediary's spin on the sour... (read more)

"Most can only bring significant public attention to our concerns through the media or other intermediaries."

This is a very disempowering and false narrative. Anyone can write their accounts up in perfect detail on the forum, to the community health team, on Twitter (and tag relevant parties), over DM to organizers of the event where they experienced the problem, over DM to mutual friends or employers of the problematic person, over a message to broad community organizers, on any of dozens of EA FB groups or Slacks, and/or in a police report.

To me, your comment reads as though normal people would have little option but to go to the press and shrug when their stories are inevitably misrepresented or shared only in piecemeal in service of the narrative the journalist cares about rather than the single narrative aim of the victim. But that isn't true. People can go to the press if they want I suppose, I wouldn't suppress anyone, but I want to push back against your disempowered narrative for doing so.

Also a separate point: If I'm honest, your comment about OP just rubs me the wrong way. You say "The original poster, being 'mini-famous', has a relatively effective platform to prese... (read more)

I said "significant public attention." None of the methods you described would likely generate public attention anywhere near what could be generated through talking to a major media publication or through a statement by someone who has over 100,000 Twitter followers. Steps like talking to Community Health might bring someone a degree of private redress, but if they feel that"significant public attention" should be drawn to the problem they experienced, they will have to go elsewhere. (Also, much harassment is not a criminal offense, so a police report isn't going anywhere.) I recognize that people are criminally harassing the original poster and strongly condemn that. Bringing public attention to bad behavior does not guarantee that it will stop, especially when the harassers are cloaked behind the veil of anonymity or are otherwise immune from pressure. But she can get her story out to tens to hundreds of thousands of people pretty easily in a way that most people can't.

But didn't some reports against EA men go viral before the Time piece? Doesn't that disprove your thesis?

I guess it also feels a bit like moving the goalposts to speak about seeking "public attention" like that in itself is a good thing. I remember watching a video from "Ms. Joseph" and she just wanted the problems handled, I thought so anyway. She didn't seem to care about"public attention". So it seems very important to clarify that if you or anyone else just wants a problem handled, that going to the press may be one of the worst ways to get that done. After all, a journalist can't even answer questions and ever help you understand what went wrong. And after all, it sounds to me from what you and others say that she did end up reporting someone on a national scale who was already banned from EA events, which was then reported as proof that EA presently has a problem. Soooo something went wrong there. You say it isn't our place to criticize her reaction and like, yeah, maybe I'll give you that, it's a shitty situation. And sometimes the press may be the right choice (as I say I'm trying not to discourage or reduce freedom to speak to the press).

But avoiding criticizing here does... (read more)

Making one's content go viral is extremely difficult and finicky, with an extremely low chance that any particular content will do that.

I don't think I'm moving the goalposts given that Aella wrote unfavorably about "going to TIME . . . ." And this lines up with a broader pattern: Rochelle Shen is quoted in the article about pressure to "keep it all in the family." So I think it's important to be very clear that we are not criticizing people's personal choice to go to the media before we start talking about the downsides of doing so. I don't think the original post did that, and my concern goes double with the post author is a mini-famous figure. (I do agree with you that the downsides of talking to the media are often significant, and appreciate your contributions to the conversation on that point.) 

Each of the women whose experienced were included in the article chose to speak to TIME. I'm pretty sure each of them knew that TIME reporters do not have subpoena power and that talking to a reporter is likely to lead to one's story receiving significant public attention. Thus, I conclude that each of them decided that talking to the TIME reporter and bringing significant public ... (read more)

Ivy Mazzola
[Edit: now I have more agreement with @Jason that the internal systems need work. I'm personally still impressed by the CH team's work and don't want people to believe official EA avenues are fundamentally broken or anything, but yes there is greater need for internal improvement than I thought.  See @Lauren Maria 's response to me below] Fair points. Well,  I don't necessarily agree that the "internal mechanisms to listen to these individuals" needs work, as I think that there are current avenues to know that SA in EA was being handled or plans were being made for things to be handled, and/or ways to find out that one's case was not the fault of EA or even performed by an EA man (before reporting it to Time with claim of such). But the proof is in the pudding that these were not publicized or promoted enough.  So I do agree (and have written elsewhere) that EA dropped the ball on announcing intention to make changes (and changes made) in response to SA complaints back in November. It is understandable that some women felt they needed another step. We don't know that any complainants would have been paying enough attention to notice announcements, but I bet at least some would have, and the Time journalist could have noticed at least.  And FWIW I strong-agreed with another comment you wrote elsewhere that we need a solid list of criteria for who is and is not an EA, because we also need to be able to clearly name cases that are within EA jurisdiction and which EAs have the ability to handle vs those which are not. So that resentment doesn't build toward EA in cases where it is not warranted.
Lauren Maria
  I think we can say that it does need work, based on these recent posts, and  the CEA team seems to be acknowledging this (which is great!).  In reference to your previous conversation with Jason, It also seems that these people going to the press may have actually encouraged the CEA to have an external investigation and for Owen Cotton-Barratt to step down. 

Yeah I def think you and Jason are more right now than I did even a few hours ago. Edited.

I'm confused by your apparent belief that it's somehow difficult or costly to doubt claims of sexual assault. Sceptism of sexual assault claims isn't some brave and unusual stance, it's the cultural default. It's what "believe women" was an attempt to respond to. Because usually, people don't.

It probably varies widely depending on one’s community. I was one of the people who gave your comment a disagreement vote. I did so because I feel that in my community (college educated, California ) and the online spaces we inhabit, it is very costly and brave to doubt claims of sexual assault. I also had no trouble being believed when I was a victim of sexual abuse, even in far more conservative environments. However, I definitely don’t want you to feel like we are dismissing your experiences! I’m sure many communities behave as you described.

Thanks, that's interesting - in my experience there is more often a general willingness in theory to believe sexual assault victims, which dissipates in the face of actual allegations about actual men.

I feel pretty unsure about this. I think the backlash towards believing women has been somewhat successful in at least leftist spaces in at least getting people to say that treating unverified accusations as credible is good and desirable and important.

In EA, not all of it is a leftist space, and some parts of it have their own backlash against leftist influence. Moreover, in any group, including leftist groups that should in principle be on board with "believe women", the principle and practice don't necessarily line up. I think it's easy to fall into a trap of being outraged at the stories you've been told about women not being believed, but to fail to apply those lessons to cases closer to home where you don't know the truth and you do know the inconvenient details and you have some investment in protecting the status quo.

So, does EA systematically "believe women"? Do we doubt claims of sexual assault with impunity? I think probably anyone who posted doubt on the Forum would get a bunch of pushback. However, that doesn't tell us much about how these claims are handled in private, or what the practical consequences are.

I wanted to correct a small mistake. The "groomer" that was mentioned was apparently (according to the TIME article) the same man who allegedly attempted to put his penis in a former girlfriend's mouth while she was sleeping, so maybe that's a point in favor of using that person as an example. It's written very subtly: "Another woman, who dated the same man several years earlier...". Although, I agree that it's odd that the article used the "grooming" framing when both parties were adults.

Aside from that, thanks for writing this. I'm glad that there are people who are brave enough to write about topics like these. I was skeptical about many of the claims expressed in the TIME piece, and I had problems with its portrayal of various types of people the journalist probably just didn't like, but voicing skepticism publicly is a challenge. Someone has to do it for a community to be healthy.

I wish we didn't give that much power to magic words like "offensive" or "uncomfortable". It trivializes serious issues and equates them with "someone said something once that I don't like". It's also a troubling dynamic to expect people to punish others severely for small harms.

In addition to outrigh... (read more)

"Grooming" was a direct quote from the person who experienced the incident: “I had a sense that he was grooming me.” Quoting what your interviewee said is perfectly appropriate. The article discloses that the person was a 22-year-old college student at the time; there is no attempt to hide that at all.  While "grooming" is used outside of its common meaning, it seems clear enough what the interviewee was trying to communicate here.

Yes, I was aware of that. Nonetheless, the article chose to use the "grooming" framing to describe the scenario, as well as put special emphasis on the "groomer" being "nearly twice her age". It's clear that the TIME journalist is trying to communicate personal opinions and/or appeal to crowds that stigmatize relationships between adults who have large age differences:

"One recalled being “groomed” by a powerful man nearly twice her age... Another told TIME a much older EA recruited her to join his polyamorous relationship while she was still in college."

"Joseph was 22 and still in college; he was nearly twice her age.

(emphasis mine)

In my view, the other person's age is fair commentary here. "Powerful" is rather vague and indefinite -- the other person's age provides support for the conclusion that the other person was indeed in a position of power/influence such that there was a serious power imbalance here. And that imbalance is what makes what the man said particularly inappropriate in what was supposed to be a professional-related context.

Hey Aella, just wanted to say I found this a very well-written post and this particular quote struck me:

“I think in large part because of those experiences I've had. We're dealing with something high visibility (EA), where the most popular political coalition in journalism (people on the left side of the political aisle) can score points by hating you (insufficiently woke), and that is politically controversial (polyamory, weird nerds, SBF). It seems obvious to me that the odds of having some people with personal experience in the community who also regula... (read more)

I do gotta say I believe the TIME article a bit more than the skepticism raised in this post

(in the interest of being hyper explicit, also wanna note that I support people believing the claims in the TIME article, think it's good for people to genuinely state their beliefs about things, that it's totally fine for people to come to different conclusions about it than I did.)

edit: Also, thank you! 

I would like to push back on the idea that we should not trust people based on someone claiming they are “mentally unstable”. I’m not even sure what this means? Do they have a mental illness that you are aware of? Regardless, having a mental illness does not mean you cannot experience or testify to having been sexually assaulted. It would be helpful if you could elaborate on exactly what you meant by including that comment.

Anecdotally, I have someone very close to me who has a mental illness. They do have a tendency to make up lies about people who are ar... (read more)

I mean it as a data point, not as an argument on its own. In general, I've found that people who commit to strong lies about me online are more likely to have what I perceive to be symptoms of mental illness. For example, in one case I had mutual friends report to me that the person seemed to have a "mental break" and was acting quite unpredictably.

Unfortunately, when people seem to be acting in ways I have grown to associate with some subtypes of mental illness (seeming detached from reality in various ways, often accompanied with paranoia, usually as a shift, where they hadn't acted like this before), I become more skeptical of claims they make, particularly when those claims are about other people being bad. 

I don't believe that all people with mental illnesses should never be trusted, or that we should discredit what they say simply because they have mental illness! I mean to say - if someone seems to have started behaving in an unstable, erratic manner, and then goes to an organization to make accusations, I feel more skeptical in that case compared to a reality in which the person were very stable, measured, and reasonable. 

Lauren Maria
Thanks for clarifying. Do you have evidence that this behaviour wasn't caused by the very complaint they were making? I understand that when you've been on the receiving end of someone, or people, such as you have, telling lies about you, it can be difficult to separate between instances of when someone who is showing signs of mental instability is actually lying, or when they are telling the truth (speaking from experience because I have lived with someone with bipolar disorder for most of my life and having to navigate what is truth and what is not can be really difficult).    It is important though that we don't conflate the two here, especially when I don't think, from what you have said, that this person's perceived mental instability bears any weight on the claims they have made. I understand you were just using it as a data point, but it is directly below where you say that you think 80% of what is said in the article isn’t true, so it seems to hold some weight?