Epistemic Status: I feel pretty confident that the core viewpoint expressed in this post is correct, though I'm less confident in some specific claims. I have not shared a draft of this post with ACE, and so it’s possible I’ve missed important context from their perspective.

EDIT: ACE board member Eric Herboso has responded with his personal take on this situation. He believes some points in this post are wrong or misleading. For example, he disputes my claim that ACE (as an organization) attempted to cancel a conference speaker.

EDIT: Jakub Stencel from Anima International has posted a response. He clarifies a few points and offers some context regarding the CARE conference situation.

Background

In the past year, there has been some concern in EA surrounding the negative impact of “cancel culture”[1] and worsening discourse norms. Back in October, Larks wrote a post criticizing EA Munich's decision to de-platform Robin Hanson.The post was generally well-received, and there have been other posts on the forum discussing potential risks from social-justice oriented discourse norms. For example, see The Importance of Truth-Oriented Discussions in EAand EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization.

I'm writing this post because I think some recent behavior from Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) is a particularly egregious example of harmful epistemic norms in EA. This behavior includes:

  • Making (in my view) poorly reasoned statements about anti-racism and encouraging supporters to support or donate to anti-racist causes and organizations of dubious effectiveness
  • Attempting to cancel an animal rights conference speaker because of his views on Black Lives Matter, withdrawing from that conference because the speaker's presence allegedly made ACE staff feel unsafe, and issuing a public statement supporting its staff and criticizing the conference organizers
  • Penalizing charities in reviews for having leadership and/or staff who are deemed to be insufficiently progressive on racial equity, and stating it won't offer movement grants funding to those who disagree with its views on diversity, equity, and inclusion[2].

Because I'm worried that this post could hurt my future ability to get a job in EAA, I'm choosing to remain anonymous.

My goal here is to:

a) Describe ACE's behavior in order to raise awareness and foster discussion, since this doesn't seem to have attracted much attention, and

b) Give a few reasons why I think ACE's behavior has been harmful, though I’ll be brief since I think similar points have been better made elsewhere

I also want to be clear that I don't think ACE is the only bad actor here, as other areas of the EAA community have also begun to embrace harmful social-justice derived discourse norms[3]. However, I'm focusing my criticism on ACE here because:

  • It positions itself as an effective altruism organization, rather than a traditional animal advocacy organization
  • It is well known and generally respected by the EA community
  • It occupies a powerful position within the EAA movement, directing millions of dollars in funding each year and conducting a large fraction of the movement's research

And before I get started, I'd also like to make a couple caveats:

  • I think ACE does a lot of good work, and in spite of this recent behavior, I think its research does a lot to help animals. I'm also not trying to “cancel” ACE or any of its staff. But I do think the behavior outlined in this post is bad enough that ACE supporters should be vocal about their concerns and consider withholding future donations.
  • I am not suggesting that racism, discrimination, inequality, etc. shouldn't be discussed, or that addressing these important problems isn't EA-worthy. The EA community can (and should) have these discussions, but we should employ the same epistemic standards as we do when discussing any other issue, and we should assume good faith when people disagree with progressive orthodoxy.

Overview of Behavior I Find Concerning

Blog Post on "Black Lives Matter"

Note: ACE seems to have removed the following statement from its blog, and I'm not sure why (maybe ACE realized the post was bad, but I don't want to speculate without evidence). In any case, the original link now redirects to a post from 2017 on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while I link to an archived version of the original post below.

I think one recent example of bad behavior from ACE is its June 2020 statement on Black Lives Matter. I don't see much wrong with this statement's basic message: I think it can be fine for organizations to make public statements on issues outside of their core focus, and I don't think we should demand that all blog posts be super rigorous. But I think this post was quite bad for a few reasons:

  • The language used in the statement makes it hard to interpret and assess factually
  • It made bold claims with little evidence
  • It recommended readers spend time going through resources of questionable value

For example, here is a section from the post:

In Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, decolonial theorists Aph and Syl Ko eloquently argue that the oppression of nonhuman animals is inextricably linked to the oppression of human animals in that they have the same root causes of white supremacy and patriarchy.

If the root causes of racism and speciesism are the same, then we may be able to make even more positive impact by addressing both issues simultaneously.

Taken at face value, these claims seem pretty absurd. For example,"inextricably linked" implies that societies without white supremacy and/or patriarchy wouldn't oppress animals.

Maybe a more reasonable interpretation, suggested in the second paragraph, is something like "white supremacy, patriarchy, and the oppression of animals share some of the same causes, and so addressing some of those root causes may reduce both animal suffering and racism." Unfortunately, the writing style makes the precise claim unclear and so it’s difficult to evaluate.

Another issue with the post is that some of the linked resources are quite bad. For example, it suggested that readers consider committing to Black VegFest's 7 points of allyship (Note: Black VegFest has also received funding from ACE[4])

The pledge contains statements such as:

There is no such thing as an equal playing field under white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. In the current system, white people have the power to usurp anything Black lives create simply by being white.

and

White vegans/ARs will respect the sanctity of Black space and will not enter unless their presence is necessary. Black space is for the growth and betterment of Black people. Allyship and being accomplices begins with white people learning to respect Black space.

I don't want to come across as mean or snarky, and the main point of this post isn't to critique social justice ideology. But even as a progressive-leaning, educated person raised in a Western country, those quotes sound like nonsense to me. And to my eyes the pledge itself is closer to a faith statement than a serious plan for combating racism. So I think it’s pretty concerning that at least one person at ACE thought that pledge was worth recommending.

I think a major EA-aligned research organization should have much higher standards for content they put out, even if it’s only a blog post. Still, I'm glad that ACE removed the post and replaced it with a link to a post that appears better written and more nuanced.

Withdrawal from the 2020 CARE Conference

Last August, ACE made a Facebook post announcing its withdrawal from the 2020 Conference on Animal Rights in Europe (CARE). Those who are interested can read the full post, but I quote a few key paragraphs below:

ACE began reconsideration of our participation a few weeks ago when an ACE supporter informed us that a person who had recently made inflammatory comments related to race in a Facebook forum was publicized on the CARE website as speaking on the topic of Black Lives Matter. The ACE supporter, a white male ally, had independently written to the CARE organizers to address his concerns about this contradiction.

ACE also shared this concern, especially because two of the three speakers we had planned to send to CARE are women of the global majority (of color). We wanted to avoid placing them in a situation where they had to share a platform with a person whose statements made them feel unwelcome and unsafe.

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Naturally, we want to abide by our own policy and support our staff in feeling comfortable in all of their workspaces, including the online sphere of virtual conferences and Facebook forums.

ACE doesn't mention exactly which statements it considers harmful, but the person who was scheduled to speak made a few comments[5] that questioned the effectiveness of dedicating EAA resources to anti-racism and questioned some views commonly held by progressive activists.

Edit: In addition to posting comments, he also 'liked' a comment that described Encompass, an organization that promotes racial diversity in the animal advocacy movement, as a "hate group". I think this was inappropriate, but upon reflection I wouldn't put that much weight on him 'liking' that FB comment. This doesn't change much in my overall assessment of ACE's behavior.

From my perspective, these so-called "inflammatory" and "harmful" comments were generally respectful in tone and expressed pretty reasonable views -- certainly nothing that should be considered outside of the overton window of EAA discussion.

ACE then goes on to say:

ACE decided to withdraw from the conference reaching out to its organizers and failing to find a compromise: we ultimately decided on Monday to withdraw our ACE representatives because we did not feel the conference environment would be truly receptive to our staff members who are Black and of the global majority, and because the sheer emotional labor that has gone into this process has taken a significant toll on all of our speakers.

One could reasonably disagree with some of the comments that the planned speaker posted, but his comments seemed far from anything that would reasonably make people feel unsafe at a conference, and very far from something that would justify barring him from speaking. So I'm very concerned that ACE is implying that the CARE organizers made a mistake in letting this person (who ultimately withdrew from his scheduled talk) speak at the conference.

Edit: I think that his behavior could understandably make someone with strong pro-racial justice views feel unwelcome or unsafe at the conference. But I don't think that comes close to a justification for barring someone from speaking.

Norms of free and open discussion are critical to our ability to engage in truth seeking. And discussions about cause prioritization and cost-effectiveness are cornerstone to EA. So ACE's behavior here seems antithetical to core EA values.

ACE's comments are made worse given its powerful position in the EAA movement as a grant maker and charity evaluator. Conference organizers may now reasonably worry about being denied funding or having their organizations receive unfavorable reviews from ACE if they host any speakers deemed remotely controversial. It may also cause animal advocates to self-censor views deemed controversial for fear of being denied speaking and career opportunities.

Penalizing Charities Based on Statements from Staff

Another concerning behavior from ACE is that it appeared to have heavily punished Anima International (the employer of the planned CARE speaker reference above) in its 2020 charity review.

Edit: I should note the speaker holds a country-level Executive Director position at Anima. In addition, there another country-level ED who posted some critical comments in the same Facebook thread.

In its 2019 review of Anima International, ACE rated Anima's "Leadership and Strategic Vision" (criterion 6) as being "strong" with a high degree of confidence. ACE also gave Anima a "strong" rating with a high degree of confidence in criterion 7 (having a healthy culture and sustainable structure), which includes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

But in its 2020 review of Anima, published in November, ACE downgraded Anima from a "top" to "standout", a change which will likely result in substantially reduced funding to Anima through ACE. ACE also now gives Anima a "weak" rating for “Leadership and Culture” While I can't know for sure whether this decision was appropriate, or the extent to the downgrade was due to Anima staff's views on DEI, some statements in the 2020 review are quite concerning:

Our impression, however, is that the racial homogeneity at the organization has resulted in a limited understanding of racial issues, which has presented itself in some of the public and private communications we’ve witnessed from Anima International’s staff in the last year

In particular, we think leadership staff publicly engaging in conversations about the relevance of racial equity to the animal advocacy movement may have had a negative impact on the progress of racial equity in the movement

Additionally, in ACE’s summary of the review, it notes

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums.

as a weakness of the organization.

The poor rating on “Leadership and Culture” is despite Anima staff reporting higher than average levels of satisfaction and staff overwhelmingly agreeing that Anima has an inclusive culture, diverse staff members, and protects staff from discrimination and harassment. Indeed, ACE's assessment of Anima's performance on this criterion seems quite positive, with the exception of some comments from leadership regarding racial equity.

It’s hard to directly compare the reviews from 2019 and 2020, as ACE’s evaluation criteria changed somewhat. Nevertheless, given the overall positive assessment, it's strange that Anima was awarded a "weak" rating in this category, and I think it's likely that Anima is being heavily punished for the public comments made by staff members.

Of course, since much of the dialogue between ACE and Anima has been private, it's possible that some Anima staff made private comments that are much worse than what is public (Edit: It's worth noting Anima apparently requested its private correspondence with ACE be made public, see Jakub Stencel's comment). But I find it unlikely that any of the private statements would have been bad enough to reasonably justify penalization in the review. And due to ACE’s previous statements, I have little confidence in its opinion on whether a given statement related to racial equity is harmful.

I'm worried that ACE will continue to put pressure on charities to censor the views of their staff. Leadership from charities seeking an ACE evaluation could be incentivized to self-censor in order to secure a favorable review. It may also put pressure on charities to adopt policies or take costly actions to signal their commitment to DEI, which could reduce their effectiveness. Collectively, this may contribute to a toxic culture of fear, deceit, and wasteful signalling.

On a related note, I’m also concerned that in a recent blog post, ACE explicitly states that it is unable to fund “groups or projects that do not support ACE’s views on diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) for its Movement Grants Program.

This could plausibly be used to deny funding to good project ideas from those who disagree with ACE on issues related to DEI. And conversely, ACE could be more likely to fund bad project ideas from people who align with ACE’s views, given the priority it seems to assign to DEI.

These actions are harmful to the movement

Edit: By "social justice norms" I'm referring to a set of discussion norms and epistemic norms that are common in many social justice communities. These include, for example, placing great emphasis on standpoint epistemology, displaying great intolerance and hostility toward dissenting views, and a general skepticism of empirical evidence. But I don't mean to imply that all social justice norms are bad, and I don't view social justice and EA as incompatible. There are definitely people who embrace norms of openness and free inquiry and who also identify as social justice advocates.

Embracing certain social justice norms may lead the movement to allocate resources less effectively

I believe that the adoption of these norms will cause ACE and other EAA groups to spend more time supporting social-justice related causes, and less time on effective animal advocacy. I don't think anti-racist and or pro-DEI work is necessary bad, but I think we need to be able to openly discuss whether it's really worth funding “intersectional” or social-justice aligned work from groups like, and whether those resources wouldn't better be served funding organizations that are purely focused on helping animals. At the very least, a rigorous case should be presented before funding intersectional or anti-racist organizations, and those who disagree with decisions to support that work shouldn't be branded as racist or ignorant.

Embracing certain social justice norms may attract bad actors

Embracing social justice norms may cause us to attract more people from social justice communities who care little about the principles of EA or even animal advocacy, but will be drawn to the movement if it seems they can gain support and funding. This seems quite bad for the long-term effectiveness of the movement.

Embracing certain social justice norms is likely to create a hostile epistemic environment and reduce trust

There are countless examples of toxic discourse norms in social justice heavy fields, such as parts of academia and journalism. In these communities, people who question progressive orthodoxy or make innocuous statements deemed "offensive" are often bullied, harassed, threatened, forced to write presumably fake apologies (and then often bullied for writing an insufficiently sincere apology), and sometimes even fired from their jobs. For some specific examples of social-justice driven cancel culture, see this list compiled by Larks.

If EA (or EAA specifically) adopts these toxic norms, community members will be incentivized to hide their beliefs in order to gain funding, employment, and social approval[6]. I'd like people in the EAA community to be able to argue in good faith and express disagreement with each other, and be unafraid of criticizing views held by powerful organizations or people within the movement. In keeping with the good faith principle, I won't be asking ACE to write an apology, as I don't believe it should issue one unless it truly thinks it acted wrongly.

I’d like to close with an excerpt that resonated with me from a popular comment from Anna Salamon on a previous post:

It seems to me that the EA community's strength, goodness, and power lie almost entirely in our ability to reason well (so as to be actually be "effective", rather than merely tribal/random). It lies in our ability to trust in the integrity of one anothers' speech and reasoning, and to talk together to figure out what's true.

Finding the real leverage points in the world is probably worth orders of magnitude in our impact. Our ability to think honestly and speak accurately and openly with each other seems to me to be a key part of how we access those "orders of magnitude of impact."

In contrast, our ability to have more money/followers/etc. (via not ending up on the wrong side of a cultural revolution, etc.) seems to me to be worth... something, in expectation, but not as much as our ability to think and speak together is worth


  1. I feel this term has become overly-politicized and has become less useful. For example, some have described Trump’s impeachment or some of Dr. Seuss’ work going out of print as examples of “cancel culture.” Nevertheless, I’m using it here because it’s a well established and widely recognized term. ↩︎

  2. See the recent blog post "Apply for funding from ACE movement grants". Note that movement grants are small grants to organizations/individuals and are separate from ACE's standard charity evaluation process. ↩︎

  3. For some examples, see many of the comments on this post in the EAA Facebook group. ↩︎

  4. See ACE's post Announcing Our Fall 2020 ACE Movement Grants ↩︎

  5. See comments made by Connor Jackson here ↩︎

  6. This is anecdotal, but I’ve heard several people privately criticize the emphasis on racial justice in EAA, but who were afraid to say anything publicly for fear of being bullied or denied job/funding opportunities (I would count myself among this group). ↩︎

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I’m part of Anima International’s leadership as Director of Global Development (so please note that Animal Charity Evaluators’ negative view of the leadership quality is, among others, about me).

As the author noted, this topic is politically charged and additionally, as Anima International, we consider ourselves ‘a side’, so our judgment here may be heavily biased. This is why, even though we read this thread, we are quite hesitant to comment.

Nevertheless, I can offer a few factual points here that will clear some of the author’s confusion or that people got wrong in the comments.

We asked ACE for their thoughts on these points to make sure we are not misconstruing what happened due to a biased perspective. After a short conversation with Anima International, ACE preferred not to comment. They declined to correct what they feel is factually incorrect and instead let us know that they will post a reply to my post to avoid confusion, which we welcome.

1.

The author wrote: “it's possible that some Anima staff made private comments that are much worse than what is public”

While I don’t want to comment or judge whether comments are better or worse, we specifically asked ACE to publish all... (read more)

Thanks very much for this comment, and for correcting my mistaken assumption.

Thanks for correcting my mistaken impression Jakub! I've updated my comment to link to yours.

Thanks, Jakub. Good to get the perspective of someone more closely involved in this.

[T]he first email Anima International received about issues with CARE was information that ACE had chosen to freeze Anima International’s funds from the Recommended Charity Fund with the stated reasons being what they believed to be racist behaviour of our staff members and the lack of appropriate response to this from Anima International's leadership.

Are you able to give an indication of how long Anima's funding was frozen? Are we talking hours? Days? Weeks?

Hey Will.

In the first email that I mentioned, we were informed that the funds will be frozen until the current round of evaluations is done by December, so for about 4 months. The reasoning was that ACE wanted to reevaluate Anima International effectiveness with the possibility that they will not release these funds. We were also informed this information will be announced on the ACE website and in their newsletter. The decision was based on the events they observed in regards to CARE that ACE was worried about - Animal Charity Evaluators wanted to investigate these concerns further. Around December, after evaluations were done, we were contacted to let us know that the funds were unfrozen.

Please note that the amount was not substantial and we, in Anima International, don’t necessarily claim here that this behavior displayed by ACE was either proper or improper. I can see reasons to do it for ACE and it was explained to us that this is consistent with the actions Animal Charity Evaluators has taken in the past. The reasons I mentioned it in my original comment is that this was the first communication from ACE that we received concerning the CARE conference, which contradicts what some commenters in this thread implied, and to provide our perspective of how concerning it was.

Thank you, I thought this was a very thoughtful and helpful comment.

I added some thoughts to my previous comments here and here based on this.

(I also agree with the sentiment that, as you alluded to, in such situations it can be quite delicate to decide which information to make vs. not make public. FWIW my sense is that, given that substantial public discussion had already started, you navigated this well in this comment, but I'm also aware that this is something that is incredibly hard to assess "from the outside", and so I don't feel like I could reasonably be very confident about my assessment.)

-107Animal Charity Evaluators15d

Turning to the object level: I feel pretty torn here.

On the one hand, I agree the business with CARE was quite bad and share all the standard concerns about SJ discourse norms and cancel culture.

On the other hand, we've had quite a bit of anti-cancel-culture stuff on the Forum lately. There's been much more of that than of pro-SJ/pro-DEI content, and it's generally got much higher karma. I think the message that the subset of EA that is highly active on the Forum generally disapproves of cancel culture has been made pretty clearly.

I'm sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to alienate them and promote a split in the movement, while also exposing EA to substantial PR risk. I think a lot of more SJ-sympathetic EAs already feel that the Forum is not a space for them – simply affirming that doesn't seem to me to be terribly useful. Not giving ACE prior warning before publishing the post further cements an adversarial us-and-them dynamic I'm not very happy about.

I don't really know how that cashes out as far as this post and posts like it are concerned. Biting one's tongue about what does seem like problematic behaviour would hardly be ideal. But as I've said several times in the past, I do wish we could be having this discussion in a more productive and conciliatory way, which has less of a chance of ending in an acrimonious split.

I agree with the content of your comment, Will, but feel a bit unhappy with it anyway. Apologies for the unpleasantly political metaphor,  but as an intuition pump imagine the following comment.

"On the one hand, I agree that it seems bad that this org apparently has a sexual harassment problem.  On the other hand, there have been a bunch of posts about sexual misconduct at various orgs recently, and these have drawn controversy, and I'm worried about the second-order effects of talking about this misconduct."

I guess my concern is that it seems like our top priority should be saying true and important things, and we should err on the side of not criticising people for doing so.

More generally I am opposed to "Criticising people for doing bad-seeming thing X would put off people who are enthusiastic about thing X."

Another take here is that if a group of people are sad that their views aren't sufficiently represented on the EA forum, they should consider making better arguments for them. I don't think we should try to ensure that the EA forum has proportionate amounts of pro-X and anti-X content for all X. (I think we should strive to evaluate content fairly; this involves not being more or less enthusiastic about content about views based on its popularity (except for instrumental reasons like "it's more interesting to hear arguments you haven't heard before).)

EDIT: Also, I think your comment is much better described as meta level than object level, despite its first sentence.

8tamgent19dWhilst I agree with you that there is some risk in the pattern of not criticising bad thing X because of concerns about second-order effects, I think you chose a really bad substitution for 'X' here, and as a result can totally understand where Khorton's response is coming from (although I think 'campaigning against racism' is also a mischaracterisation of X here). Where X is the bad thing ACE did, the situation is clearly far more nuanced as to how bad it is than something like sexual misconduct, which, by the time we have decided something deserves that label, is unequivocally bad. Why is it important to not throw out nuance here? Because of Will's original comment: there are downsides to being very critical, especially publicly, where we might cause more split or be unwelcoming. I agree with you that we shouldn't be trying to appeal to everyone or take a balanced position on every issue, but I don't think we should ignore the importance of creating a culture that is welcoming to all either. These things do not in principle need to be traded-off against each other, we can have both (if we are skillful). Despite you saying that you agree with the content of Will's comment, I think you didn't fully grok Will's initial concern, because when you say: "if a group of people are sad that their views aren't sufficiently represented on the EA forum, they should consider making better arguments for them" you are doing the thing (being unwelcoming)

More generally, I think our disagreement here probably comes down to something like this:

There's a tradeoff between having a culture where true and important things are easy to say, and a culture where group X feels maximally welcome.  As you say, if we're skillful we can do both of these, by being careful about our language and always sounding charitable and not repeatedly making similar posts.

But this comes at a cost. I personally feel much less excited about writing about certain topics because I'd have to be super careful about them. And most of the EAs I know, especially those who have some amount of authority among EAs, feel much more restricted than I do. I think that this makes EA noticeably worse, because it means that it's much harder for these EAs to explain their thoughts on things.

And so I think it's noticeably costly to criticise people for not being more careful and tactful. It's worth it in some cases, but we should remember that it's costly when we're considering pushing people to be more careful and tactful.

I  personally think that "you shouldn't write criticisms of  an org for doing X, even when the criticisms are accurate and X is bad, because of criticising X has cultural connotations" is too far in the "restrict people's ability to say true things, for the sake of making people feel welcome".

(Some context here is that I wrote a Facebook post about ACE with similar content to this post last September.)

I don't disagree with any of that. I acknowledge there is real cost in trying to make people feel welcome on top of the community service of speaking up about bad practice (leaving aside the issue of how bad what happened is exactly).

I just think there is also some cost, that you are undervaluing and not acknowledging here, in the other side of that trade-off. Maybe we disagree on the exchange rate between these (welcomingness and unfiltered/candid communication)?

I think that becoming more skillful at doing both well is an important skill for a community like ours to have more of. That's ok if it's not your personal priority right now, but I would like community norms to reward learning that skill more. My view is that Will's comment was doing just that, and I upvoted it as a result. (Not saying you disagree with the content of his comment, you said you agreed with it in fact, but in my view, demonstrated you didn't fully grok it nevertheless).

I am not sure whether I think it's a net cost that some people will be put off from EA by posts like this, because I think that people who would bounce off EA because of posts like this aren't obviously net-positive to have in EA. (My main model here is that the behavior described in this post is pretty obviously bad, and the kind of SJ-sympathetic EAs who I expect to be net sources of value probably agree that this behavior is bad. Secondarily, I think that people who are really enthusiastic about EA are pretty likely to stick around even when they're infuriated by things EAs are saying. For example, when I was fairly new to the EA community in 2014, I felt really mad about the many EAs who dismissed the moral patienthood of animals for reasons I thought were bad, but EAs were so obviously my people that I stuck around nevertheless. If you know someone (eg yourself) who you think is a counterargument to this claim of mine, feel free to message me.)

But I think that there are some analogous topics where it is indeed costly to alienate people. For example, I think it's pretty worthwhile for me as a longtermist to be nice to people who prioritize animal welfare and global poverty, bec... (read more)

I bounce off posts like this.  Not sure if you'd consider me net positive or not. :)

I am glad to have you around, of course.

My claim is just that I doubt you thought that if the rate of posts like this was 50% lower, you would have been substantially more likely to get involved with EA; I'd be very interested to hear I was wrong about that.

I think that isn't the right counterfactual since I got into EA circles despite having only minimal (and net negative) impressions of EA-related forums.  So your claim is narrowly true, but if instead the counterfactual was if my first exposure to EA was the EA forum, then I think yes the prominence of this kind of post would have made me substantially less likely to engage.

But fundamentally if we're running either of these counterfactuals I think we're already leaving a bunch of value on the table, as expressed by EricHerboso's post about false dilemmas.

9esantorella17dI do too, FWIW. I read this post and its comments because I'm considering donating to/through ACE, and I wanted to understand exactly what ACE did and what the context was. Reading through a sprawling, nearly 15k-word discussion mostly about social justice and discourse norms was not conducive to that goal.

Presumably knowing the basis of ACE's evaluations is one of the most important thing to know about ACE? And knowing to what degree social justice principles are part of that evaluation (and to what degree those principles conflict with evaluating cost-effectiveness) seems like a pretty important part of that.

Knowing the basis of ACE's evaluations is of course essential to deciding whether to donate to/through them and I'd be surprised if esantorella disagreed. It's just that this post and discussion is not only or even mostly about that. In my view, it would have been a far more valuable/better post if it were focused more tightly on that serious issue and the evidence for and against it, and left out altogether small issues like publishing and taking down bad blog posts, and the general discourse norms discussion was in a separate post labelled appropriately.

Makes sense. I think the current issues discussed feel like the best evidence we have, and do we feel like pretty substantial evidence on this topic, but it doesn't seem necessary to discuss that fully here.

I think that people who are really enthusiastic about EA are pretty likely to stick around even when they're infuriated by things EAs are saying.

[...]

If you know someone (eg yourself) who you think is a counterargument to this claim of mine, feel free to message me.

I would guess it depends quite a bit on these people's total exposure to EA at the time when they encounter something they find infuriating (or even just somewhat off / getting a vibe that this community probably is "not for them").

If we're imagining people who've already had 10 or even 100 hours of total EA exposure, then I'm inclined to agree with your claim and sentiment. (Though I think there would still be exceptions, and I suspect I'm at least a bit more into "try hard to avoid people bouncing for reasons unrelated to actual goal misalignment" than you.) 

I'm less sure for people who are super new to EA as a school of thought or community.

We don't need to look at hypothetical cases to establish this. My memory of events 10 years ago is obviously hazy but I'm fairly sure that I had encountered both GiveWell's website and Overcoming Bias years before I actually got into EA. At that time I didn't understand what t... (read more)

7tamgent12dI agree it's good for a community to have an immune system that deters people who would hurt its main goals, EA included. But, and I hear you do care about calibrating on this too, we want to avoid false positives. Irving below seems like an example, and he said it better than I could: we're already leaving lots of value on the table. I expect our disagreement is just empirical and about that, so happy to leave it here as it's only tangentially relevant to the OP. Aside: I don't know about Will's intentions, I just read his comment and your reply, and don't think 'he could have made a different comment' is good evidence of his intentions. I'm going to assume you know much more about the situation/background than I do, but if not I do think it's important to give people benefit of the doubt on the question of intentions. [Meta: in case not obvious, I want to round off this thread, happy to chat in private sometime]
9tamgent18dI appreciate you trying to find our true disagreement here.

I think you and Khorton are misinterpreting the analogy. Buck focused on a practice that is unequivocally bad precisely so that he can establish, to the satisfaction of everyone involved in this discussion, that Will's reasoning applies only up to a point: if a practice is judged to be sufficiently harmful, it seems appropriate to have lots of posts condemning it, even if this has some undesirable side effects. Then the question becomes: how should those who regard "cancel culture" as very harmful indeed respond, given that others do not at all share this assessment, and that continuing to write about this topic risks causing a split in the community to which both groups of people belong?

(I enclose 'cancel culture' in scare quotes because I am hesitant to use a term that some object to as having inappropriate connotations. It would be nice to find an expression for the phenomenon in question which  we are all happy to use.)

Sure, I do appreciate the point that Buck is bringing. I agree with it in fact (as the first part of my first sentence said). I just additionally  found the particular X he substituted not a good one for separate reasons to the main point he was making. I also think the real disagreement with Buck and myself is getting closer to it on a sister branch.

I do think your question is good here, and decomposes the discussion into two disagreements:
1) was this an instance of 'cancel culture', if so how bad is it?
2) what is the risk of writing about this kind of thing (causing splits) vs. the risk of not?

On 1) I feel, like Neel below, that moving charities ratings for an evaluator is a serious thing which requires a high bar of scrutiny, whereas the other two concerns outlined (blogpost and conference) seem far more minor. I think the OP would be far better if only focused on that and evidence for/against.

On 2) I think this is a discussion worth having, and that the answer is not 0 risk for any side.

EDIT to add: sorry I think I didn't respond properly/clearly enough to your main point. I get that Buck is conditioning on 1) above, and saying if we agree it's really bad, then what. I jus... (read more)

(I'm writing these comments kind of quickly, sorry for sloppiness.)

With regard to

Where X is the bad thing ACE did, the situation is clearly far more nuanced as to how bad it is than something like sexual misconduct, which, by the time we have decided something deserves that label, is unequivocally bad.

In this particular case, Will seems to agree that X was bad and concerning, which is why my comment felt fair to me.

I would have no meta-level objection to a comment saying "I disagree that X is bad, I think it's actually fine".

1tamgent18dI think the meta-level objection you raised (which I understood as: there may be costs of not criticising bad things because of worry about second-order effects) is totally fair and there is indeed some risk in this pattern (said this in the first line of my comment). This is not what I took issue with in your comment. I see you've responded to our main disagreement though, so I'll respond on that branch.
4Khorton19dNo one is enthusiastic about sexual harassment, and actively campaigning against racism has nothing in common with sexual harassment.

and actively campaigning against racism has nothing in common with sexual harassment.

Universal statements like this strike me as almost always wrong. Of course there are many similarities that seem relevant here, and a simple assertion that they are not doesn't seem to help the discussion.

I would really quite strongly prefer to not have comments like this on the forum, so I downvoted it. I would have usually just left it at the downvote, but i think Khorton has in the past expressed a preference for having downvotes explained, so I opted on the side of transparency. 

5Ben Pace18dI appreciate the self-consistency of this sentence :)
2Holly_Elmore2hLook who's never heard of intersectionality

"On the other hand, we've had quite a bit of anti-cancel-culture stuff on the Forum lately. There's been much more of that than of pro-SJ/pro-DEI content, and it's generally got much higher karma. I think the message that the subset of EA that is highly active on the Forum generally disapproves of cancel culture has been made pretty clearly"

Perhaps. However, this post makes specific claims about ACE. And even though these claims have been discussed somewhat informally on Facebook, this post provides a far more solid writeup. So it does seem to be making a signficantly new contribution to the discussion and not just rewarming leftovers.

It would have been better if Hypatia had emailed the organisation ahead of time. However, I believe ACE staff members might have already commented on some of these issues (correct me if I'm wrong). And it's more of a good practise than something than a strict requirement - I totally understand the urge to just get something out of there.

"I'm sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to al... (read more)

Perhaps. However, this post makes specific claims about ACE. And even though these claims have been discussed somewhat informally on Facebook, this post provides a far more solid writeup. So it does seem to be making a signficantly new contribution to the discussion and not just rewarming leftovers.

My claim was not that this post didn't contain new information, or that it was badly written – merely that it is part of a pattern that concerns me, and that more effort could be being made to mitigate the bad effects of this pattern.

One could imagine, for example, a post that contains similar content but is written with far more sympathy for what ACE and co. are trying to do here, even if the author disagrees (strongly) with its implementation. I think this post actually does better on this than many past posts on this topic, but taken as a whole we are still a long way from where I would like to be.

On the contrary, now that this has been written up on the forum it gives people something to link to. So forum posts aren't just read by people who regularly read the forum.

I wasn't saying they wouldn't see it, I was saying they wouldn't engage with it – that they will disagree with it silen... (read more)

6Arepo18dI set up the group, and while I have my own views on which groups are less tolerant/tolerated I'm very keen for the group to do what it suggests in the title: bring people together/encourage cooperation/tolerance in all directions etc. It is absolutely not 'explicitly aligned with one one side' . (I have strong downvoted your comment for making this claim without giving any basis for it. I'll retract the downvote if you edit/moderate this remark, since otherwise I'm fairly agnostic about the comment content)

(I'm not sure how much the group admins want the group description waved around on the Forum, given that nobody has linked to it so far. I've tried to strike the right balance here but am open to cutting stuff if a group admin tells me they'd prefer something different.)

The group describes itself as a "group for EAs into getting on with conservatives and liberals alike, and who want EA itself to be more welcoming to people of all different political stripes", and links to resources that are clearly in support of open discussion and against censoring true beliefs for the sake of avoiding offence. It even explicitly says controversial topics "are welcome", as long as you "use stricter epistemic standards in proportion to how offensive [your claim] is".

Even though it does not make any angry claims about cancel culture, I defend my claim that this group is clearly oriented towards the free-speech end of EA and away from the censor-opposing-views-to-protect-vulnerable-groups end.

I'm not saying the group is bad! Merely that I think, based on evidence, that my claim is reasonable. I also still don't understand why joining this group would address these problems; I think explaining the model for the last thing might be a more effective way to change my mind, but it also might be too much of a tangent for this comment thread.

5Arepo18dMaybe your sense of what you're claiming and my sense of what you're claiming are using different meanings of 'cancel culture'. In your previous comment, you wrote So I've been assuming that you were referring to 'pro-SJ/DEI' and 'anti-cancel-culture' more or less antonymonously. Yes, the group is against deplatforming (at least, without extreme epistemic/moral caution), no it's not against SJ/DEI. Inasmuch as they're different concepts, then I don't see you you couldn't think anti-cancel-culture - which is basically 'pro-segregation' - culture wouldn't help prevent a split! The point is then not to exclude any cultural group, but to discourage segregation, hostility, and poor epistemics when discussing this stuff.

I think the relevant split is between people who have different standards and different preferences for enforcing discourse norms. The ideal type position on the SJ side is that a significant number of claims relating to certain protected characteristics are beyond the pale and should be subject to strict social sanctions. The facebook group seems to on the over side of this divide. 

9willbradshaw18dNB: I didn't downvote this comment and would be interested to know why people did.
4Jeff_Kaufman15dI'm confused: the bit you're quoting is asking a question, not making a claim.
5willbradshaw15dThe embedded claim being objected to is that the group is "explicitly aligned with one side" (of this dispute).
6Jeff_Kaufman13dThanks! I missed that was disputed
3Arepo18dI checked in with the other two admins about our approx political positions, and the answers were: * radical centrist * centre left-ish * centre left-ish We're trying to find both a social justice and conservative admin to add some balance, but so far no-one's come forward for either.
1casebash19dThe group is still new, so it's still unclear exactly how it'll turn out. But I don't think that's a completely accurate way of characterisating the group. I expect that there are two main strands of thought within the group - some see themselves as fighting against woke tendencies, whilst others are more focused on peace-making and want to avoid taking a side.
1[comment deleted]18d

I do wish we could be having this discussion in a more productive and conciliatory way, which has less of a chance of ending in an acrimonious split.

At the risk of stating the obvious: emailing organizations (anonymously, if you want) is a pretty good way of raising concerns with them.

I've emailed a number of EA organizations (including ACE) with question/concerns, and generally find they are responsive.

And I've been on the receiving side of emails as well, and usually am appreciative; I often didn't even consider that there could be some confusion or misinterpretation of what I said, and am appreciative of people who point it out.

I think that this totally misses the point. The point of this post isn't to inform ACE that some of the things they've done seem bad--they are totally aware that some people think this. It's to inform other people that ACE has behaved badly, in order to pressure ACE and other orgs not to behave similarly in future, and so that other people can (if they want) trust ACE less or be less inclined to support them.

I guess I don't know OP's goals but yeah if their goal is to publicly shame ACE then publicly shaming ACE is a good way to accomplish that goal.

My point was a) sending a quick emails to someone about concerns you have with their work often has a very high benefit to cost ratio, and b) despite this, I still regularly talk to people who have concerns about some organization but have not sent them an email.

I think those claims are relatively uncontroversial, but I can say more if you disagree.

6Neel Nanda11dThe key part of running feedback by an org isn't to inform the org of the criticism, it's to hear their point of view, and see whether any events have been misrepresented (from their point of view). And, ideally, to give them a heads up to give a response shortly after the criticism goes up
7Buck11dThat seems correct, but doesn’t really defend Ben’s point, which is what I was criticizing.

I think private discussions are very important, but I don't feel good about a world where they entirely substitute for this kind of public disagreement. I think past Forum controversies of this kind have often been quite valuable.

Yep, definitely don't want people to swing too far in the opposite direction. Just commenting that "talk to people about your concerns with them" is a surprisingly underutilized approach, in my experience.

I talked to ACE (Jacy Reese/Anthis in particular) in 2015 about ACE dramatically overstating effectiveness of leaflets. Jacy was extremely responsive in the call, and nothing changed until two years later when a dramatically more inflammatory article got wide distribution.

I’m sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to alienate them and promote a split in the movement, while also exposing EA to substantial PR risk.

I've refrained from making certain posts/comments on EAF in part for these reasons. I think in the long run these outcomes will be very hard to avoid, given the vastly different epistemic approaches between the two sides, and e.g., "silence is violence", but it could be that in the short/medium term it's really important for EA to not become a major "public enemy" of the dominant ideology of our times.

ETA: If anyone disagrees with my long-run prediction (and it's not because something happens that makes the issue moot, like AIs take over), I'd be interested to read a story/scenario in which these outcomes are avoided.

Is "social justice" ideology really the dominant ideology in our society now? My impression is that it's only taken seriously among young, highly-educated people.

Agreed that it’s not dominant in society at-large, though I think it is dominant in a number of important institutions (esp. higher ed, the liberal nonprofit sphere, and journalism)

Those are the circles many of us exist in. So a more precise rephrasing might be “we want to stay in touch with the political culture of our peers beyond EA.”

This could be important for epistemic reasons. Antagonistic relationships make it hard to gather information when things are wrong internally.

Of course, PR-based deference is also a form of antagonistic relationship. What would a healthy yet independent relationship between EA and the social justice movement look like?

1tamgent13hCullen asked a similar question here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dqFjPFHmgFEZpg8ua/what-makes-outreach-to-progressives-hard] recently. Progressives and social justice movement are definitely not the same, but there's some overlap.

Maybe we're just using the word "dominant" in different ways? I meant it in the sense of "most important, powerful, or influential", and not something like "sincerely believed by the majority of people" which may be what you have in mind? (I don't believe the latter is true yet.)

I don't think the former is true either (with respect to national politics). 

It makes sense that what is most important, powerful, or influential in national politics is still highly correlated with what most people in our society sincerely believe, due to secret ballot voting and the national scope, but I think in many other arenas, some arguably more important than current national politics (e.g. because they play an outsized role in the economy or in determining what future generations will believe), local concentrating of true believers and preference falsification have caused a divergence between the two senses of "dominant".

I think this post is pretty damning of ACE. Are you saying OP shouldn't have posted important information about how ACE is evaluting animal charities because there has been too much anti-SJ/DEI stuff on the forum lately?

I found this post to be quite refreshing compared to the previous one criticizing Effective Altruism Munich for uninviting Robin Hanson to speak. I’m not against “cancel culture” when it’s cancelling speakers for particularly offensive statements they’ve made in the past (e.g., Robin Hanson in my opinion, but let’s not discuss Robin Hanson much further since that’s not the topic of this post). Sometimes though, cancelling happens in response to fairly innocuous statements, and it looks like that’s what ACE has done with the CARE incident.

[As is always the default, but perhaps worth repeating in sensitive situations, my views are my own and by default I'm not speaking on behalf of the Open Phil. I don't do professional grantmaking in this area, haven't been following it closely recently, and others at Open Phil might have different opinions.]

I'm disappointed by ACE's comment (I thought Jakub's comment seemed very polite and even-handed, and not hostile, given the context, nor do I agree with characterizing what seems to me to be sincere concern in the OP just as hostile) and by some of the other instances of ACE behavior documented in the OP. I used to be a board member at ACE, but one of the reasons I didn't seek a second term was because I was concerned about ACE drifting away from focusing on just helping animals as effectively as possible, and towards integrating/compromising between that and human-centered social justice concerns, in a way that I wasn't convinced was based on open-minded analysis or strong and rigorous cause-agnostic reasoning. I worry about this dynamic leading to an unpleasant atmosphere for those with different perspectives, and decreasing the extent to whi... (read more)

This post doesn't seem screamingly urgent. Why didn't you have the chance to share a draft with ACE?

It seems like there are several points here where clarification from ACE would be useful, even if the bulk of your complaints stand.

Hi Will, thanks for your comment.

The idea of sending a draft to ACE didn't occur to me until I was nearly finished writing the post. I didn't like the idea of dwelling on the post for much longer, especially given some time commitments I have in the coming weeks.

Though to be honest, I don't think this reason is very good, and upon reflection I suspect I should have send a draft to ACE before posting to clear up any misunderstandings.

Thanks for this response, Hypatia. Upvoted.

Having written a similar post in the past, it's worth keeping in mind the amount of time they take to write is huge. Hypatia seems to have done a very good job expressing the facts in a way which communicates why they are so concerning while avoiding hyperbole. While giving organisations a chance to read a draft can be a good practice to reduce the risk of basic factual mistakes (and one I try to follow generally), it's not obligatory. Note that we generally do not afford non-EA organisations this privilege, and indeed I would be surprised if ACE offered Connor the chance to review their public statement which pseudonymously condemned him. Doing so adds significantly to the time commitment and raises anonymity risks[1], especially if one is worried about retaliation from an organisation that has penalized people for political disagreements in the past.

 

[1] As an example, here is something I very nearly messed up and only thought of at the last minute: you need to make a fresh copy of the google doc to share without the comments, or you will reveal the identity of your anonymous reviewers, even if you are personally happy to be known. 

9willbradshaw20dI like the concept of anonymity risks and agree that is a fair argument against advance sharing.

Your question reads a bit like you disapprove of the author posting it without doing this. I agree that people criticizing an org should strongly consider contacting the org before their public criticism. But I think there are reasons to not contact an org before, besides urgency, e.g. lacking time, or predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal. So I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook. What do you, or others think?

But I think there are reasons to not contact an org before, besides urgency, e.g. lacking time, or predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal. So I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook. What do you, or others think?

I agree with the spirit of "I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook".

However, at first glance I don't find the specific "reasons to not contact an org before" that you state convincing:

  • "Lacking time" - I think there are ways that require minimal time commitment. For instance, committing to not (or not substantially) revise the post based on an org's response. I struggle to imagine a situation where someone is able to spend several hours writing a post but then absolutely can't find the 10 minutes required to send an email to the org the post is about.
  • "Predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal" - I think this misun
... (read more)
7meerpirat20dThat makes a lot of sense to me, especially the points about how little time this might take and that there is not conflict with prefering the discussion to be public. Thanks! I might be a little bit less worried about the time delay of the response. I'd be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won't end up also reading the response from ACE. I'd be more worried if this would be a case where most people would just form a quick negative association and won't follow up later when this all turns out to be more or less benign.
8Max_Daniel20dYeah, I agree with this. I don't think the time delay is that big of a deal by itself, more like something that might be slightly annoying / slightly time-costly to a medium number of people.

I might be a little bit less worried about the time delay of the response. I'd be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won't end up also reading the response from ACE.

FWIW, depending on the definition of 'very concerning', I wouldn't find this surprising. I think people often read things, vaguely update, know that there's another side of the story that they don't know, have the thing they read become a lot less salient,  happen to not see the follow-up because they don't check the forum much,  and end up having an updated opinion (e.g. about ACE in this case) much later without really remembering why.

(e.g. I find myself very often saying things like "oh, there was this EA post that vaguely said X and maybe you should be concerned about Y because of this, although I don't know how exactly this ended in the end" when others talk about some X-or-Y-related topic, esp. when the post is a bit older. My model of others is that they then don't go check, but some of them go on to say "Oh, I think there's a post that vaguely says X, and maybe you be concerned about Y because of this, but I didn't read it, so don't take me too se... (read more)

In general, I am in favour of public criticism within movements/communities, and think it is usually underproduced. In general, I would prefer public-criticism-without-prior-warning to no criticism, if those are the only choices available. However:

  • I think prior consultation significantly increases the social value of criticism, and that there should be a pretty strong norm of doing so, at least on the Forum (perhaps less so on social media groups). As such, I'm not sympathetic to excuses of the form "I didn't have time to do this" in this context, unless the post is, for some reason, very urgent.
  • Excuses of the form "I didn't think reaching out in advance would be productive", meanwhile, are quite prone to self-serving biases and the horns effect, and should be avoided, with the possible exception of cases where the target of criticism is flagrantly dishonest and manipulative.
  • In this case, there are several important places where criticism either concerns actions that have since been reversed (the blog post) or depends on speculation about the non-public motives of ACE staff (Anima International). These seem like cases where giving ACE the chance to respond would be especially valua
... (read more)

Because I'm worried that this post could hurt my future ability to get a job in EAA, I'm choosing to remain anonymous.

I personally would also find it emotionally draining to criticize possible employers and would understand if one decides against contacting them privately. Not saying this happened here, but another seemingly valid reason I’d want to keep in mind.

8Max_Daniel20dI think that's a very fair point. I do think it would be possible to run the post by an org in an anonymous way (create a new email account & send clean copy of doc), but as e.g. Larks points out [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/5iCsbrSqLyrfP55ry/concerns-with-ace-s-recent-behavior-1?commentId=cYtTP4W5n2y5octXH] it's easy to accidentally break anonymity.

Although I am on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators, everything I say on this thread is my own words only and represents solely my personal opinion of what may have been going on. Any mistakes here are my own and this should not be interpreted as an official statement from ACE.

I believe that the misunderstanding going on here might be a false dilemma. Hypatia is acting as though the two choices are to be part of the social justice movement or to be in favor of free open expression. Hypatia then gives evidence that shows that ACE is doing things like the former, and thus concludes that this is dangerous because the latter is better for EA.

But this is a false dichotomy. ACE is deliberately taking a nuanced position that straddles both sides. ACE is not in danger of becoming an org that just goes around canceling free thought thinkers. But nor is ACE is danger of ignoring the importance of providing safe spaces for black, indigenous, and people of the global majority (BIPGM) in the EAA community. ACE is doing both, and I think rightly so.

Many who read this likely don't know me, so let me start out by saying that I wholeheartedly endorse the spirit of the quoted comment from Anna S... (read more)

Can you explain more about this part of ACE's public statement about withdrawing from the conference:

We took the initiative to contact CARE’s organizers to discuss our concern, exchanging many thoughtful messages and making significant attempts to find a compromise.

If ACE was not trying to deplatform the speaker in question, what were these messages about and what kind of compromise were you trying to reach with CARE?

3EricHerboso17dIn general, organizations should respect confidentiality of communications with other groups. This is especially important for ACE, as they rely on animal advocacy organizations feeling comfortable enough to share their internal data with them. While transparency is one of its primary goals, and ACE is already extremely transparent about its charity evaluation process [https://animalcharityevaluators.org/charity-reviews/evaluating-charities/] and the reasoning that led to the selection of each of the recommended charities in its reviews, I hope you can understand why ACE also values the importance of retaining a collaborative relationship with other organizations. As such, ACE retains a strong policy against publicly sharing private communications between ACE and the charities they evaluate.

The only thing of interest here is what sort of compromise ACE wanted. What CARE said in response is not of immediate interest, and there's certainly no need to actually share the messages themselves.

Perhaps you can understand why one might come away from this conversation thinking that ACE tried to deplatform the speaker? To me at least it feels hard to interpret "find a compromise" any other way.

[Note that I have no idea whatsoever about what actually happened here. This is purely hypothetical.]

FWIW if I was in a position similar to ACE's here are a few potential "compromises" I would have explored. (Of course, which of these would be acceptable to me would depend on exactly why I'm concerned and how strongly, etc.) I think some of them wouldn't typically be considered deplatforming, though I would imagine that people who are against deplatforming would find many if not all of them at least somewhat objectionable (I would also guess that some who are pro maximal deplatforming in this case would find many if not all of these objectionable):

  • Changing the topic of the relevant speaker's talk
  • Adding a talk with a different perspective on BLM etc. to the conference program
  • Replacing the talk with a panel that also includes different perspectives
  • Removing the talk from the 'official' program but explicitly or implicitly allowing it to take part 'informally'
  • Adding some sort of disclaimer to the talk/program saying the conference organizers are aware this is a sensitive topic and they disagree with the speaker

I could probably generate a bunch of other ideas if I spent more time genera... (read more)

FWIW if I was in a position similar to ACE’s here are a few potential “compromises” I would have explored.

Inferring from the list you wrote, you seem to be under the impression that the speaker in question was going to deliver a talk at the conference, but according to Eric Herboso's top-level comment, "the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM". Also, the following sentence from ACE's Facebook post makes it sound like the only way ACE staff members would attend the conference was if the speaker would not be there at all, which I think rules out all of the compromise ideas you generated.

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.

Inferring from the list you wrote, you seem to be under the impression that the speaker in question was going to deliver a talk at the conference, but according to Eric Herboso's top-level comment, "the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM".

Yes, I had been under that impression (based on my vague memory of having heard about this situation when Buck had posted about it on Facebook). Given what Eric wrote, it sounds like you're probably right that the "baseline plan" was a panel rather than a talk, so obviously my list of potential compromises would need to be modified (change topic of the panel, move the person from the panel to a talk on another topic, make the panel "informal" etc.). I don't think this by itself matters much for the key points I was trying to make in my comment.

Separately, I agree that the second quote at least suggests that maybe what in fact happened was that ACE asked CARE to ban this person from even attending the conference. I haven't followed this situation enough to have an object-level view of whether I think that would have been a reasonable/good demand. I also didn't mean to say that the hypothetical compromises I suggest... (read more)

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Eric. 

I agree that being part of the social justice movement can be compatible with supporting free expression, and I added a note in my post to clarify that. 

Speaking as an insider, I can explicitly say that ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker in the sense that you mean here.

That's a relief to hear, but it also seems hard to reconcile with the public Facebook post. ACE wrote (emphasis mine): 

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Naturally, we want to abide by our own policy and support our staff in feeling comfortable in all of their workspaces, including the online sphere of virtual conferences and Facebook forums.

We took the initiative to contact CARE’s organizers to discuss our concern, exchanging many thoughtful messages and making significant attempts to find a compromise. We view our dialogue as healthy, productive, and collaborative, and we are grateful for CARE’s openness to and participation in

... (read more)
7EricHerboso17dRegarding the CARE conference decision, I want to give a disclaimer that I was not closely involved in this decision, so I’m not clear on what the exact reasoning was. I’ve shared my opinions above on the situation, but as this conference took place eight months ago and isn’t related to the core of ACE’s work, I don’t expect ACE to make any further official statements on the matter. In my response to Wei Dai [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/5iCsbrSqLyrfP55ry/concerns-with-ace-s-recent-behavior-1?commentId=zw6JMCzwiG8iFvtW9] , I explain that it’s just not possible for me nor for ACE to share confidential details of this type. I’ve tried to strike the best balance I can of relieving some of the fears that you and others have about ACE’s reasoning in this case, while simultaneously respecting ACE’s policies around how we treat private communication with other charities. I suspect that I have been unsuccessful at this. I’m sorry that I can’t share more on this topic. It is difficult for me to go into detail here without breaking confidentiality. I’ve tried several times to draft something that I could say generally here, without reference to anything specific. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be possible. All I can do in this case is to refer you to ACE’s Charity Evaluation Criteria, which goes into more detail about Criterion 5: Leadership and Culture [https://animalcharityevaluators.org/charity-reviews/evaluating-charities/evaluation-criteria/#c5] . I agree that projects can be promising, regardless of the ideals of the people running them. But I disagree that ACE Movement Grants should fund such projects. The most important thing that ACE Movement Grants is trying to do is to help direct the shape of the larger movement. This is important because, unlike GiveWell with global poverty (for example), ACE and other EA funders direct at least 25% of the available funding for farmed animal advocacy. Whereas GiveWell can afford to solely advocate for top and

While your words here are technically correct, putting it like this is very misleading. Without breaking confidentiality, let me state unequivocally that if an organization had employees who had really bad views on DEI, that would be, in itself, insufficient for ACE to downgrade them from top to standout charity status. This doesn't mean it isn't a factor; it is. But the actions discussed in this EA forum thread would be insufficient on their own to cause ACE to make such a downgrade.

Just to clarify, this currently sounds to me like you are saying "the actions discussed in this forum thread would be insufficient, but would likely move an organization about halfway to being demoted from top to standout charity", which presumably makes this a pretty big factor that explains a lot of the variance in how different organizations score on the total evaluation. This seems very substantial, but I want to give you the space to say it plays a much less substantial role than that.

4EricHerboso17dA lot goes into ACE’s evaluation decisions. ACE’s charity evaluation process is extremely transparent; I welcome you to read ACE’s official description of that process [https://animalcharityevaluators.org/charity-reviews/evaluating-charities/] if you want more detail generally on this kind of thing. Regarding specifics, I’m unfortunately not at liberty to discuss any confidential details of this case beyond what is already explained in our 2020 evaluation of Anima International.

I am familiar with ACE's charity evaluation process. The hypothesis I expressed above seems compatible with everything I know about the process. So alas, this didn't really answer my question.

I am concerned that although I explained that the views I put forward here are my own, they are being taken as though it is some official response from ACE. This is not the case. To eliminate any potential further misunderstanding on this, I will not be engaging further on this thread.

I think this post is fairly uncharitable to ACE, and misrepresents the situations it is describing. My overall take is basically along the lines of "ACE did the right thing in response to a hard situation, and communicated that poorly." Your post really downplays both the comments that the people in question made and actions they took, and the fact that the people in question were senior leadership at a charity, not just random staff.

I also want to note that I've had conversations with several people offline who disagreed pretty strongly with this post, and yet no one has posted major disagreements here. I think the EA Forum is generally fairly anti-social justice, while EAA is generally fairly pro-social justice, so there are norms clashing between the communities.

 

The blog post

Taken at face value, these claims seem pretty absurd. For example,"inextricably linked" implies that societies without white supremacy and/or patriarchy wouldn't oppress animals.

Your main issue seems to be the claim that these harms are linked, but you just respond by only saying how you feel reading the quote, which isn't a particularly valuable approach. It seems like it would be much more productive... (read more)

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. There's a lot that I don't have time to thoroughly unpack, but I'll share my thoughts briefly. I'll mostly address the EAA FB thread and ACE's CARE conference withdrawal. I'll make edits to the original post where I feel it's appropriate. 

The comments in question are undeniably inflammatory - they started a multi-hundred comment argument in a Facebook group, which as far as I know is the only thread that the moderators of that group have locked (at least in recent memory). There were also dozens of people in that thread, all of whom strongly thought that the person in question and others were being harmful, so your sense of the overton window for EAA discussion (given that the forum is the main platform for EAA discussion) seems like it is miscalibrated.

Note that I was only referring here to comments from the scheduled CARE speaker. I think there were some other critical commenters who were being fairly rude and  unreasonable. It looks like there was one other person on Anima's leadership team participating in the thread, but I think her comments were also generally respectful and not inappropriate. 

As you state, th... (read more)

"I think ACE's speakers probably did feel unsafe speaking at the conference, and I should have instead said there was no actual safety risk. "

Perhaps you mean there was no physical safety risk (or you don't believe in psychological safety as a concept)?

Thanks for writing this comment as I think you make some good points and I would like people who disagree with Hypatia to speak up rather than stay silent.

Having said that, I do have a few critical thoughts on your comment. 

Your main issue seems to be the claim that these harms are linked, but you just respond by only saying how you feel reading the quote, which isn't a particularly valuable approach.

I don’t think this was Hypatia’s main issue. Quoting Hypatia directly, they imply the following are the main issues:

  • The language used in the statement makes it hard to interpret and assess factually
  • It made bold claims with little evidence
  • It recommended readers spend time going through resources of questionable value

Someone called Encompass a hate group (which as a side note, it definitely is not). The Anima Executive Director in question liked this comment.

You bring this up a few times in your comment. Personally I give the ED the benefit of the doubt here because the comment in question also said “what does this have to do with helping animals" which is a point the ED makes elsewhere in the thread, so it’s possible that they were agreeing with this part of the comment a... (read more)

Thanks a lot for writing this up and sharing this. I have little context beyond following the story around CARE and reading this post, but based on the information I have, these seem like highly concerning allegations, and ones I would like to see more discussion around. And I think writing up plausible concerns like this clearly is a valuable public service.

Out of all these, I feel most concerned about the aspects that reflect on ACE as an organisation, rather than that which reflect the views of ACE employees. If ACE employees didn't feel comfortable going to CARE, I think it is correct for ACE to let them withdraw. But I feel concerned about ACE as an organisation making a public statement against the conference. And I feel incredibly concerned if ACE really did downgrade the rating of Anima International as a result. 

That said, I feel like I have fairly limited information about all this, and have an existing bias towards your position. I'm sad that a draft of this wasn't run by ACE beforehand, and I'd be keen to hear their perspective. Though, given the content and your desire to remain anonymous, I can imagine it being unusually difficult to hear ACE's thoughts before pu... (read more)

9tamgent20dI agree with your distinction between the views of individual employees at an organisation being totally fine to be whatever (although I wouldn't ignore it entirely, I also wouldn't overgeneralise from a couple of people in an org having epistemically-lacking views, maybe depending a bit on their position), and the decisions/statements an organisation makes as an org, being an important one.

Edit: Jakub says that ACE's evaluation was based on the Facebook comments, not leadership transition. The below is kept for historical purposes. Also, I should have noted in this post my appreciation for Anima's transparency – it wouldn't have been possible for me to post something like this with most organizations, because they would state that their CEO stepped down "spend more time with her family" or something similar.

Nevertheless, given the overall positive assessment, it's strange that Anima was awarded a "weak" rating in this category, and I think it's likely that Anima is being heavily punished for the public comments made by staff members.

Last year, Anima fired their CEO. The public statement said:

However, no matter how much we value her merits, there are issues in regards to everyday behaviour towards employees that we as an organization cannot accept. In Anima International we have to be a team that strongly supports each other.

I think ACE's rating about poor leadership and culture was based on that rather than Facebook comments made by staff members.

This is what ACE's "overview" lists as Anima's weaknesses:

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums. We also think including non-staff members in Anima International’s governing board would increase the board’s capacity to oversee the organization from a more independent and objective perspective. 

Their "comprehensive review" doesn't mention the firing of the CEO as a consideration behind their low rating. The primary reason for their negative evaluation seems to be captured in the following excerpt:

According to our culture survey, Anima International is diverse along the lines of gender identity and sexual identity, however, they are not diverse on racial identity. This is not surprising, as most of the countries in which their member organizations operate are very racially homogenous; in practice, we think it would be particularly difficult for them to successfully attract and hire advocates who are Black, Indigenous, or of the global majority49 (BIPGM) in those countries. Ou

... (read more)

Thanks for sharing, that part updated me a lot away from Ben's view and towards Hypatia's view. 

An aspect I found particularly interesting was that Anima International seems to do a lot of work in Eastern European countries, which tend to be much more racially homogenous, and I presume have fairly different internal politics around race to the US. And that ACE's review emphasises concerns, not about their ability to do good work in their countries, but about their ability to participate in international spaces with other organisations.

They work in: 

Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Estonia, Norway, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France

It seems even less justifiable to me to judge an organisation according to US views around racial justice, when they operate in such a different context.

EDIT: This point applies less than I thought. Looks like Connor Jackson, the person in question, is a director of their UK branch, which I'd consider much closer to the US on this topic. 

Thanks, this comment was a pretty big update for me towards Hypatia's interpretation (I'd previously been much closer to Ben's).

Footnote 50 from that blockquote is also relevant:

In addition to lengthy email correspondence, our impression here was informed by evidence we cannot publish, including calls with Anima International’s leadership and correspondence in a public Facebook group (“Effective Animal Advocacy – Discussion”). Even though Anima and the ACE staff members who are discussed in the email thread encouraged us to publish the email correspondence, members of the evaluations committee decided against this to protect the privacy of the third parties mentioned, and to assure charities that we keep our private correspondence confidential. 

Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

I don't think ACE's review of Anima supports this interpretation at all.

The review does mention the leadership transition under Criterion 5: Leadership and Culture:

Anima International had a recent transition in leadership. Kirsty Henderson took the role of Acting CEO in April 2020, after being elected by the managing board of Anima International. Their new leadership describes the transition as an opportunity to re-evaluate their goals, structure, work, and values, through frequent communication with staff about the transition process and challenges. Henderson is requesting more in-depth feedback from staff members and having one-to-one meetings with all of them to learn more about who they are and how they see Anima International’s work. In the next few months, a new CEO will be elected. We are yet to see how successful the leadership transition turns out.

But ACE doesn't give any indication that it thginks the leadership transition or firing of the previous CEO is a bad thing. Additionally, when the review cites results from the culture survey, the results generally seem quite positive.  And the review's overall assessment of culture and morale... (read more)

Thanks! I had interpreted "We are yet to see how successful the leadership transition turns out" as a pretty strong statement, but I agree that the review doesn't specify how the different factors they list are weighted and your interpretation could be correct. I hope someone from ACE can clarify.

Thank you for writing this extremely detailed and thoughtful post on a very concerning topic.

(I'm currently an intern for ACE, but speaking only for myself.)

First, I'd like to point out some related discussion here and here.

I think EA/EAA should have evidence-based conversations about how important social justice, inclusion, equity, diversity/representation, etc. are for EA/EAA, including whether they deserve much attention at all and whether some things might cause more harm than good (I do think there are at least some small and fairly uncontroversial useful steps organizations can make and have already made [1]), but the main EAA Facebook group does not seem like an appropriate place to have them, since it's one of the first places people get exposed to EAA. I think the EA Forum is an appropriate place to have these conversations. Smaller FB groups that aren't the first point of exposure for many to EA/EAA are probably okay, too.

Imagine being worried about an issue that personally affects you and/or the people close to you, and going to one of your first EA meetups, where your worries are debated and dismissed by many. It wouldn't be surprising if many people in similar situations would not want to come back after that, or to find out that our community's demographics a... (read more)

but the main EAA Facebook group does not seem like an appropriate place to have them, since it’s one of the first places people get exposed to EAA.

I might agree with you if doing this had no further consequences beyond what you've written, but... quoting an earlier comment of mine:

You know, this makes me think I know just how academia was taken over by cancel culture. They must have allowed “introductory spaces” like undergrad classes to become “safe spaces”, thinking they could continue serious open discussion in seminar rooms and journals, then those undergrads became graduate students and professors and demanded “safe spaces” everywhere they went. And how is anyone supposed to argue against “safety”, especially once its importance has been institutionalized (i.e., departments were built in part to enforce “safe spaces”, which can then easily extend their power beyond “introductory spaces”).

And suppose we did make introductory spaces "safe" for people who believe that certain types of speech are very harmful, but somehow managed to keep norms of open discussion in other more "advanced" spaces. How would those people feel when they find out that they can't participate in the more advanced spaces without the risk of paying a high subjective cost (i.e., encountering speech that they find intolerable)? Won't many of them think that the EA community has performed a bait-and-switch on them and potentially become hostile to EA? Have people who have proposed this type of solution actually thought things through?

I think it's important to make EA as welcoming as possible to all people, but not by compromising in the direction of safetyism, as I don't see any way that doesn't end up causing more harm than good in the long run.

6anonymous_ea18dIt's a very strong statement that academia has been taken over by cancel culture. I definitely agree that there are some very concerning elements (one of the ones I find most concerning are the University of California diversity statements), but academia as a whole is quite big and you may be jumping the gun quite a bit.

one of the ones I find most concerning are the University of California diversity statements

I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. Do you think other universities are not requiring diversity statements from job applicants, or that the University of California is especially "concerning" in how it uses them? If it's the latter, what do you think the University of California is doing that others aren't? If the former, see this article from two years ago, which states:

Many more institutions are asking her to submit a statement with her application about how her work would advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The requests have appeared on advertisements for jobs at all kinds of colleges, from the largest research institutions to small teaching-focused campuses

(And it seems a safe bet that the trend has continued. See this search result for a quick sense of what universities currently have formal rubrics for evaluating diversity statements. I also checked a random open position (for a chemistry professor) at a university that didn't show up in these results and found that it also requires a diversity statement: "Applicants should state in their cover letter how their te... (read more)

This seems pretty worrying! Have you spoken to the CEA community health team about this? I guess they will probably read this blog post.

The community health team at CEA has been following the situation.

It seems to me that Eric Herboso's reply already does an excellent job of explaining how one can, at the same time, follow proper epistemic rules and promote social justice. I would like to add a couple of considerations. First, I think Hypatia is engaging in a straw man fallacy. They describe social justice norms as having three features:

  • Placing great emphasis on standpoint epistemology;
  • Displaying great intolerance and hostility toward dissenting views;
  • A general skepticism of empirical evidence.

Given their definition of such norms it is understandable that they further incur in the false dilemma denounced by Herboso. But this is quite an uncharitable understanding of the guidelines often suggested to mitigate discrimination in our interpersonal relationships and in our organisations. One ought rather to understand them in the following way:

  • Assign greater credence to the beliefs of members of discriminated groups as to what constitutes an instance of discrimination and as to what are effective mechanisms to prevent it. This is based on the reasonable (though defeasible) presumption that they are in a privileged epistemic position;
  • Impose social sanctions on those whose behaviour (in
... (read more)

I'm confused about why this comment was heavily downvoted. I'd be curious if people think (a) the norms ("assign greater credence to the beliefs of members of discriminated groups" etc.) described by Eze are bad, or (b) they don't accurately describe actual "social justice norms" or potential norms at ACE or whatever actual norms may be relevant for this discussion, and therefore the comment is besides the point, or (c) something else.

5Eze Paez10dI must say I am pretty confused as well.

 Evidence-based reasoning, with the understanding that the burden of proof lies with those who deny that the EA movement must make strenuous efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination in its midst.

I feel somewhat skeptical of this, given that you also say:

This may include in some contexts behaviour consisting in denying that such discrimination exists or that it needs to be addressed.

It feels like 'trying to provide empirical evidence that the EA movement should not make overcoming discrimination an overwhelming priority' can certainly feel like denying discrimination exists, and can feel harmful to people. I'm somewhat skeptical that such a discussion would likely happen in a healthy and constructive way under prevailing social justice discussion norms. Have you ever come across good examples of such discussions?

Hi Neel. Thanks for your respectful reply. Yes, I have been present in discussions in which all parties have been comfortable. Suppose that the background assumption is that gender/racial/class/whatever discrimination exists in the EA community, that it is unjust and that it needs to be addressed. Suppose that the EA organisations involved have taken steps to address it. Suppose that a further assumption is that the burden of evidence lies with those who claim that addressing its existence in the EA community should not be an overwhelming priority.  My hypothesis is that these are conditions that allow for a healthy and constructive discussion.  

I think this point from the Black VegFest 7 points of allyship (for the white vegan community) is reasonably straightforward:

White vegans/ARs will respect the sanctity of Black space and will not enter unless their presence is necessary. Black space is for the growth and betterment of Black people. Allyship and being accomplices begins with white people learning to respect Black space.

My understanding is that there can be spaces for only Black people to discuss, though white people can participate if necessary (presumably, if they are invited). Part of... (read more)

Nitpick: I really wish SJ-aligned people would clarify what they mean by "capitalism" in these contexts.

1MichaelStJules19d(I'm currently an intern for ACE, but speaking only for myself.) With the context from your edit that was omitted from the original post, I think it does make sense and is not absurd at all on its face, but the phrasing "simply by being white" was hyperbole (which does lend itself to misinterpretation, so better to avoid), and was explained by the claims that follow. I think the OP omitting this context was probably bad and misleading, although I don't think it was intended to mislead.

I can't seem to find the previous posts at the moment, but I have this sense that this is not an isolated issue and that ACE has some serious problems given that it draws continued criticism, not for its core mission, but for the way it carries that mission out. Although I can't remember at the moment what that other criticism was, I recall thinking "wow, ACE needs to get it together" or something similar. Maybe it has learned from those things and gotten better, but I notice I'm developing a belief that ACE is failing at the "effective" part of effective altruism.

Does this match what others are thinking or am I off?

Previous criticism of ACE in venues like the Forum has primarily been about its research methodology (e.g. here and response here).

It's been a while since I followed EAA research closely, but it's my impression ACE has improved its research methodology substantially and removed/replaced a lot of the old content people were concerned about – at least as far as non-DEI issues are concerned.

Thank you for writing this, this is indeed concerning. I will acknowledge that I have a bias against the social justice movement, for many different reasons, but if I want to be altruistic I have to also see if it has good sides. 

I can certainly see a case that working with diversity and inclusion can have instrumental value for EA organisations, including animal advocacy ones. The idea that having representatives from diverse backgrounds can help to give a movement broad appeal seems very likely correct. The idea that this can also generate useful id... (read more)

What is EAA? Effective Animal Advocacy?

Correct: Effective Animal Advocacy, probably a bit too intra-group jargon to not define or at least link to an explanation. ACE was originally called Effective Animal Activism.

To expand slightly: As JJ Balisan notes, ACE was originally called 'Effective Animal Activism', and that's how the acronym 'EAA' was first used in EA circles (if I recall correctly). Over time, people started using 'EAA' to refer to 'effective animal activism' instead, i.e. not the organization itself but any efforts within EA to engage in activism on behalf of non-human animals. Eventually, the term was applied more broadly, to refer to ways of helping animals beyond activism in a narrow sense, and accordingly the 'EAA' acronym acquired the new meaning of 'effective animal advocacy'. I think currently 'EAA' just means "the branch of effective altruism primarily concerned with animal welfare".

I interpret it as 'the subgroup of the Effective Altruist movement predominantly focused on animal welfare'