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Introduction

Last year, Owen Cotton-Barratt resigned from EV UK’s board of directors following reports of sexual misconduct. Prior to his resignation, accusations of misconduct from Owen had been reported to Julia Wise at CEA’s Community Health team, which is led by Nicole Ross. 

EV US and EV UK jointly commissioned an independent investigation led by the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills into Owen’s conduct and whether the Community Health team had acted appropriately with the information they had been given. Following the investigation, the boards of EV US[1] and EV UK jointly deliberated over the findings and the appropriate response. 

Below, the EV boards report their determinations and actions. We considered saying nothing or sharing significantly less information but decided it was in the best interests of the community to have some information upon which to update on the behavior of Owen Cotton-Barratt and the Community Health team. Our desire for transparency was not particularly motivated by the magnitude of the findings, and was instead motivated by the relevancy of the information for informing community members’ future interactions with Owen and / or Community Health, the public nature of Owen’s resignation, and community norms towards transparency and accountability.  

Additionally, we felt that sharing as much information as we could was particularly important because of the recent news that EV’s projects are spinning out, as the boards’ decisions only have an effect for projects so long as they remain part of EV. Projects will eventually set their own policies and won’t have access to all of the facts we do, so we wanted to provide some information to enable the broader EA ecosystem to make better-informed decisions.

With that being said, we are constrained in how much detail we can share without risking the anonymity of the interviewees. The investigators noted that multiple interviewees made requests to protect their anonymity, and given their voluntary participation, we want to respect their wishes. We want people to continue to feel comfortable coming forward in investigations knowing that potentially identifying information will not be made public.

This means that in some cases below we present claims and board actions without all of the underlying evidence or reasoning. We recognize that this post does not have the same level of reasoning transparency we would normally aim for and think readers should update less than they would if they had as much detail as we do, but we ultimately felt like this was a reasonable middle ground to strike to allow us to share as much information with the community as possible while protecting the anonymity of interviewees. We’ve also included some detail about the process in an appendix below.

Determinations regarding Owen Cotton-Barratt

The boards unanimously agree on the following:

  • On multiple occasions, Owen expressed sexual and / or romantic interest in women who were younger and less influential than he was. There were important power differentials between Owen and the women involved, sometimes formal and sometimes informal.
  • Multiple women expressed being upset by Owen’s advances. Both the frequency and the content of the advances contributed to the women’s feelings.
  • Julia Wise from CEA’s Community Health Team gave Owen feedback that his behavior was inappropriate prior to some of the later instances of similar behavior.
  • Owen was inconsistent at acknowledging potential conflicts of interest with persons whom he expressed sexual and / or romantic interest in. He recused himself in at least one professional context, but did not seem to consistently acknowledge other potential conflicts in other instances. 
  • In at least one case, Owen did not stop making repeated unwanted attempts at contact after being asked to do so[2].
  • In some cases, it was difficult for the women to avoid interacting with Owen while the inappropriate actions were taking place, e.g. with a woman staying at Owen’s house.

The boards believe Owen’s actions caused substantial harm in a way that should have at least in part been predictable to Owen. This sexual misconduct is not acceptable in our community.

Based on the above, the boards decided on the following course of action:

  • Owen will be banned from EV-hosted activities (including those sponsored by our projects) for 2 years from the date of his departure from the board. Owen stepped down on February 11th, 2023, so the ban is in effect until February 11th, 2025[3]. This ban includes (but is not necessarily limited to) employment, contracting, volunteering, attendance at events, retreats, and being a member of EV coworking spaces[4][5].
  • After February 11th, 2025, Owen Cotton-Barratt will need to appeal to the boards of EV US and EV UK to participate in any overnight events or to be a member in an EV coworking space. (We recognize there is a possibility that EV may no longer exist by that time, in which case EV’s spunout projects will be able to make their own decisions).
  • Before participating in any EV-hosted activities, Owen will need to complete training on sexual misconduct.
  • Any grant applications from Owen to any EV entities during this period must be flagged to the EV boards, who may or may not decide to veto the grant request depending on the specifics of the grant and the potential risks it poses.
  • Once the ban is complete and Owen has completed sexual misconduct training, it will be up to decision-makers within EV’s individual projects to make their own decisions on whether and how to engage with Owen, with the exception of the aforementioned requirement to appeal to the boards before participating in overnight events or be a member of a coworking space. Individual decision-makers may still decide to ban him.

The EV boards have also begun to proactively check with Community Health before bringing on new board members, as well as conducting more thorough independent background and reference checks.

Determinations regarding the Community Health team

The boards unanimously agree on the following:

  • The Community Health team made important mistakes during the process of investigating Owen. The boards do not believe any of these mistakes were intentional, but believe that they had a negative impact. The boards considered taking disciplinary action (e.g. firing or suspension) against members of the Community Health team and decided they did not reach a threshold to do so based on either intent or impact, but the boards do believe improvements and reforms should occur.
  • There were multiple reports of concerning behavior about Owen, some of which we believe were handled reasonably by Community Health, and some of which we believe were not. 
  • A consistent mistake was the lack of policies and oversight:
    • Julia Wise was friends with Owen. While we do not have clear evidence that suggests Julia’s response was unduly biased towards Owen, the lack of formal mechanisms to mitigate these issues (e.g. handing off the case to another team member) and the potential perception of bias undermined the credibility of Julia’s investigation.
    • There was no clear policy in place for when an issue deserved escalation to the boards or others. Julia only alerted the full boards to Owen’s conduct after Owen was (anonymously) described in an article by TIME magazine[6].
    • There were few checks on Julia’s decisions, and Nicole had only partial information about the accusations against Owen[7].
  • Given the potential for a pattern of behavior among the reports and Owen’s stature in the community, we think the Community Health team insufficiently prioritized gathering follow-up information from at least one of the women involved.
  • The boards have directed the Community Health team to formalize their operating principles, including via the creation of team-wide policies governing conflicts of interests and escalation. These policies will require review and signoff from EV US and EV UK’s general counsels, with any unresolved issues being escalated to EV US and EV UK’s CEOs.     

The Community Health team also conducted an internal reflection and review on the Owen case and their policies (previously mentioned here) and independently have been making significant updates to their policies[8]. They will be sharing information about these updates shortly.

Appendix: Investigative process

  • The investigators spoke with Owen Cotton-Barratt, Julia Wise, Nicole Ross, Toby Ord, and multiple women who Julia was aware had relevant prior interactions with Owen.
  • The investigators also considered contemporaneous documents (e.g. communications between Owen and the other interviewees), as well as follow-up messages from interviewees adding more detail.
  • Only the EV US and EV UK boards and legal teams have seen the full report; interviewees have not seen the full report or had a chance to respond directly. The report summarized the investigators’ findings and did not include the detailed interview notes. This was intentional to help preserve the anonymity of the interviewees.
  • A draft of this post was shown to Owen and the Community Health team before posting. In response to their feedback, we have made a few minor modifications for precision and clarity, but the substance of the post remains largely the same, and should not be read as a shared perspective or joint statement with either Owen or Community Health. We expect there may be disagreements with some of these conclusions, and anyone discussed in this post is of course welcome to share their own perspectives.
  1. ^

    Nicole Ross is on EV US’s board; she was recused from this process

  2. ^

     When Owen was shown a draft of this post, he noted that he was confused by this finding. We will leave it to Owen to share more detail on his perspective if he chooses to do so.

  3. ^

     Before the boards had made their final determinations regarding the investigation, Owen had previously been told by CEA that he could not attend their events and had also been told he could not go to Trajan (an EV-operated workspace).

  4. ^

    Owen may not be a member of EV coworking spaces but he may enter EV coworking spaces if he does so for the explicit purpose of attending a specific meeting that he was invited to by a member of that EV coworking space.

  5. ^

     This is not intended to stop Owen from posting on the EA Forum.

  6. ^

     Julia had previously told Toby Ord and Nicole Ross some information regarding Owen’s behavior, but did so in their capacity as an FHI staff member (not in Toby’s capacity as a board member, which he was at the time) and Julia’s colleague and later manager, respectively. 

  7. ^

     Other team members were unaware of the concerns until after the TIME piece.

  8. ^

     These policies are still subject to review insofar as they intersect with the boards’ determinations.

Comments135
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I’m sorry I didn’t handle this better in the first place. My original comments are here, but to reiterate some of the mistakes I think I made in handling the concerns about Owen:

  • I wish I had asked the various women for permission to get a second opinion from a colleague or to hand the case over to a colleague. 
  • In the case where Owen told me he believed he’d made someone uncomfortable, I wish I had reached out to the woman to get her side of the story (if she was willing to share that). This would have given me a clearer picture of some of his actions that I didn’t know about until after the investigation.
  • I wish I had been clearer to Owen about specific changes he should make.
  • I wish I had flagged my concerns earlier and more clearly to people at CEA and EV. Two of the people I told about some of my concerns were on the boards of EV US or EV UK (then called CEA US and CEA UK), but I didn’t properly think through Owen’s role on the board or flag that to them.

Some things that are different now, related to the changes that Chana describes:

  • The community health team has spent months going through lessons learned both from this situation and from other cases we’ve handled. B
... (read more)

Those all seem like good changes, but they also feel like what Nate Soares described as "I wish I had bet on 23" errors. What could have been done to help the team notice things needed to be handled differently, before such a costly failure? 

9
Julia_Wise
As we got more caseworkers, practices like getting input / sanity-checking from other caseworkers and managers on important cases have been helpful in a variety of situations.

@EV US Board @EV UK Board could you include Owen's response document somewhere in the post? It contains a lot of important information and it's getting lost in the comments. 

Thanks, Kat. Readers may also be interested in checking Owen's December 2023 update, which is mentioned midway through Owen's response document:

I think that my December update is still much more central to what I want to communicate to people [than Owen's response document]

Thanks for posting this update. I prefer to have it out rather than pending, and I think it’s appropriate that people will get a sense of approximately the scope of what happened. I deeply regret my actions, which were wrong and harmful; I think it’s a fair standard to expect me to have known better; I will of course abide by the restrictions you’re imposing.

I spent a lot of last year working on these issues, and I put up an update in December; that’s still the best place to understand my perspective on things going forwards.

I think that the first-order impression given by these findings is broadly accurate — I did a poor job of navigating feelings of romantic attraction, failed to track others’ experiences, took actions which were misguided and wrong, and hurt people. For most readers that’s probably enough to be going with. Other people might be interested in more granularity, either because they care about the nature of my character flaws and what types of mistakes I might be prone to in the future, or because they care about building detailed pictures of the patterns that cause harm. For this audience I’ve put my takes on the specific findings in this document. My&nbs... (read more)

I do not know Owen. I am however a bit worried to see two people in these comments advocating for Owen while this affair does not look good and the facts speak for themselves; there is a certain irony to see these two people coming to defend Owen while the community health head, Julia, admits to a certain level of bias when handling this affair since he was her friend. It seems that EA people do not learn from the mistakes that are courageously being owned up here. This posts talks about Owen misbehaving: it does not talk about Owen's good deeds. So this kind of comment defeats the point of this post. 

Can you put yourself two seconds in the shoes of these women who received unwanted and pressing attention from Owen, with all the power dynamics that are involved, reading comments on how Owen is responsible and a great addition to the community, even after women repeatedly complained about him? What I read is 'He treated me well, so don't be so quick to dismiss him' and 'I've dealt with worse cases, so I can assure you this one is not that bad'. 

Do you really think that such attitudes encourage women to speak up? Do you really think that this is the place to do this? 

E... (read more)

[T]here is a certain irony to see these two people coming to defend Owen while the community health head, Julia, admits to a certain level of bias when handling this affair since he was her friend.

Jonas's comment includes statements like "This obviously doesn’t make his past behavior any less bad and doesn’t excuse any of it" and "I think a temporary ban is important, both as an incentive against bad behavior and as a precaution so the harms don’t continue. That said, two years are a long time, [...]"

So, I don't think this would be repeating the mistakes that the community health team acknowledged. I also think Jonas made important points.

Generally, I think as long as someone acknowledges what's at stake for both sides (underreaction vs overreaction), it should be okay to try to add important nuance to a conversation.

Regarding lyra's comment, among other things, she says that she thinks Owen would be positively welcoming for lots of communities. In light of several people speaking up about their negative experiences, I can see why that's weird to hear. Like, even if it's true going forward (I think it might be!), I'd personally would have liked it better if lyra's comment had conta... (read more)

Edit to add: I edited my original comment to hopefully address these misunderstandings

Yep - indeed - I assumed it's obvious to everyone that it's a bad idea to make [things that are perceived as] unwanted romantic or sexual advances towards people, and that serious action should be taken if someone receives repeated complaints about that. 

The intentions of my comment were to give information that might be helpful + informative for people deciding how to best achieve a goal of something like "make the community safe and welcoming for people in general, and especially for underrepresented, vulnerable, or easy-to-make-feel-unwelcome groups". As a potential member of such a group, I was assuming my experiences are at least somewhat relevant.

Similar to comments by Emma and Jonas, I want to prevent people taking away what I would consider a misleading picture of Owen's behavior, because I think people having a misleading picture will make it harder to achieve the goal.

I think people might read from this post that it matches a pattern of predatory or nefarious behavior - which definitely does exist, and which I think should be handled very aggressively by removing people from the com... (read more)

I assumed it's obvious to everyone that it's a bad idea to make [things that are perceived as] unwanted romantic or sexual advances towards people, and that serious action should be taken if someone receives repeated complaints about that.

@lyra Can you clarify what you mean by this? 

It reads like you're saying that if you ask somebody out and they say no (aka unwanted romantic advances), that this is obviously bad and that serious action should be taken against you? This seems clearly wrong, because it would mean that virtually all people who've ever asked somebody out should have serious actions taken against them. 

Or is it saying only to take serious actions if somebody makes repeated romantic advances despite the person saying they're not interested? 

If the latter, only one anonymous woman claims this happened to her ("In at least one case, Owen did not stop making repeated unwanted attempts at contact after being asked to do so") and Owen says that he has written evidence that this didn't happen (see the "On feedback" section).

Given that he's been very forthcoming about everything else, so doesn't seem to be hiding anything, that he says he has written evidence to the contrary, and it seems to go against most people who know him's priors, I'm inclined to believe him until further evidence is provided. 

Sorry, was being somewhat sloppy - I meant to broadly wave at "I think sexual harassment is bad". More specifically could say:
- It's probably suboptimal ex post to make an unwanted romantic or sexual advance on someone, but it can definitely be reasonable ex ante 
- If it's predictably unwanted then it's probably bad ex ante
- if it's uncertain and the asker is in position of power / you are in professional setting / other person is esp likely to feel uncomfortable etc etc, then it's probably a bad idea ex ante
- If someone has a pattern of doing this and has received complaints about it then either they should update that they are bad at judging when this is ok and be really careful to steer pretty clear of this kind of thing
- The community should in general take repeated complaints of this kind of thing pretty seriously and not let it be brushed off with "but this person is good in X way", because some fraction of the time this is the tip of an iceberg of manipulative/abusive/harassing behavior, and is the best chance you'll get to catch it
- Even if you conclude it's not part of a pattern of nefarious behavior, it's still pretty costly to the community, and actions should be taken that provide high confidence it won't continue happening

2
Vaipan
The post did a great job at describing exactly what is reproached to Owen. I do not see anyone in the comment claiming that he is more than what is described in the post, and in general, I do not see anything pointing at overaction from anybody.  Citing Epstein looks like a strawman and does not make my point less salient: that some members jumping to defend Owen is an insult to the testimony of these women as if Owen's good behaviour removed his bad behaviours, and contradictory to what has been courageously empathized in this post, i.e. that EAs knowing each other and defending each other encourage secrecy and overlooking potential serious misconducts.  I would even add that assuming that the community will conflate Owen and Epstein's case is patronizing and far-fetched; I think that people are able to make the distinction between a sex offender who got jail time and Owen. 

For reasons I went into here, I think it often sets things up for vexed discussion dynamics when we're criticizing how others are reacting or aren't reacting, and whether they are emphasizing the right points with the appropriate degree of strength. (I do this myself occasionally, and there isn't anything wrong with doing it, per se. I'm just pointing out why we're doomed to have an unpleasant discussion experience.)

I would even add that assuming that the community will conflate Owen and Epstein's case is patronizing and far-fetched;

I feel like you're being uncharitable here; I was commenting on "not leaving much space for things to be worse" rather than making a specific claim about conflation.

Edited to add:

I do not see anyone in the comment claiming that he is more than what is described in the post, and in general, I do not see anything pointing at overaction from anybody.

Just want to flag that I agree with this. It still doesn't seem unreasonable to me to proactively make the sort of comment that Jonas made (in fact, I liked the comment a lot). But I also see why you find it odd to do this "unpromptedly." 

2nd edit 24h later: Someone has now made a comment pointing out how ... (read more)

It's important to point out how this case is atypical

 

I want to distinguish between "he is not the kind of deliberate predator you typically think of when you hear about sexual harassment" and "he is different than most people who sexually harass others".

I think that "well-meaning person does damage through neglect rather than malice or deliberate disregard" is a fairly typical case; maybe more common than deliberate predation. You can do a lot of damage through neglect alone, especially when you underestimate your power in a situation.  So while I think it is very good to push back against the assumption that harm came from deliberate malice, and provide evidence for a given situation, this is almost orthogonal to expectations of future harm. 

I agree with those points and they seem important.

I didn't write this further above, but thinking about it now, I think there was also another dimension that fed into me thinking of this case as "atypical." (But maybe this isn't the best wording and these things are more typical than we think, but what I'm trying to gesture at is "the sort of thing that has high chances of getting fixed.") In any case, when I think of cases of "harm through neglect," where someone isn't ill-intentioned but still has a pattern of making others uncomfortable, some cases that come to mind are with people who are kind of hopeless and their personality and psychology seems tragic and like they are unlikely to improve without excessive amount of supervision/handholding and fix all the stuff that is at risk of causing harm in different ways. Importantly, Owen very much doesn't seem to me like that either.* So, according to my interpretation and guesses, there is indeed less potential for future harm than in many other conceivable cases where someone e.g., received a two-year ban for making people uncomfortable. 

It's good that you made this point because I agree we shouldn't place too much importance ... (read more)

4
Elizabeth
  Part of me wants to ask what you're basing that on. And on one hand, I do think specifics are better than general assessments (which I explain in more detail here). On the other, I think trying to relitigate this on the forum is likely to go poorly, and isn't worth it given that EV has laid down a reasonable plan. 
6
Lukas_Gloor
I'm not sure why your comment was downvoted. I think it's a perfectly reasonable request since, as you say correctly in other comments, people who don't know enough to form their own opinion can't just trust that other forum commenters with direct opinions are well-calibrated/have decent people judgment about this. I started writing down some points, but it's not easy and I don't want to do it in a half-baked fashion and then have readers go "oh, those data points and interpretations all sound pretty spurious, if that's all you have, it seems weird that you'd even voice an opinion." It's often hard to put in words convincingly why you believe something about someone. I might still get around to finishing the comment at some point in the next few days, but don't count on it.

Here are (finally) some thoughts:

  • Owen clearly doesn't fit the pattern of grandiose narcissism or sociopathy. I could say more about this but I doubt it's anyone's crux, and I prefer to not spend too much time on this.
  • Next to grandiose narcissism or sociopathy, there are other patterns how people can systematically cause harm to others. I'm mostly thinking of "harm through negligence" rather than with intent (but this isn't to say that grandiose narcissists cause all their harm fully-consciously). Anyway, many of these other patterns IMO involve having a bad theory of mind at least in certain domains. And we've seen that Owen has had this. However, I think it only becomes really vexed/hard to correct if someone (1) lacks a strong desire to improve their understanding of others so as to (i.e., with the prosocial goal being the primary motivation) avoid harming them/to make them more comfortable, or (2) if they are hopelessly bad at improving their understanding of others for reasons other than lacking such a desire in the first place.
  • On (1), I'm confident that Owen has a strong desire to improve his understanding of others so as to avoid harming them and make people positively comfor
... (read more)

Presumably there is some level of [mildness / accidentalness of misconduct ] and [strength of response] at which the correct community response is to say "that response seems a bit too strong for the level of misconduct" - do you disagree?  If that's the case I don't think it's that helpful to claim that it's generically bad to ever say that you think a response is too strong - it has to depend on the specifics of a case.

Over the years, I’ve done a fair amount of community building, and had to deal with a pretty broad range of bad actors, toxic leadership, sexual misconduct, manipulation tactics and the like. Many of these cases were associated with a pattern of narcissism and dark triad spectrum traits, self-aggrandizing behavior, manipulative defense tactics, and unwillingness to learn from feedback. I think people with this pattern rarely learn and improve, and in most cases should be fired and banned from the community even if they are making useful contributions (and I have been involved with handling several such cases over the last decade). I think it’s important that more people learn to recognize this; I encourage you to read the two above-linked articles.

I feel worried that some readers of this Forum might think Owen matches that pattern. Knowing him professionally and to some degree personally, I think he clearly does not. I’ve collaborated and talked with him for hours in all kinds of settings, and based on my overall impression of his character, I understand his problematic behavior to have arisen from an inability to model others’ emotions, an inability to recognize that he ... (read more)

I think what Jonas has written is reasonable, and I appreciate all the work he did to put in proper caveats. I also don’t want to pick on Owen in particular here; I don’t know anything besides what has been publicly said, and some positive interactions I had with him years ago. That said: I think the fact that this comment is so highly upvoted indicates a systemic error, and I want to talk about that.

The evidence Jonas provides is equally consistent with “Owen has a flaw he has healed” and “Owen is a skilled manipulator who charms men, and harasses women”. And if women (such as myself) report he never harassed them, that’s still consistent with him being a serial predator who’s good at picking targets. I’m not arguing the latter is true- I’m arguing that Jonas’s comment is not evidence either way, and its 100+ karma count has me worried people think it is.  There was a similar problem with the supportive comments around Nonlinear from people who had not been in subservient positions while living with the founders, although those were not very highly upvoted.

“If every compliment is equally strong evidence for innocence and skill at manipulation, doesn’t that leave people with n... (read more)

The evidence Jonas provides is equally consistent with “Owen has a flaw he has healed” and “Owen is a skilled manipulator who charms men, and harasses women”.

Surely there are a lot of other hypotheses as well, and Jonas's evidence is relevant to updating on those?

More broadly, I don't think there's any obvious systemic error going on here. Someone who knows the person reasonably well, giving a model for what the causes of the behavior were, that makes predictions about future instances, clearly seems like evidence one should take into account.

(I do agree the comment would be more compelling with more object-level details, but I don't think that makes it a systemic error to be happy with the comment that exists.)

Surely there are a lot of other hypotheses as well, and Jonas's evidence is relevant to updating on those?

 

There are of course infinite hypotheses. But I don't think Jonas's statement adds much to my estimates of how much harm Owen is likely to do in the future, and expect the same should be true for most people reading this.

To be clear I'm not saying I estimate more harm is likely- taking himself off the market seems likely to work, and this has been public enough I expect it to be easy for future victims to complain if something does happen. I'm only saying that I think large updates based on Jonas's statement are a mistake for people who already know Owen was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends. 

If I was completely unfamiliar with EA and Jonas's comment was the first piece of information I got, that would probably shift my probability weights for what happened. Although it's still consistent with a lot of harm being done by accident, and with harm done being difficult to estimate.

But for anyone who knows Owen's place in EA,  Jonas's comment is a high level assessment that is only useful insofar as you trust his judgment.... (read more)

(Fyi, I probably won't engage more here, due to not wanting to spend too much time on this)

Jonas's comment is a high level assessment that is only useful insofar as you trust his judgment.

This is true, but I trust basically any random commenter a non-zero amount (unless their comment itself gives me reasons not to trust them). I agree you can get more trust if you know the person better. But even the amount of trust for "literally a random person I've never heard of" would be enough for the evidence to matter to me.

I'm only saying that I think large updates based on Jonas's statement are a mistake for people who already know Owen was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends.

SBF was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends. It's pretty notable to me that there weren't many comments like Jonas's for SBF, while there are for Owen.

In contrast, lyra's comment contains a lot of details I can use to inform my own reasoning.

It seems so noisy to compare karma counts on two different counts. There are all sorts of things we could be failing to miss about why people voted the way they did. Maybe people are voting Jo... (read more)

SBF was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends. It's pretty notable to me that there weren't many comments like Jonas's for SBF, while there are for Owen.

 

I think these cases are too different for that comparison to hold. 

One big difference is that SBF committed fraud, not sexual harassment. There's a long history of people minimizing sexual harassment, especially when it's as ambiguous. There's also a long history of ignoring fraud when you're benefiting from it, but by the time anyone had a chance to comment on SBF he had already incontrovertibly failed, in public, at an epic scale.

Additionally, even in the most generous interpretation of the overall situation, Owen seems extremely bad at assessing how his advances are received. Jonas's comment doesn't mention any source of information other than Owen himself, who even if he's not actively lying, is not a reliable source of information. Maybe I'm wrong and Jonas has more sources, in which case I would love for him to give more details on that. 

If someone else had written my comment, I would ask myself how good that person's manipulation detection skills are. If I judge them to be strong, I would deem the comment to be significant evidence, and think it more likely that Owen has a flaw that he healed, and less likely that he's a manipulator. If I judge them to be weak (or I simply don't have enough information about the person writing the comment), I would not update. 

If there are a lot of upvotes on my comment, that may indicate that readers are naïvely trusting me and making an error, or have good reason to trust my judgment, or have independently reached similar conclusions. I think it's most likely a combination of all of these three factors.

Not sure if everyone does it this way, but I find agree/disagree votes more important for what you're saying than merely upvotes. In cases like this, I would use agree/disagree votes if I know a lot about either Owen directly, or about Jonas's judgment in situations like this.* Even though it's technically anonymous, I think of agree/disagree votes in situations like this as "staking a small part of my own reputation on the claims in the comment." I'd use upvotes more liberally and upvote things that sound potentially important or insightful even if I'm still unsure about them.

*I guess a third case is if I think a comment uses weird reasoning that makes me think the person who wrote it has bad people judgment, I could also see myself disagree-voting it from a distance/without any more direct knowledge.

How can the EA community better support neurodivergent community members who feel like they might make mistakes without realizing it?

As a person with an autism (at the time "asperger's") diagnosis from childhood, I think this is very tricky territory. I agree that autistics are almost certainly more likely to make innocent-but-harmful mistakes in this context. But I'm a bit worried about overcorrection for that for a few reasons: 

Firstly, men in general (and presumably women to some degree also), autistic or otherwise are already incredibly good at self-deception about the actions they take to get sex (source: basic commonsense). So giving a particular subset of us more of an excuse to think "I didn't realize I would upset her", when the actual facts are more "I did know there was a significant risk, but I couldn't resist because I really wanted to have sex with her", seems a bit fraught. I think this is different from the sort of predatory, unrepentant narcissism that Jonas Vollmer says we shouldn't ascribe to Owen: it's a kind of self-deception perfectly compatible with genuine guilt at your own bad behavior and certainly with being a kind and nice person overall. I actually think the feminism-associated* meme about sexual bad behavior being always really about misogyny or dominance can sometimes obscure ... (read more)

2
Jonas V
Yeah, I think there's a lot more to be said about this topic, and I'm glad that your said some of it - thanks!

As the post says above, I’d like to share updates the  team has made on its policies based on the internal review we did following the Time article and Owen’s statement as a manager on the team and the person who oversaw the internal review. (My initial description of the internal review is here). In general, these changes have been progressing prior to knowing the boards’ determinations, though thinking from Zach and the EV legal team has been an important input throughout.
 

Changes 

Overall we spent dozens of hours over multiple calendar months in discussions and doing writeups, both internally to our team and getting feedback from Interim CEA CEO Ben West and others. Several team members did retrospectives or analyses on the case, and we consulted with external people (two EAs with some experience thinking about these topics as well as seven professionals in HR, law, consulting and ombuds) for advice on our processes generally. 

From this we created a list of practices to change and additional steps to add. The casework team also reflected on many past cases to check that these changes were robust and applicable across a wide variety of casework. 

Our c... (read more)

Have you considered blinded case work / decision making? Like one person collects the key information annonomises it and then someone else decides the appropriate responce without knowing the names / orgs of the people involved.

Could be good for avoiding some CoIs. Has worked for me in the past for similar situations.

(Fwiw, the Forum moderation team does this for many of our cases.)

Thanks — yes, we've done this in some cases.

8
Tiresias
This is hard and that should be recognized. It seems you all are taking this extremely seriously and that should be commended. The recent discussion around Nonlinear got me wondering about one aspect of CH reports I hadn't considered before. Has the CH team ever spoken negatively about the person who made a report to people outside the CH team? I'm thinking of a scenario like: Steve makes an accusation against Lina. The CH team interacts with Steve and through this interaction comes to view him as somewhat of an unstable character. Even though no one has reported Steve, the CH team advises against hiring Steve to other institutions within the EA space, based on their interactions they had with Steve when the reported about Lina's behavior.

Thanks for your question, Tiresias. We appreciate people coming to us with concerns, and we absolutely don't want to disincentive people from doing so. And we know that people usually aren’t at their best when they’re in the midst of stressful situations.

However, we don't think it’s a workable policy to promise never to take action against people who come to us. Many concerns we get involve two or more people who each have complaints about the other's actions. In those cases, we don't want to unfairly advantage the side of the person who raises the topic with us first. Or there could be a concern separate from the problem the person reported. So we have to balance these two considerations.

7
Tiresias
Thanks for the honest and thoughtful response. I have a couple follow up questions. Since this does occur, I think it would be useful for the community to know what risks they are taking if they choose to report to the CH team. I am reading what you stated as "reporting something to us does not mean that we will never take action against the person who reported to us." I see two possible scenarios here, so want to get clarification on what you mean. One scenario, James reports something to you. You conclude at some point that James has engaged in misconduct, based on reports from people outside of the CH team. Maybe you collected those reports in the process of investigating James's claim. Maybe someone just separately came to you on an unrelated matter about James. Regardless, it ends up that you have some credibly allege James of misconduct, so you act on that. Second scenario, James reports something to you. In talking to James, you find him to be abrasive, unreasonable, and generally quite unpleasant to interact with. You grow to have serious concerns about him based on how he's interacted with you. He's not engaged in any misconduct (eg, he's not sexualy harassing you or anything), just generally displaying an unstable personality. You do not receive any reports of misconduct against James. Have you taken action against someone like "James" in either scenario? Or just in the first scenario? My second question is: Would it be possible for you to share the percentage of time you've taken action against a reporter over the last, say, 5 years? Thanks again. P.S. This whole OCB scenario seems like it would be very hard, Julia, and I really appreciate how forthcoming you have been about it. While you admit to making mistakes, I hope the wider community sees that the real mistakes in the CH's response came from flawed processes more than from any one individual. We all make mistakes in our jobs, and unfortunately yours are publicized more than most. It's a toug
[anonymous]75
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1

I mostly want to +1 to Jonas’ comment and share my general sentiment here, which overall is that this whole situation makes me feel very sad. I feel sad for the distress and pain this has caused to everyone involved. 

I’d also feel sad if people viewed Owen here as having anything like a stereotypical sexual predator personality.

My sense is that Owen cares extraordinarily about not hurting others. 

It seems to me like this problematic behavior came from a very different source – basically problems with poor theory of mind and underestimating power dynamics. Owen can speak for himself on this; I’m just noting as someone who knows him that I hope people can read his reflections genuinely and with an open mind of trying to understand him. 

That doesn’t make Owen’s actions ok – it’s definitely not – but it does make me hopeful and optimistic that Owen has learnt from his mistakes and will be able to tread cautiously and not make problems of this sort again.

Personally, I hope Owen can be involved in the community again soon. 

 

[Edited to add: I’m not at all confident here and just sharing my perspective based on my (limited) experience. I don’t think people should give my opinion/judgment much weight. I haven’t engaged at all deeply in understanding this, and don’t plan to engage more]

1[anonymous]
It seems that some people have read my comment as dismissive and/or defensive (of Owen). I do not mean it that way. I am glad this was brought to light, and glad if it’s being taken seriously. I was trying to provide my (not confident) hypothesis about what led to this problematic bad behavior – in order to help figure out what would help make this situation better and avoid similar situations from happening. I do not mean to imply that this hypothesis makes the actions ok. It doesn’t.

[Liberally edited to clarify / address misunderstandings]

I assume it's obvious to everyone that it's a bad idea to make [things that are perceived as] unwanted romantic or sexual advances towards people, and that serious action should be taken if someone receives repeated complaints about that. I assume everyone agrees that "ignore complaints of harassment if a few people say they're pretty sure the perpetrator is a good person / they're a pillar of the community / their work is valuable / etc" is a bad policy. 

I assume everyone has a shared goal along the lines of "make the community safe and welcoming for people in general, and especially for underrepresented, vulnerable, or easy-to-make-feel-unwelcome groups".[1]

As a potential member of such a group who has had significant interactions with Owen, I think I have information that might help people to pursue that goal more effectively. I assume one sensible way to make decisions that improve the welcomingness for particular groups is to ask representatives of that group whether a particular decision would make them feel more or less welcome. In the absence of general solicitation to that effect (at least with respect to t... (read more)

I worked closely with Owen for several years. This was not my experience with him nor the experience of many others who worked with him. I found Owen to have "favorites" he treated well and others he treated very poorly. Including me. The pain he inflicted on me was not trivial and still bites. 

I'm really sorry to hear that this was your experience. I don't know who you are, but ... I wish you'd said something at the time? (Though I recognize that speaking up can be difficult and costly, and I don't think you had a responsibility to speak up; I'm just expressing a felt desire to have lived in the world where you had.)

Or if you feel like you tried to say something and it didn't get through, I'm sorry for that.

Without knowing more I don't know how much these are issues where I've updated my policies in the meanwhile. I guess not entirely (in that I wouldn't have described myself that way). If you feel like sharing more information (publicly or privately) I'm interested, but I don't want to put you on the spot just because you wanted to share this high-level experience.

I would also add that as far as I can recall, everyone I've ever spoken with about Owen has had positive experiences interacting with him. This includes multiple other people in the same sort of demographic situation as me. This is obviously not conclusive evidence of anything, and there can be all sorts of selection effects, but is at least evidence that there are multiple other people with similar positive experiences to me.

I'm glad to hear that your experiences were so positive, but I'm afraid in the grip of angst I didn't always manage to hold to all of these ideals. I wasn't properly aware of my shortcomings; I sought to move on quickly from processing feedback; I sometimes felt entitled to ask for emotional support in ways I now think were highly inappropriate and damaging. These issues are discussed a bit further in the notes linked from my other comment.

5
Lorenzo Buonanno🔸
I'm not on the EA Forum team, but I have strong reason to believe (>95%) that lyra is indeed someone who had "many interactions with Owen, since 2015 or so, originally as a much younger (late teens), new-to-EA, and female person". If you want, feel free to send me a message from a non-anonymous account to confirm your identity and your interactions with Owen.
3[comment deleted]

I'm glad to see:

  1. The Community Health team adopting more robust procedures
  2. Transparency regarding the changes made and the reasons for them
  3. The boards of EV taking an active role in overseeing this and in acting even against a well known and powerful figure.

I was also glad to see Owen step down from his role, taking full responsibility and apologizing for his actions, cooperating and attempting to improve himself. This sets a good example.

In at least one case, Owen did not stop making repeated unwanted attempts at contact after being asked to do so[2].

I’m surprised and confused as to why the EV Board did not include that Owen says that he has written evidence showing that this isn’t true. (See the “On feedback” section here)

Did the investigators look at the evidence and disagree that the evidence was exculpatory? Or did they not look at the evidence at all and just post anyways, despite Owen telling them he had evidence (great article here about why this is suboptimal)? 

Given that Owen has been more than forthcoming about everything so far, so it’s unlikely he’s hiding anything, and he says he has written evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to believe that this accusation is false or misleading until I get more evidence to the contrary. 

I would appreciate if @EV UK Board @EV US Board  shared more information about what they did in this case, since it seems like a very cruxy accusation. 

If the only thing he did was express romantic interest in people who weren’t as influential as him, I think that is a much less bad thing (even not bad at all), and the 2 year banishment seems unwarra... (read more)

I don't think "only thing he did was express romantic interest in people who weren’t as influential as him" would be a full characterization of the factual findings here. For example, the Boards found that the "frequency and the content of the advances contributed to the women’s feelings." That's still vague, but it's more than merely expressing interest across a power/influence gradient. There's a finding concerning inconsistent recognition (and thus, management) of conflicts of interest. There's an implied finding that the circumstances of some expressions of interest were inappropriate: "it was difficult for the women to avoid interacting with Owen while the inappropriate actions were taking place, e.g. with a woman staying at Owen’s house."

More generally: The Boards' post lists their findings of fact at a fairly high level. The post clearly states that it is not a "shared perspective" document and that involved persons may disagree with some of the conclusions. There's a footnote indicating that Owen doesn't seem to agree with the factual finding you identified.

I think that's enough here. It's almost inevitable that factual findings in a matter like this will rely in significan... (read more)

As well as the reasons Jason lists, I think there are difficulties relating to preserving anonymity here. The identities of the people involved are known to me, to Community Health, and to the external investigation -- but not as far as I'm aware to the EV boards. The external investigation is complete, and I can't share evidence with the EV boards without damaging that anonymity (although note also that I don't completely agree with Kat's characterisation of my view of the evidence). Moreover, although it's transparent to me who this finding must be relating to, it's presumably not transparent to the EV boards that it's transparent to me, so I imagine they want to avoid leaking any bits of information about people who may or may not have spoken to the investigation. (I'm still not in fact certain that this person spoke to the investigation! It seems unlikely-but-conceivable that the finding is a garbled version of a thing I said to the investigation about the person's bad experience.)

I understand now that the boards wanted to base their actions just on the findings of the investigation, so there could be no question about the process being impartial.

frequency and the content of the advances contributed to the women’s feelings.

If somebody doesn't express disinterest in the romantic interest, why is frequency a problem? There is only one claimed case where a person says he didn't stop when she said no, and he says he has written evidence against that. 

For "content", this could be reframed as saying "don't ask people out in the wrong way" which seems like a vague and impossible standard. There is no right or wrong way to ask somebody out (of course, I'm sure there are edge cases). 

3
Milena Canzler🔸
If you combine someone frequently expressing sexual/romantic interest in you when there's a power differential, that is a problem. It might mean, especially when the person who's doing that is your boss/mentor/someone more senior than you, that you don't feel like you can (clearly) refuse. When this is a situation involving a junior woman and a senior man, social behavior patterns of women being afraid of telling someone "no" often make this worse. Even if both people are interested in each other, the way they relate to each other in an organization should ideally be changed to reduce the power differential. This is a standard procedure in some countries, e.g. Israel.
5
Kat Woods
I do think many women experience fear around this, and many have troubles expressing their wants in general. Many don't though. What's the solution then?  Should we encourage women to be strong, to do things that scare them, to stand up for themselves? Should we encourage women to tell people what they want instead of holding it in and not getting their needs met? Or should we make it so they're never in situations that they might feel scared? Should we protect women from any danger, including the danger of being asked out and it feeling awkward to say no?  I think the former is a better solution. 
2
Kat Woods
  It looks like this is saying that women can't say no to powerful men? Why is that?  I assume that women are strong and independent and if a powerful person tells them to do something, they can say no just fine, just like anybody else.  Am I missing something? 
1
Jason
I think it's also highly salient that concerns about frequency were apparently raised by multiple women. This implies that they believed they had made it sufficiently clear enough that the attention was unwelcome before at least some of the expressions of interest. If there were just one report of that nature, one might conclude that the identified individual was not given enough information to reasonably understand that further attention was unwelcome. This becomes an increasingly unlikely theory as the number of reports increases.

My best guess is that it's not correct that concerns about frequency were raised by multiple women, and the sentence is referring to different things contributing to the feelings of different people (most likely two).

In the case I'm aware of the key thing that went wrong was that I didn't realise some of what I was communicating would be taken as continued expression of interest (I thought it was a settled "no"). Of course there may be a case where I'm still unaware of this facet of their experience.

4
Jason
If concerns about frequency were only raised by one person, the Boards should amend the second factual finding. If changing the text much would be problematic due to confidentiality concerns and/or ambiguities in the investigative report, changing "and" to "and/or" would at least help. In my reading, the fifth finding involves a specific complaint about frequency.[1] Given that, there shouldn't be references to frequency in the second paragraph in a context that implies that there were multiple such complaints (e.g., stating that frequency "contributed to the women’s feelings" (emphasis mine)). Rather, referring to the same complaint in both the second and fifth finding would constitute double-counting and thus overstate the findings. 1. ^ In common language, I would describe a frequency concern as ~"it happened too many times." I think that "it happened too many times" is necessarily implied by the fifth finding, that ~"it happened again to the same person after Owen was asked to stop."

Thanks, I thought a bit more about this (I'd previously just been assuming that it meant the case I knew about), and I find it plausible it was more than one. In particular, as I explained in my notes there was a pattern in the cases of harm in which I read the other person as having more reciprocated attraction than they did. I find it plausible that things I said working from such a mistaken impression would have been read as advances, and have little idea what the frequency of such things could have been.

1
Kat Woods
So there's no confirmed person aside from the one listed, but there could feasibly be more?  Is there anybody aside from the one person publicly listed who asked you to stop expressing interest or asked you to stop talking to them or anything like that? 
2
Owen Cotton-Barratt
Nobody else like that.
1
Kat Woods
Is this cruxy for anybody? If people found out that he'd expressed romantic interest in somebody at his house, would people think that's an bannishable offense? 

Yes, in this specific context it's a crux for me. If someone hosted a new person of the community at their house in a foreign country, and then made sexual advances at them, I'd not want that person to host newcomers/foreigners again. 
Edit: I'm writing in personal capacity here, this is not a statement by EA Germany. 

5
Kat Woods
OK. Does it make a difference that the only instance where we have public details, Owen wasn't making sexual advances in his house? He just mentioned, to a friend where they were both doing radical honesty with each other, inspired by circling, that he was going to masturbate that day. When she wasn't in the house. Not masturbating about her or anything. Just that he'd do what the vast majority of guys do every day.  She was a friend, not a colleague. He wasn't doing professional connecting people with jobs or anything like that. He only started that role later.  It's a weird thing to say in most contexts, but if you're friends and have mutually agreed radical honesty, it seems fine. It would be like attending a circling event (where radical honesty is expected). As long as people are choosing to do it, then they're adults and can do what they want.  Now, it's unclear whether he also expressed romantic interest in others while at his house, and it's also unclear whether such people were working for/with him or were visting his house as a friend, etc. 
2
lyra
Did you read the actual description of the incident in question?
4
Rebecca
What is the inaccuracy you’re pointing to?
2
Jason
There's a big difference between expressing interest on a social visit to one's home and doing so under the circumstances described in the Time article to which this is apparently alluding. It's not particularly for the person on a social visit to leave and thus get away from the situation.
-3
Kat Woods
In the same article they say that Julia Wise also did this and had troubles managing conflicts of interest. Should she be banished for 2 years?  There are plenty of EA leaders who've had this problem (managing COIs is hard and not straightforward!) and they are not being banished.  It seems that the more likely explanation is that there was a big blow up for EA's reputation with that Time magazine article, and EV is trying to protect themselves by making a public example of somebody. 

The Boards found that Owen committed acts of sexual misconduct. That he failed to appropriately manage COIs related to expressing sexual/romantic interest is an aggravating factor to the finding that he had committed misconduct with respect to expressions of interest.[1] The Boards are not suggesting that a 2 year ban from EVF activities is some sort of default penalty for COI mismanagement. 

I think many organizations in both the US and UK would have disassociated themselves from a former trustee for the conduct described in the Time magazine article alone. Thus, I do not think the sanction here is excessive. The Boards have no power to make decisions for the EA community or any other organization; that is up to all of us.

Julia made some (admittedly significant) errors of judgment in a very difficult situation not of her own making, where the existing policies, precedents, and resources were not remotely up to the task set before her. It is relatively uncommon for an organization to suspend or fire a longstanding employee for an honest mistake in judgment in one case on the job. I do not see any evidence that the Boards' decision here was outside of their discretion.

I hav... (read more)

Thanks to the boards for thinking through this and thinking about how Community Health can do better in the future.

I’m sorry for my mistakes here and the harms my mistakes have caused. In particular, I should have given more support to Julia’s decision-making by getting more details about the case, forming my own inside view and double-checking the actions taken in this case. I think that would likely have caused us to take different actions here and prevented some harms. Our changes, listed in more detail in Chana and Julia’s comments, make a mistake like this much less likely in the future.

I also wish I had ensured I had a clearer set of principles and policies for when, either as a board member or the manager of the Community Health team, an issue needed escalation to the whole board. We’re working on a team-wide policy to this effect.

In general, I’ve also made a lot of personal updates in line with the mistakes listed above (e.g., I put higher weight on the value of pre-agreed-upon policies relative to case-by-case decision-making than I used to). I'm grateful for everyone's work and support on the changes our team is making; I think it’s making us better and more robust.


 

I would like to recognize that I have a lot of empathy for the EV board. I think that no matter what decision they made, they would get criticized. That's a really hard position to be in and I hope that their friends are reaching out to them and sending them comfort and funny gifs. 

I personally don't hold anything against them, because I think it's really hard to do things like this and ethics is complicated and fundamentally unsolved. 

I hope they can find some solace in this situation: if people are going to critcize you no matter what you do, you can simply make the decision you think is right instead of trying to please the public, which are fundamentally unpleasable, because there's too many of us.  

Owen says in his response

My understanding is that I always followed the letter of policy on when to recuse. 

I'm curious to hear whether the OP disagree with this. Do they think that he broke the rules on conflict of interest? Or do they think that he did indeed follow the rules, but there were some instances where there were unspoken rules or hard to make judgment calls that he didn't realize? 

Edit: I wrote the following without consulting with my team, in private manner only. This does not represent the position or views of EA Germany, nor is it intended as an official statement.

Thanks to the EV boards for deciding to publish this. 

As someone who's directly supported several people right after, and in the months after other sexual misconduct situations, I want to support @Vaipan's sentiment. The comments defending Owen Cotton-Barratt's character are clearly well-intentioned and not meant to harm those women who remain silent and anonymous. Although they are not meant that way, the comments might hurt those women and discourage others in similar positions to come forward. Reactions like these are part of the reason why victims of abuse and assault remain silent, they are perceived as reminders that the perpetrator matters more than the victim(s). Depending on he severity of the harm caused, they might cause retraumatization by giving the impression that everyone is supporting the person in power and not caring about the people harmed.

I don't think there's an easy fix for that: Owen Cotton-Barratt is not anonymous, and a prominent figure (at least in the UK community... (read more)

I haven't wanted to speak about the people who were upset for fear public attention could be uncomfortable, but for the record and because as you say others can't speak to this: 

  • I believe all of them are smart, honourable people who care a lot about doing the right thing. 
  • I think they have made important contributions to the community, and I personally have learned deeply from them. 

Then a couple of things which probably go without saying, but to remove any ambiguity I'll say anyway:

  • I think it would be ridiculous to question their reports of bad experiences; I wouldn't dream of bearing them ill-will over this; and I sincerely hope they've had good support networks and are doing well now. 
  • I'd be happy if any of them wanted to talk publicly (anonymously or otherwise) about their experience, about things that would be helpful for them now, or about their views of my character; but I don't want to put that on them.

I don't think there's an easy fix for that: Owen Cotton-Barratt is not anonymous, and a prominent figure (at least in the UK community). As such, people will want to give their personal testimony of what threat he might pose or not. The women who reported him remain anonymous - no one will come to defend their character or great deeds for the community, since no one knows who they are. 

I'd also flag the related risk of cognitive bias here -- the women who were affected by Owen's actions are in a sense abstractions to the vast majority of readers. By that I mean we (understandably) haven't heard their stories in their own words or in any detail; we largely are reliant on the Boards' (understandably) concise and not-too-specific factual findings. In contrast, Owen is known and has (mostly) positive history with people in the community.

That's largely unavoidable, because of course we should honor the women's desire not to be identified. But I would say that if someone's reaction to what happened changes too much if they change from evaluating the abstract "a senior EA figure" to "Owen," they may want to consider that they have been exposed to humanizing/de-abstracting information... (read more)

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Jeff Kaufman
I'm confused what you're proposing here. Since, as you say above, no one knows what their contributions are, what would crediting them look like?
3
Milena Canzler🔸
Thanks for asking, Jeff, I see why that might be confusing.  I was thinking of a statement such as:  "I want to first pay my respect to the people who have been harmed by X's actions. I want to ask readers to remember that these people might have contributed greatly to our community too, and that several people were harmed by one person."   
8
Rebecca
I would agree with this comment if it was regarding a situation of sexual assault or similar severity.
5
Alix Pham
Thank you Milena for writing this. Let's not forget the painful reality of the victims. The fact that their anonymity prevents them from getting the personal support of many only exacerbates the need for our solidarity with them.

I agree that the women affected are what this is primarily about. But there's also an issue with not wanting to ascribe to anyone how we think they likely feel, without knowing much about them. Like, maybe at least some of the women who had negative experiences have nuanced feelings that aren't best described as "I feel bad/invalidated whenever I see someone say positive things about Owen, even if they take care to not thereby downplay that the things he did weren't acceptable." Maybe some feel things like, "this stuff was messed up and really needed to be dealt with, and it sucks that it took so long/seemed like initially it wasn't going to be dealt with, but it seems like things are developing in a good direction now." Or maybe not! Maybe they're still super upset and wish that Owen never re-enter the community again. That would be their right and seems understandable, too. In any case, the way I see it, we don't know at this point (at least I don't), and while I agree that it's important to create encouraging incentives so people will be likely to report future instances of misconduct, I don't think this requires a policy of "avoid at all costs saying things that might make some... (read more)

3
Alix Pham
Thanks for this comment. I think I agree with a lot of what you say, and wanted to clarify that I am not saying people should pick sides. I just wanted to point out the imbalance of total personal support expressed for each "side", without implying that you can't show support for both.
-18
Kat Woods

There seems to be two main accusations here:

  1. “Owen expressed sexual and / or romantic interest in women who were younger and less influential than he was.”
  2. “In at least one case, Owen did not stop making repeated unwanted attempts at contact after being asked to do so”

I’ll address 1 here and 2 in another comment. 

For 1, why is expressing romantic or sexual interest unethical? Why is this worthy of a two-year ban? 

I imagine that the power difference is an important thing to the OP. I imagine, given that this is a common argument, that it’s because t... (read more)

“Owen expressed sexual and / or romantic interest in women who were younger and less influential than he was.”

That seems like it's missing important components? Going back to where this originally became public in the Time Magazine article:

A third described an unsettling experience with an influential figure [1] in EA whose role included picking out promising students and funneling them towards highly coveted jobs. After that leader arranged for her to be flown to the U.K. for a job interview, she recalls being surprised to discover that she was expected to stay in his home, not a hotel. When she arrived, she says, “he told me he needed to masturbate before seeing me.”

In this case, going just on the claim in the article, it's not just that the woman was younger and less influential, but also that the job she was interviewing for put her up at Owen's house.

[1] Confirmed in the EV UK board statement on Owen's resignation to be referring to Owen.

(Disclosure: married to Julia Wise.)

I agree that this is part of what was problematic.

[Edited to remove an attempt to give a little further context on the error ... I'm torn between a desire to provide transparency, and a desire not to repeat the original errors of oversharing, and on reflection I think this was veering a bit too much to the latter compared to the amount of value it was providing on the former.]

5
Lukas_Gloor
I view power differentials, workplace dating, etc., as something that's risky/delicate, but it can be fine if done carefully. Even if something goes poorly in one instance, it doesn't necessarily mean that a person did something immoral. However, when there's a pattern of several people complaining, that's indicative of some kind of problem. It means likely that either a person was particularly likely to make people really uncomfortable with their advances when they made them, or that the person made a ton of advances in professional contexts (and a small portion of them left people unusually uncomfortable). I think both of these would be bad, for different reasons.  (Why is bad to make tons of careful advances? I feel like it's bad because it reflects not taking seriously the view that one's prior should be against it being a good idea, especially if your professional context is about having impact rather than a means for getting romance or sex.)

Some thoughts:

  • Seems this situation could have been handled worse.
    • When I was a christian several churches I was part of had serial sexual harassment by powerful men that was discovered years later. This seems unlikely in EA
    • My friends in political communities imply sexual harassment is rife
    • Cotton-Barratt could have been thrown out without any possibility of discussion. I am reliability told this is the policy of some UK universities.
    • Lesswrong user Mingyuan writes usefully on how difficult due process is here
  • This topic feels costly to discuss. It is my genera
... (read more)

Cotton-Barratt has been de fact ostracised for months now. Seems like this should count towards the ban time.

Just wanted to note that ~1 year of the 2-year ban is retroactive so this has happened

> Cotton-Barratt could have been thrown out without any possibility of discussion. I am reliability told this is the policy of some UK universities.

Depending on what 'discussion' means here, I'd be surprised. It would be illegal to fire someone without due process. Whether discussion would be public as in here is a different matter; there tends to be a push towards confidentiality.

For balance: I've been an advocate for victims in several similar cases in UK universities, at least one of which was considerably more severe than what i've seen described in this case. I've encountered intervention and pressure from senior academic/administrative figures to discourage formal complaints being submitted, resulting in zero consequences for the perpetrator, and the victims leaving their roles. I would expect this to be the outcome more often on average than the very strong reaction Nathan describes. 

2
Nathan Young
So I asked my friend who runs training at universities on this topic and they said that at one university it appeared that way for a while, which is moderately weaker than what I said. So I got that wrong. But that still works as an example. There was a real world place where things were worse than here.
7
Jason
The Boards' action only applies to the EVFs -- and so the post-2025 restrictions only have effect insofar as the EVFs continue to exist, and (sponsor overnight events or run coworking spaces). I think the probability of those things holding for more than 2-3 years is less than even. There's also nothing to preclude future Boards from removing these restrictions on Owen's petition -- in fact, it would be somewhat difficult for the current Boards to bind future Boards to not remove them. Moreover, I don't think a requirement that two specific forms of participation be approved at a higher organizational level is a meaningful departure from being a "typical member." More broadly, I don't think forgiving misconduct means ignoring the consequences that flow from what happened. For example, allowing Owen to have certain roles carries some legal and PR risk -- potentially for any organization, but especially for EVF. Forgiveness wouldn't absolve the Boards of their fiduciary responsibility to consider, manage, and mitigate those risks.  Likewise, forgiving someone for cheating on you doesn't imply that you need to lift the real-world consequences of their behavior (you broke up with them, you still won't get back together with them, etc.). One could argue that forgiveness implies remission of any sanctions imposed for the purposes of retribution and/or specific deterrence (i.e., persuading you to behave in the future), but I don't see those as the main drivers of the Boards' action here.
2
Guy Raveh
I don't think this is true? I don't feel qualified to give an opinion on the board decisions, punishment etc. for the specific case. But in nature, it does look like a decision that allows returning to full participation in the community, subject to some future checks, which makes sense. And his reputation has suffered a blow, but not a very big one? Like, I don't see anyone publicly objecting to his presence on the forum.

We’ve also included some detail about the process in an appendix below.

The Google doc isn’t set to be publicly available.

This happens often when users copy-paste from Google Docs to the EA Forum; it's usually meant to link to a section of the post, in this case the Appendix

Another consequentialist argument for it not being unethical to express romantic/sexual interest in somebody, even if there’s a power difference: it’s always uncomfortable to reject a guy. 

It seems like a lot of the argument relies on the idea that the women were upset or felt uncomfortable when he expressed interest. See “Multiple women expressed being upset by Owen’s advances.”

Speaking as a woman who’s had to turn down many guys in my time and as somebody who’s more comfortable saying no than probably 99% of women, I can assure you - it’s always ups... (read more)

So using as an argument that they felt upset rejecting his advances would mean that anybody who’s ever asked somebody out and been rejected has behaved unethically and should be exiled from EV events for 2 years. This proves too much. 

The women pointed to specific factors that were relevant to being upset: the specific content and frequency of the advances. The Boards also found that some of the advances were made under circumstances where it was "difficult for the women to avoid interacting with Owen while the inappropriate actions were taking place." 

I think the volume of complaints is also relevant here. Presumably, the [EDIT: individual(s)] who went to Community Health with concerns are not doing so every time -- or even a significant portion of the time -- someone in EA expresses romantic/sexual interest in them. Nor is CH likely to learn of romantic/sexual advances in EA that are anywhere near the baseline level of upsetness that is inherent to declining an advance. That suggests there was something about Owen's advances that was particularly upsetting to a number of the recipients of those advances. Although a single recipient concluding that an advance warranted CH involvement might not itself be evidence of inappropriate behavior, the existence of a number of similar reports [EDIT: would be] a much stronger indication that something more than baseline upsetness with turning down advances was at play here.

Thus, I don't think the quoted statement is an appropriate inference from the Boards' action.

4
Owen Cotton-Barratt
I'm not sure that there was more than one (unprompted) complaint to CH. In addition to the one complaint, there was one case of something potentially inappropriate they heard about from a third party, one case they uncovered when they went looking, and a couple of other cases I told them about. However, I do think that my communications were unusually likely to be upsetting (and relatedly that some of what I now understand to have been the most damaging communications were not understood by me at the time to be advances).

There's been some complaints from a banned EA Forum user that the timing of this post, and the timing of comments that bolster the character of Owen, have been coordinated. Whilst I think it's unlikely this is the case, I would love to see the following: 

- Confirmation from OP (@EV UK Board) that Owen was not given advanced warning on the posting of this report. Or if he was, some discussion around the potential issues with doing so. 

- Some further discussion in the EA Forum team, and perhaps rules set, on coordinated posting (AKA "brigading"). 

Why would it be bad if he was given advance warning about this report? There's nothing in here about him being retaliatory. It seems probably good to hear the other side and be given a chance to look at the post before it goes live. 

Also, it does say in the document that Owen was given advanced notice. His document says that he saw the draft and disagreed with aspects of it that they didn't address in the post. 

Why would it be bad if he was given advance warning about this report?


Some people -  to be completely frank, like yourself - will use advanced notice to schedule their friends, fans and colleagues to write defensive comments. A high concentration of these types of comments can distort the quality of the conversation. This is commonly referred to as brigading

This strategy is so effective, that foreign governments have setup "troll-farms", and companies have setup "astroturfing" operations to benefit from degrading the quality of certain conversations on the internet.  

Also, it does say in the document that Owen was given advanced notice. His document says that he saw the draft and disagreed with aspects of it that they didn't address in the post. 

I would create a distinction between giving someone a read of a draft ahead of time, and actively communicating the date and time something is posted. 

Edit: Added third paragraph, changed wording on first sentence of second paragraph. 

I would create a distinction between giving someone a read of a draft ahead of time, and actively communicating the date and time something is posted. 

Could you say more about that? The Boards' post stated their factual findings and actions without giving much of Owen's side of the story. While I don't think that was inappropriate, it seems fair to give Owen at least some lead time to prepare a statement of his perspective on the matter. 

There is a history of people on this Forum veering to one side when a post is published before the respondent has a fair chance to respond, then moving to the other side when the response is filed. It's better to avoid that dynamic when possible.

While I don't think that was inappropriate, it seems fair to give Owen at least some lead time to prepare a statement of his perspective on the matter. 

I think your right about this, and have changed my mind. 

1
Kat Woods
Astroturfing and troll farms are different from friends and people on your side saying their opinion. Astroturfing is when it's people or fake people saying things they don't actually believe in exchange for pay.  Are you saying you're against people being allowed to tell their friends and supporters about something they consider to be unethical and encouraging them to vote and comment according to their conscience?
8
ElliotJDavies
This is correct. What I am talking about is brigading.  Astroturfing and troll farms are only similar in the mechanism behind their ability to distort public opinion. That mechanism is: People are influenced by the tone and volume of comments they read. Yes, this is brigading. There are things you can do mitigate this brigading effect, for example: (1)  Begin comments with "I am here from ..." or "This post was shared by...". (2) Commenters acknowledge, when asked, that the post was shared with them. Take your case (i.e. Ben Pace's post on nonlinear), neither (1) or (2) was done. In fact, I found myself needing to comment alluding to this effect, after I confirmed this was the case with one of your collaborators. 

There are some grey areas here:

  • Inviting participation from people who are not part of the relevant community is clearly brigading. Unless they abstain from voting and clearly disclose their origin, they would be masquerading as community members and giving a false impression of the community's views.
  • Inviting participation from people who are part of the relevant community presents a closer question. There's still a risk of creating a misleading impression of the community's views, but there isn't the astroturf-like presentment of inauthentic views as community-member views that classic brigading presents.
    • For instance, I would generally view reaching out to a reasonable number of active Forum participants individually as not brigading. This is less likely to create a sufficient mass effect to mislead observers about the community's range of views. This may be contingent on those individuals following the next bullet point.
    • I suggest that people who have been "recruited" in this manner should ordinarily refrain from strong-voting on the post, either up or down. A small group of strong-vote wielding users can significantly effect the course of discussion on the Forum through their voting. If someone is close enough to the subject of the post to solicit for support without constituting brigading, they are likely too close to the subject to be casting strong up/downvotes on that post.
2
ElliotJDavies
I think about it this way. If a post was written critically about me, I would suspect 5-10% of people that know me in the community to see it, and 0.5% to comment. If I reach out to everyone I have ever been friendly with, I expect these numbers would be 50% and 5%, respectively. In other words, there would be 10x more comments defending me if I reach out to friends than if I don't.  I think for independent observers, reading comments in fictional scenario above, it's useful to know whether comments were of unsolicited or not.    Totally agree. Why would the same not be true of comments? 
4
Jason
I think "a reasonable number of active Forum participants individually" is doing some real work here -- "everyone I have ever been friendly with" would not count. I think there is usually value in having people who know the subject well participating in the comments, and by your math there is a good chance that zero or one of the ten people best positioned to provide a sympathetic perspective would even see the post organically. A reasonable number would depend on the circumstances, but I was thinking more ~3 acceptances? One could argue that these individuals should disclose their status as solicited commenters. But people comment on the Forum for any number of reasons, obvious and inscrutable, so I can't find a sufficient rationale for singling out a few solicited commenters. There's no norm, for instance, for friends of a post's author to self-identify themselves as such. I am relatively less worried about a few commenters skewing the course of discussion (as opposed to strongvoters) for two reasons. The first is that comments have substance that can be evaluated as convincing or non-convincing. The popularity of that substance can be evaluated via up/down and agree/disagree voting, which provides some check on unrepresentative comments appearing to be consensus. Second, at least regulars have a decent sense of who is who; if someone who is an infrequent commenter starts on a commenting spree defending person X, we have a pretty good idea that they are motivated by some sort of external reason and can adjust accordingly.
2
Jason
I think the qualifier "a reasonable number of active Forum participants" in my comment is doing some real work and wouldn't be met if you asked "everyone [you] have ever been friendly with" -- even if we add in an implied limitation to current Forum participants. Let's take a case in which I invited my hypothetical friends Abel, Baker, and Charlie to participate in a thread that was critical of me. I think there is value in having some people who know the person well who is subject to the controversy present in the conversation. An invitation increases the likelihood of having those voices present; if the base rate of people even seeing the post is 5-10% per your example above, there's a good chance that zero of the ten community members best situated to provide a favorable perspective on the subject will even see the post -- much less decide to comment.  On the whole, I think the presence of Abel, Baker, and Charlie in the comments would be net positive. I'm sure it is exhausting to feel the need to respond to a post that is critical of you and all the comments thereunto, and asking for help can be appropriate. Even if all accept, it's only three voices, and the community is capable of evaluating the substance of what they say and reacting accordingly. In contrast, with votes there is no ability to evaluate whether the votes are based on solid reasoning or instead represent a voter's predisposition toward the subject of the post. I see the point that Abel, Baker, and Charlie could say that I asked them to comment. However, I think they should be part of the conversation, and expecting them to flag themselves gives the impression that they are true brigadiers. People have all sorts of incentives and motivations for posting, and I'm not convinced this motivation should be singled out for per se special disfavor. In this particular case, most active Forum participants would have seen the post given the prominence of the Owen situation and the Time article. And par
7
Kat Woods
OK, that seems more reasonable. Not sure I agree, but at least this seems doable. Before it just seemed like you were saying that people shouldn't be allowed to share a post with friends and say to vote and comment according to their conscience.  This is food for thought. I will think about it and may update my policy. 
2
Rebecca
I think if you're colouring the situation in a way that would influence the person's perception when they go to comment or vote, that would be against the rules of the EA forum. Separately, I think I probably am against asking people to pile on to a post, even if you're not directly telling them which way to pile on? I think it's bad to have comments sections be emotionally charged regardless of which direction the sentiment points on net. We want to incentivise deliberation and good judgement, not moral crusading.

I was told approximately when the post would go up. In fact, I asked them to delay a few days so that somebody could write to the people who spoke to the investigation to give them an opportunity to fact-check or object to my detailed responses. (I made some minor updates following feedback there, but of course this shouldn't be taken as saying that everyone involved endorses what I've written; in particular, people may reasonably have chosen not to read it.)

I did not suggest anyone comment in my defence, something I'd regard as inappropriate. Nor did I let more than a handful of people know that it was coming out. One of the people who commented, Jonas, was in the loop because he'd offered to give me advice on how to write about things publicly.

Perhaps not directly related to this post: Is anyone interested in looking to use Metaculus or Manifold to predict the future frequency and/or number of occurrences of sexual misconduct within EA? 

I am asking as I suspect the EA community might be putting a disproportionate amount of resources into understanding past occurrences with a disproportionally smaller effort into preventing future occurrences. Maybe having a clear-eyed view on what might be in store going forward could go some way to alleviating this.

8
MarcusAbramovitch
I haven't disagree voted this. I'm the #1 trader on Manifold. I doubt prediction markets will be useful here. In fact, I think I could probably use prediction markets to "screw with people". For example "watch out for X, Manifold thinks there is a 15% chance that they have a sexual assault charge in the next year".
1
Ulrik Horn
Yes I wasn't sure it was a good idea. Anecdotally, I forecasted a question on VC funding to female founders. My forecast was negative and accurate and I was surprised of how well most other forecasters thought things were going for female founders. The process of forecasting also forced me to think through the factors preventing more female founders from getting more funding which I found educational. But perhaps my experience doesn't translate well. That said I think most negative reactions to my idea was mostly me hijacking this post which I think is fair criticism and some people seemed to think it might be worthwhile. I agree it would not be good if predictions are made about people - that seems really bad a bit like black mirror!
1
Ulrik Horn
FWIW there was actually someone making such a prediction for ACE back in the days. It stood at 15% chance which I think is uncomfortably high for chance of a scandal in a single year - it implies an 80% chance of it happening over a 10-year period! They also ran another question on a scandal related to racism.

It stood at 15% chance which I think is uncomfortably high for chance of a scandal in a single year

Note that it wasn't just ACE, it was ACE or any of it's (~dozen) top or standout charities.

it implies an 80% chance of it happening over a 10-year period

I don't think assuming full independence makes sense? I wouldn't go all the way to "if they have a scandal-likely person/culture then they will definitely have a scandal this year, so 15% is the probability they have a scandal-likely person/culture" but I do think that's a piece of it. Very roughly I'd guess that 15% in one year gives 50% in ten?

1
Ulrik Horn
Thanks, those are important points. I just quickly came across it by searching for something else and thought I would share as it seemed very relevant.
-1
Ulrik Horn
EA is already putting sufficient focus on preventing future occurrences.
-1
Ulrik Horn
There is not much that can be done.
-1
Ulrik Horn
By doing something to prevent future occurrences, we are risking causing enough trouble so that there is chance people are deterred from engaging with EA and/or important people might leave our community.
-1
Ulrik Horn
Whomever you are who is on a downvoting rampage against me: Really? A -6 vote on all these comments when I just tried to make it easier for people to give me feedback anonymously? I know it is stupid of me to care about karma but that was just plain mean of you.
4
Rebecca
I didn’t vote on any of the poll comments, but one major thing in my mind is that they should have been posted under the comment saying you’re going to be doing the poll, not under the parent comment
3
Jeff Kaufman
I haven't voted either way on your comments, but in general making several comments as a way to run a poll is not a good idea unless you're pretty confident others will find your poll interesting. And then if someone does/doesn't think the poll belongs here they upvote/downvote each question in the poll, magnifying the karma impact. Then I expect this comment was downvoted because (a) it's complaining about downvotes and (b) doesn't engage with what people should do if they don't think your poll comments belong on the Forum.
2
Jason
I often downvote enough of the options to zero out the karma gain from posting the options, on the theory that the user shouldn't reap an automatic +1 or +2 for each option posted. I would not strong-downvote on the basis (if other users had found value in the options being listed, who am I to attempt to overrule them?) and was not the strong-downvoter here.
3
ChanaMessinger
I think people do not get karma from the baseline +1 or +2 that comes with making a new comment.
1
Ulrik Horn
Fair enough, I will definitely think of better ways to get feedback in the future. It is completely on me that I didn't realise the karma impact could be magnified like that (or that running polls that way might cost me karma!). And my concerns about karma is insignificant compared to the personal suffering by those affected by the actions of the original post. What's most important to me is that I can find ways to constructively and meaningfully contribute to reducing the risk of future harms to the community, something I am dedicating more time to than writing here on the forum. Thanks for your patience Jeff!
-3
Ulrik Horn
A prediction of future occurrences is unlikely to be effective.

I think it would be net negative, in the "What is your community doing to prevent sexual misconduct? - Oh, we make bets about it" kind of way.

8
David T
This. It's awful from a reputational perspective But also there seems to be a total lack of upside. Reported sexual misconduct is not the same as actual sexual misconduct (generally it significantly undercounts) so there's no real indication whether an apparent improvement in the number represents perceptions of improved behaviour or worsened reporting process. Pretty much all the incentives on either side of the bet are perverse (people with relevant knowledge can earn from suppressing information or breaching confidences, and people can earn money from there being lots of sexual harassment or perhaps even buy looser safeguarding policy!), particularly as I can't imagine it being a liquid market lots of people uninvolved in sexual harassment cases want to bet on. 
4
David Mathers
I think your right that it would be very bad reputationally if the community as a whole was widely perceived as doing this. But it's also a bit easier to say that if you also believe that this is actually a bad, or at least useless, thing to do on it's own merits. If you don't think that, it seems a bit sleazy (even if perhaps correct) to reason 'this would actually help improve how we deal with sexual misconduct, but we shouldn't do it because it'll make us look bad'.  Of course, the fact that something looks bad is evidence it IS bad, even if it seem good to you, but not always definitive evidence. Personally I don't think it would be  useful, but I'm not sure how much someone making a Manifold market would actually cause outside people to perceive this as something "EAs" do, or even that they would notice the market at all. 

I certainly also think it'd be useless, like most prediction markets in EA.

-3
Ulrik Horn
Specifically doing something by forecasting future occurrences is likely to be net negative. It could e.g. deter more women from engaging with EA and cause ~panic as the numbers could end up looking pretty high.
-3
Ulrik Horn
This is the wrong place to pose that question.
-4
Ulrik Horn
Could you please indicate why you are disagreeing with me? To make it easier, I will make a sub comment each with possible objections so all you have to do is read and click.  I am genuinely keen to understand what, if anything, can be done to reduce the chance of future offences. I should make it clear, in case there was any doubt: I am talking about offences from anyone, and not from anyone in particular. In other words, I have no reason to suspect that Owen in particular is at increased risk from repeat offences. If anything, I would trust the judgement of other commenters indicating such risks are low.
1[comment deleted]

Executive summary: An independent investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Owen Cotton-Barratt found multiple instances of inappropriate behavior. EV boards have banned Owen from activities for 2 years and mandated misconduct training, while also directing Community Health to reform policies.

Key points:

  1. Owen expressed unwanted romantic/sexual interest towards younger, less influential women on multiple occasions.
  2. His actions caused substantial, foreseeable harm that is unacceptable.
  3. Owen is banned from EV activities for 2 years and must appeal
... (read more)
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