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Link-post for the article "Effective Altruism Promises to Do Good Better. These Women Say It Has a Toxic Culture Of Sexual Harassment and Abuse"

A few quotes:

Three times in one year, she says, men at informal EA gatherings tried to convince [Keerthana Gopalakrishnan] to join these so-called “polycules.” When Gopalakrishnan said she wasn’t interested, she recalls, they would “shame” her or try to pressure her, casting monogamy as a lifestyle governed by jealousy, and polyamory as a more enlightened and rational approach.

After a particularly troubling incident of sexual harassment, Gopalakrishnan wrote a post on an online forum for EAs in Nov. 2022. While she declined to publicly describe details of the incident, she argued that EA’s culture was hostile toward women. “It puts your safety at risk,” she wrote, adding that most of the access to funding and opportunities within the movement was controlled by men. Gopalakrishnan was alarmed at some of the responses. One commenter wrote that her post was “bigoted” against polyamorous people. Another said it would “pollute the epistemic environment,” and argued it was “net-negative for solving the problem.”

 

This story is based on interviews with more than 30 current and former effective altruists and people who live among them. Many of the women spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid personal or professional reprisals, citing the small number of people and organizations within EA that control plum jobs and opportunities.

...

Many of them asked that their alleged abusers not be named and that TIME shield their identities to avoid retaliation.

 

One recalled being “groomed” by a powerful man nearly twice her age who argued that “pedophilic relationships” were both perfectly natural and highly educational. Another told TIME a much older EA recruited her to join his polyamorous relationship while she was still in college. A third described an unsettling experience with an influential figure in EA whose role included picking out promising students and funneling them towards highly coveted jobs. After that leader arranged for her to be flown to the U.K. for a job interview, she recalls being surprised to discover that she was expected to stay in his home, not a hotel. When she arrived, she says, “he told me he needed to masturbate before seeing me.”

 

The women who spoke to TIME counter that the problem is particularly acute in EA. The movement’s high-minded goals can create a moral shield, they say, allowing members to present themselves as altruists committed to saving humanity regardless of how they treat the people around them. “It’s this white knight savior complex,” says Sonia Joseph, a former EA who has since moved away from the movement partially because of its treatment of women. “Like: we are better than others because we are more rational or more reasonable or more thoughtful.” The movement “has a veneer of very logical, rigorous do-gooderism,” she continues. “But it’s misogyny encoded into math.”

 

Several of the women who spoke to TIME said that EA’s polyamorous subculture was a key reason why the community had become a hostile environment for women. One woman told TIME she began dating a man who had held significant roles at two EA-aligned organizations while she was still an undergraduate. They met when he was speaking at an EA-affiliated conference, and he invited her out to dinner after she was one of the only students to get his math and probability questions right. He asked how old she was, she recalls, then quickly suggested she join his polyamorous relationship. Shortly after agreeing to date him, “He told me that ‘I could sleep with you on Monday,’ but on Tuesday I’m with this other girl,” she says. “It was this way of being a f—boy but having the moral high ground,” she added. “It’s not a hookup, it’s a poly relationship.” The woman began to feel “like I was being sucked into a cult,” she says.

Standard disclaimers apply about 'not all polyamory' - there are plenty of perfectly healthy polyamorous relationships out there - but its implementation in EA seems to play a significant role in many of the examples cited.

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the women would only speak under conditions of anonymity due to EA's centralisation of power over funding and employment in a few (overwhelmingly male) hands.

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I’m responding on behalf of the community health team at the Centre for Effective Altruism. We work to prevent and address problems in the community, including sexual misconduct.

I find the piece doesn’t accurately convey how my team, or the EA community more broadly, reacts to this sort of behavior.

We work to address harmful behavior, including sexual misconduct, because we think it’s so important that this community has a good culture where people can do their best work without harassment or other mistreatment. Ignoring problems or sweeping them under the rug would be terrible for people in the community, EA’s culture, and our ability to do good in the world.

My team didn’t have a chance to explain the actions we’ve already taken on the incidents described in this piece. The incidents described here include:

  • Ones where we already took action years ago, like banning the accused from our spaces
  • Ones where we offered to help address the situation and the person affected didn’t answer
  • Ones we weren’t aware of

We’ll be going through the piece to see if there are any situations we might be able to address further, but in most of them there’s not enough information to do so. If you ... (read more)

There's a lot of discussion here about why things don't get reported to the community health team, and what they're responsible for, so I wanted to add my own bit of anecdata.

I'm a woman who has been closely involved with a particularly gender-imbalanced portion of EA for 7 years, who has personally experienced and secondhand heard about many issues around gender dynamics, and who has never reported anything to the community health team (despite several suggestions from friends to). Now I'm considering why.

Upon reflection, here are a few reasons:

  1. Early on, some of it was naiveté. I experienced occasional inappropriate comments or situations from senior male researchers when I was a teenager, but assumed that they could never be interested in me because of the age and experience gap. At the time I thought that I must be misinterpreting the situation, and only see it the way I do now with the benefit of experience and hindsight. (I never felt unsafe, and if I had, would have reported it or left.)

  2. Often, the behavior felt plausibly deniable. "Is this person asking me to meet at a coffeeshop to discuss research or to hit on me? How about meeting at a bar? Going for a walk on the be

... (read more)

In my personal experience a good deal of sexual assault/harassment etc. goes unreported (especially at universities) because especially if you personally know the perpetrator as a friend or romantic partner you often have pretty complicated feelings about escalating things.

I think making clear the default outcome of reporting is "you have a conversation with someone a good deal more experience than you about what steps tend to be taken in these cases and if they've heard anything else and you get agency around the result" rather than "you set in motion a process against this person you have a very hazy understanding of" helps a lot. (the health team's policy around confidentiality seems good for this reason).

Thank you for sharing your experience here. I’m really sorry to hear about these gender dynamics and how it’s affected you personally, your motivation and your career.

Do you have any suggested actions you’d like to see to help prevent this being repeated?

(I imagine organisations having policies about appropriate professional conduct and actively working on DEI would help to some extent with these issues. But I’m not sure what specifically, how much it’d help, and if there’s other things that you implied that I missed.)

Also, on a separate note, my understanding is that the community health team would like to hear about general experiences like this (even if you don’t want to “report” anything/anyone specifically and want any action taken) as they often provide advice to organisations/groups/community spaces/write forum posts about ways of improving the health of the community more generally and hearing things like this would help to put good policies in place and spread ideas around appropriate conduct etc.

To give a little more detail about what I think gave wrong impressions - 

Last year as part of a longer piece about how the community health team approaches problems, I wrote a list of factors that need to be balanced against each other. One that’s caused confusion is “Give people a second or third chance; adjust when people have changed and improved.” I meant situations like “someone has made some inappropriate comments and gotten feedback about it,” not something like assault. I’m adding a note to the original piece clarifying.

What proportion of the incidents described was the team unaware of?

I think this question is very important. There must be a reason why people are not reporting bad behaviour to the health team. Either they don't know what the team does, or they know what it's meant to do, but don't trust it. Either case points to room for improvement, either in the team or in the wider EA community. 

As an example: None of the  newcomer resources seem to mention the community health team at all. It seems possible that a significant proportion of people that are new or more casually involved are unaware of it's existence. Given that predatory behaviour is often focused on newcomers and inexperienced members, this seems like a clear oversight. 

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Jalen_Lyle-Holmes
I think this is a good point (that lots of people especially newcomers might not be aware of the community health team's role when they might need it). I've been engaging with EA a lot online since maybe 2015, and in person since 2018, and I was aware of the community health team for a while but I wasn't aware that it played this particular role of investigating claims and taking action e.g. banning people, until I think last year. 

Thanks Julia. While I do not want to imply the problem is solved, I think our community is a lot better due to your team's work, and I deeply appreciate that. Having a thoughtful and proactive team working on this seems very helpful for keeping our movement healthy.

I do think, insofar as is possible, some more transparency and specifics (especially on this one) could be very reassuring to myself and the community.

I'm worried and skeptical about negative views toward the community health team and Julia Wise.

My view is informed by the absence of clear objective mistakes described by anyone. It also seems very easy and rewarding to criticize them[1].

I'm increasingly concerned about the dynamic over the last few months where CEA and the Community Health team constantly acts as a lightning rod for problems they have little control over. This dynamic has always existed, but it has become more severe post-SBF. 

This seems dysfunctional and costly to good talent at CEA. It is an even deeper issue because these seem to be one of the few people trying to take ownership and help EA publicly right now. 

I'm not sure what happens if Julia Wise and co. stop. 

  1. ^

    The Guzey incident is one example where a detractor seems excessive toward Wise. I share Will Bradshaw's view that this is both minor and harmless, although I respect and would be interested in Nuno's dissenting view. 

    (Alexey Guzey wrote a book chapter, that he would be releasing publicly, that was critical of MacAskill's content in DGB, to Julia Wise. Wise sent the chapter to MacAskill, which Guzey asked her not to do. It's unclea

... (read more)
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Matt Goodman
I think this might be partly due to the complex structure (and subsequent re-structure) of CEA. 'CEA' used to be a dual name for both a legal entity and the community building organisation.  I think this led me in the past to having a vague idea of what 'CEA' was, and thinking that the public-facing  Community Health Team was representing all of it and responsible for more than they were. This is kind of a separate issue though, here I'd just like to say I'm grateful for the work the Community Health Team does, and don't want to distract from the discussion of the accusations made here.

I believe the TIME article has been updated since its original publication to reflect your response. If you have the chance, would you be able to comment on the updated version?

Excerpt taken as of 18:30 PST 3 Feb 2023:

"In an email following the publication of this article, Wise elaborated. “We’re horrified by the allegations made in this article. A core part of our work is addressing harmful behavior, because we think it’s essential that this community has a good culture where people can do their best work without harassment or other mistreatment,” Wise wrote to TIME. “The incidents described in this article include cases where we already took action, like banning the accused from our spaces. For cases we were not aware of, we will investigate and take appropriate action to address the problem.”"

I suspect a very relevant factor influencing whether people are willing to come forward and talk to the team  is "how alienated/ accepted do they feel by EA culture in general", given that you come across as very much of that culture; for me this is something that helps a lot compared to say your average HR dept?

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Sick_of_this
From the Time article:  How can any victim of sexual harassment feel comfortable approaching you with any concerns given these comments?

These are quotations from a table that are intended to illustrate "difficult tradeoffs". Does seeing them in context change your view at all?

(Disclosure: married to Wise)

I think the "or third chance" could be phrased differently. Sure, in specific circumstances, that might be appropriate, but it shouldn't sound like a general rule.  Second chances should suffice. People rarely change.

In the article it isn't presented as a general rule or suitable for all situations, though? It's presented in the table of things they're trying to balance as the opposite of "Don’t try to be a rehabilitation space - that’s not a good use of the EA community", which is also not appropriate in all circumstances.

(Also, at the time this was posted no one pushed back on this, and the top comment is Nuno's "I appreciate the section on tradeoffs, and I think it makes me more likely to trust the community health team.")

Okay, that seems right. In the article, it's worded like this: 

Give people a second or third chance; adjust when people have changed and improved

The second part of the sentence adds some nuance, as does the contrast table.

Still, I remember feeling a bit weird about the wording even when that article came out, but I didn't comment. (For me, the phrase "third chance" evokes the picture of the person giving the third chance being naive.) (Edit: esp. when it's presented as though this is a somewhat common thing, giving people third chances in "evidence this person is a bad actor" contexts.) 

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Because at face value it makes sense to tailor the severity of the countermeasure to the severity of the offense, and I imagine that Wise was commenting on incidents order of magnitude less severe than the ones mentioned in the article.

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gated
How can situations with false accusations be caught and handled, together with real sexual misconduct? 
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This was incredibly upsetting for me to read. This is the first time I've ever felt ashamed to be associated with EA. I apologize for the tone of the rest of the comment, can delete it if it is unproductive, but I feel a need to vent.

One thing I would like to understand better is to what extent this is a bay area issue versus EA in general. My impression is that a disproportionate fraction of abuse happens in the bay. If this suspicion is true, I don't know how to put this politely, but I'd really appreciate it if the bay area could get its shit together.

In my spare time I do community building in Denmark. I will be doing a workshop for the Danish academy of talented highschool students in April. How do you imagine the academy organizers will feel seeing this in TIME magazine?

What should I tell them? "I promise this is not an issue in our local community"?

I've been extremely excited to prepare this event. I would get to teach Denmark's brightest high schoolers about hierarchies of evidence, help them conduct their own cost-effectiveness analyses, and hopefully inspire a new generation to take action to make the world a better place.

Now I have to worry about whether it would be more appropriate to send the organizers a heads up informing them about the article and give them a chance to reconsider working with us.

I frankly feel unequipped to deal with something like this.

A response to why a lot of the abuse happens  in the Bay Area:

"I am one of the people in the Time Mag article about sexual violence in EA. In the video below I clarify some points about why the Bay Area is the epicenter of so many coercive dynamics, including the hacker house culture, which are like frat houses backed by billions in capital, but without oversight of HR departments or parent institutions. This frat house/psychedelic/male culture, where a lot of professional networking happens, creates invisible glass ceilings for women."

tweet: https://twitter.com/soniajoseph_/status/1622002995020849152

Hi! I listened to your entire video. It was very brave and commendable. I really hope you've started something that will help get EA and the Bay Area rationalist scene into a much healthier and more impactful place. I think your analysis of the problem is very sharp. Thank you for coming forward and doing what you did.

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Akash Kulgod
Thanks for the video,  I found it very helpful. If you don't mind me asking, what does the 'psychedelic' in your description point towards? I don't think you mention it in the video and I'm curious as I was part of some "psychedelic communities" and wonder what dynamics I may not have been paying attention to.

Thanks for these responses, I'm glad the video was helpful!

The psychedelic use is a great point-- I didn't go into it as much as I should have.

Casual psychedelic use is very much part of tech Bay culture. When a woman is on psychedelics, she often cannot consent to sexual activity because she does not have proper awareness of her environment or what is happening. The casual psychedelic use creates situations where date rape is more likely to happen. 

What should I tell them? "I promise this is not an issue in our local community"?

I've been extremely excited to prepare this event. I would get to teach Denmark's brightest high schoolers about hierarchies of evidence, help them conduct their own cost-effectiveness analyses, and hopefully inspire a new generation to take action to make the world a better place.

Now I have to worry about whether it would be more appropriate to send the organizers a heads up informing them about the article and give them a chance to reconsider working with us.

I frankly feel unequipped to deal with something like this.

You're venting, but I'll try to answer helpfully. The right thing to say is surely:

  • Sexual assault is very bad.
  • If anyone is aware of any specific incident, they should contact the CEA team or their local law enforcement.
  • We try to prevent it, and expel those who commit it (including some of the people in this story).
  • It occurs in every community.
  • There is little reason to think the EA community in general is much more or less problematic here than other movements (unless you think polyamory and drugs are risk factors).
  • It is impossible for any large decentralized movement to reduce the rate to
... (read more)

There is little reason to think the EA community in general is much more or less problematic here than other movements (unless you think polyamory and drugs are risk factors).

There are other risk factors, though. Drug use definitely. I don't think polyamory is a risk factor, but a relative lack of committed relationships in EA definitely is one (makes for more propositioning in general).

As well as being younger-skewed and male-skewed - that increases risk.

Encouraging a lot of people to start their own projects and get funded directly by someone in the community, as opposed to working at a larger org, increases risk.

Group housing and sharing accommodation, while not inherently bad, definitely increases risk.

In general, the intense mixing of personal and professional boundaries is an even more important risk factor, especially in combination with the other factors.

A lot of these factors are less present in other communities.

(To be clear, a lot of these risks also can have offsetting benefits.)

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temporalis
This seems like a very strange view? Polyamory allows for more propositioning in general because even people in committed relationships can proposition people.
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Peter Wildeford
I guess I mean to say "I don't think polyamory is a risk factor, but more open / single relationship status in EA definitely is one". Like if you have a polyamory relationship set that you're happy with and it's closed and you don't proposition anyone to add, that would have the same level of security as a married non-poly couple.
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temporalis
Probably worth tabooing 'poly' here. As far as I can tell, basically every critic of poly is referring to relationships that are at open to new participants, and every defender of poly wants to defend those relationships also. If you want you can come up with a new definition: open_poly: a person in a relationship with someone else who is still open to more relationships. The debate then becomes whether it is fine to be open_poly, or if there are significant costs and hence open_poly people should cease to be open. I think basically every critic of poly would be satisfied if the existing relationships continued but ceased accepting new members. And based on your comment it seems like you basically think that open_poly does bring significant incremental risk vs a counterfactual of non-open.
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Peter Wildeford
What I'm getting at is the risk factor comes from open anything, regardless of whether it is poly or mono. Agree that tabooing is helpful here. (Though to be clear I'm obviously not suggesting people stop trying to find romantic partners. Just like I'm not asking people to stop being male or young. Risk factors are risk factors even if they're out of our control or have clear benefits.)

This is absolutely not how I'm going to go about dealing with it.

If I were on their side and somebody at any point responded to my concerns with a trivializing reminder that rape and abuse, in fact, happens in every community, I would nope out immediately.

I appreciate that this comment is trying to be helpful, but I feel a responsibility to point out that this is outright harmful advice.

EDIT: Sorry, I phrased myself with unnecessary meanness. To be clear the reason this, in my opinion, is poor advice is not because the arguments themselves are wrong. The reason is that what matters in good communication is to signal an understanding of the counterpart's concerns, and even if these arguments are right they send the wrong signal.

Either you believe these problems are much more common in the EA community than other communities and this poses a risk to the kids or you don't.

If you do believe we are much worse than average, and this would put the kids at risk, asking how you should do movement building to highschoolers is probably the wrong question. You just shouldn't do that movement building.

Probably however you don't believe that the EA movement is much worse than average, (because there is basically no evidence for this), and don't believe that your community building would actually put the kids in any significant danger. If this is the case, this is the crux of the matter. It's important to acknowledge their concerns and show you're not being dismissive, both as a matter of politeness and honesty and as a rhetorical matter. That was the purpose of the first bullet points. But you also need to explain the actual reason for your view. They are intelligent people capable of making their own decisions in light of the evidence, and they deserve the right to evaluate the facts and come to their own conclusions. Relative frequency estimates aren't 'trivializing', they are the most important fact for their decision making.

I think you are right and I overreacted.

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temporalis
No worries comrade, glad to help.

Yeah… I’d feel completely overwhelmed if I had to do the interpersonal crisis management that you have to do there on top of the normal preparations. There are people in the community who are good at community health–related crisis management though. Maybe someone (me?) could put together a rolodex of community health contractors who could help out in such situations, either paid by CEA or by the teams they are helping?

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okaycomputer
I am an outsider to this community. You are still doing good things. You can change the affiliation. Wipe "Effective Altruism" away. At the end of the day, your good work is being co-opted. Your gut feelings are real, and you should react appropriately.
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timunderwood
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We (the Community Health team at CEA) would like to share some more information about the cases in the TIME article, and our previous knowledge of these cases. We’ve put these comments in the approximate order that they appear in the TIME article. 

 

Re: Gopalakrishnan’s experiences

We read her post with concern.  We saw quite a few supportive messages from community members, and we also tried to offer support. Our team also reached out to Gopalakrishnan in a direct message to ask if she was interested in sharing more information with us about the specific incidents. 

 

Re: The man who

  1. Expressed opinions about “pedophilic relationships”
  2. “Another woman, who dated the same man several years earlier in a polyamorous relationship, alleges that he had once attempted to put his penis in her mouth while she was sleeping.” 

We don’t know this person’s identity for sure, but one of these accounts resembles a previous public accusation made against a person who used to be involved in the rationality community. He has been banned from CEA events for almost 5 years, and we understand he has been banned from some other EA spaces. He has been a critic of the EA movemen... (read more)

Hi Catherine, thank you for clarifying what measures were taken regarding each instance reported in the TIME article and for directly addressing each point.

Regarding my previous post, here's more context from a previous discussion on why I haven't yet involved CEA's Health team: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/sD4kdobiRaBpxcL8M/what-happened-to-the-women-and-effective-altruism-post?commentId=MxJqDoNTqLxkPthzy I'll probably share more thoughts, especially regarding why I spoke to TIME, women-friendly culture updates a movement can take and more perspectives when time permits me to think more clearly about this topic and write them down. Obviously, SA is a high stress discussion; a lot of context is lost in translation and in medium of communication; people can misrepresent/misinterpret; people also have jobs and other commitments; but I'm hoping we will have more clarity over time/ update to a better state overall as a society given enough time. 

Meanwhile, I'd like more clarification on one matter. I'm one of those people who connected Charlotte, the author of the TIME article with the curious case of the Aurora Quinn Elmore, an unofficial SA mediator who interviews p... (read more)

Thanks Keerthana. I'm afraid I don't know anything about CFAR's processes. It might be worth you reaching out to CFAR directly: contact@rationality.org.

I look forward to reading your 
> women-friendly culture updates a movement can take
If and when you choose to share. 

I understand that CEA doesn’t have any special insight into CFAR’s decision to use Aurora Quinn Elmore for mediation. But I’d guess CEA has quite a lot of information about CFAR including non-public info, and that other EAs could benefit from knowing at least the gist of this. If someone was considering attending CFAR programming (or working for CFAR) and asked the community health team if there were any concerns they should know about, what would you tell them? Has the community health team received complaints about CFAR aside from the Brent incident, and if so, how many? Does the community health team have any concerns about CFAR soliciting attendees via the EA Forum

CFAR’s use of Aurora for mediation is part of a pattern of highly questionable policies and decision-making. I’m sure CEA is aware of the utter debacle around CFAR's mistakes regarding Brent and their failure to safeguard a minor (among other mistakes) in that situation. There has been discussion of other issues as well, not all related to sexuality, but many related to troubling power dynamics. As one EA put it

CFAR's track record includes a litany of awful mistakes re. welfare and safeguarding where ea

... (read more)
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Anthony Repetto
It's a bad sign that you were being downvoted! I gave you my upvote!
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AnonymousEAForumAccount
Thanks Anthony, I appreciate the support! Despite any downvotes (which I anticipated), I think this is an important issue and I hope the community health team responds. And FWIW I'm open to the idea that their response could make me feel less concerned about CFAR than I currently do. 
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Keerthana Gopalakrishnan
+1 :)

I am one of the people mentioned in the article. I'm genuinely happy with the level of compassion and concern voiced in most of the comments on this article. Yes, while a lot of the comments are clearly concerned that this is a hard and difficult issue to tackle, I’m appreciative of the genuine desire of many people to do the right thing here. It seems that at least some of the EA community has a drive towards addressing the issue and improving from it rather than burying the issue as I had feared.

 

A couple of points, my spontaneous takeaways upon reading the article and the comments:
 

  • This article covers bad actors in the EA space, and how hard it is to protect the community from them. This doesn't mean that all of EA is toxic, but rather the article is bringing to light the fact that bad actors have been tolerated and even defended in the community to the detriment of their victims. I'm sensing from the comments that non-Bay Area EA may have experienced less of this phenomenon. If you read this article and are absolutely shocked and disgusted, then I think you experienced a different selection of EA than I have. I know many of my peers will read this article and feel unc
... (read more)

MY RECOMMENDATIONS

 

Given my experiences, I have a few insights that may help guide good future practices.

My recommendation here is to create systems of checks and balances that do not allow for conflicts of interest to enable biased decisions. I think that expecting a person in a position of power to make the correct judicial decision regarding a conflict with people they are close with is an incredibly difficult ask, and I am not surprised that cases are often handled poorly or to the dissatisfaction of the community. 

 

  • Create some kind of educational content around how to be a good ally to victims and how to identify bad situations so people can intervene. As a bystander, if you see a peer piling drinks onto the youngest girl at the party with the intent to take her upstairs, it would be nice to intervene rather than ignore the intended consequences. If a victim comes to you following a traumatic event, it would be nice if you’ll be compassionate and understand that they often intentionally won’t tell you what happened out of pain or shame, and it would be fantastic if you patiently wait to hear their story rather than gather evidence out of the omissions to build a
... (read more)
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Lorenzo Buonanno
I've removed the name of a user from the above comment after a request to the mod team, in light of our new policies on revealing personal information on the Forum

Now that I realize who you are and which house this was-- do you think it's fair to describe that house as an EA house? 

You are absolutely right that it was not an EA house. Only 30-50% of the house was EA-affiliated at any point, and it is noted as so in Time. It was primarily the EA members who were involved with the harassment I experienced. Moreover, EA's who I didn't even know, including the moderator,  who did not live in the house became involved as the situation escalated. I am happy to share more details offline to prove that this absolutely was an EA related situation, but I am avoiding disclosing the whole story out of courtesy to individuals and in hopes that we can have a productive conversation about how to improve the toxic culture that produced these negative experiences.

yeah from my experience there are at least two clusters of incidents of

  • people who talk about dark secret psychological/sociological hacks the normies don't want you to know (these people tend to lean more rationalisty and are going to be an extremely tiny percentage of people who comment on this forum)
  • (usually much less severe) possibly autistic people who are socially oblivious of how they are throwing their weight around but well meaning

i think there's probably quite a lot of value in warning people to be cautious around people who seem like they're in the first cluster (and I'd mostly associate poly/kink types with the second)

if you are mostly talking about the first cluster I think we are to a very real extent talking past each other -- especially in the bay area ea/rat circles are extremely ideologically heterogeneous

 


 

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David Johnston
Are such threats believable? Is there a broader culture where people feel that they’re constantly under evaluation such that personal decisions like this are plausibly taken into account for some career opportunities, or is this something that arises mainly where the career opportunities are within someone’s personal fiefdom?
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Rebecca
My understanding is that the original “don’t unfairly harm someone’s reputation”, “don’t make men feel that a slip-up or distorted accusation will ruin their life ” and “give people a second or third chance" comments were not in any way referring to sexual assault allegations. (see Julia's comment here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/JCyX29F77Jak5gbwq/ea-sexual-harassment-and-abuse?commentId=tFxjdj34q8xoaWut3).
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pseudonym
When I click your link it says "comment not found". That being said, it is confusing to suggest that these criteria are nothing to do with sexual assault allegations when the appendix contains at least three cases related to sexual misconduct, and potentially more, depending on whether you read between the line (e.g. hosting couchsurfers).
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Rebecca
Link should work now
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Would someone from CEA be able to comment on this incident?

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

Was this 'influential figure in EA' reported to Community Health, and if so, what were the consequences? 

[Caveat: Assuming this is an influential EA, not a figure who has influence in EA but wouldn't see themselves as part of the community.]

I also found this incredibly alarming and would be very keen to hear more about this.

The woman did bring this concern to us. I don't want to share details that would break her privacy, but I did my best to follow her wishes as far as how the matter was handled.  My post on power dynamics was informed by that situation.

Looking back at the situation, I’m not sure about some aspects of how I handled it. We’re taking a renewed look at possible steps to take here.

Thanks. Is this person still active in the EA community? Does this person still have a role in "picking out promising students and funneling them towards highly coveted jobs"?

Seconding Peter Wildeford's questions.

Just bumping this in case you've forgotten. At the moment there only seem to be two possibities: 1/ you forgot about this comment or 2/ the person does still have a role "picking out promising students" as Peter asked. I'm currently assuming it's 2, and I imagine other people are too.

We are working actively on this, but it is going to take more time. As a general point (not trying to comment on this situation in particular), those are not the only two possibilities, and I think it's really crucial to be able to hold on to that in contexts where there's issues of legality, confidentiality and lots of imperfect information flow.

Edit note: I at first had "local point" instead of "general point", which I meant in a mathy way, like the local logic of the situation point rather than speaking to any of the context, but looking back I don't think that was very clear so I've edited to clarify my meaning.

Hey, thanks for the response. I think simply acknowledging my message and telling me you are working on it is a great first step, and I really appreciate that. Saying "We're looking into this, hold on for a few weeks" is actually genuinely helpful.

I also recognize that you and the Community Health team have a very difficult job even under the best of circumstances, so I have a lot of sympathy for this being very hard.

So I apologize though that my role here still has to be pushing you for more information, since I run an organization with multiple concerned staff members (including myself). Like you, I am also under a lot of pressure here, especially given it is an unusually tense time.

So to be clear, I am not looking to learn the identity of the person. Though I'd love to know who it was, I understand it may just not be possible to know. I get that. I don't even really need details. But I would really love to hear about (A) whether this person is still in the movement and (B) whether they still have a role that allows them 1-1 contact with a lot of young women. I don't particularly need any details, though I guess an (A) Yes (B) Yes answer would definitely make me want more details. Also given the lack of response, you must understand that imaginations naturally run rampant to fill the gaps in negative ways, as much as we might want to tamper them.

Thank you again for all your work.

8
ChanaMessinger
I totally understand how you're seeing your role and why you're pushing here. I'm really sorry, I can't answer questions right now, but really hope to be able to next week.
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Peter Wildeford
Thanks Chana. I'm glad we can both see each other's perspectives. I look forward to hearing more next week. Committing to a response and a rough timeline is already very helpful.
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ChanaMessinger
Just to be clear so I don't look better than I deserve now (and possibly worse in some future timelines), the "hope" is operative there; I wish I could make a firm commitment, but I can't. But it gives us a starting point that we can come back to if needed.
7
ChanaMessinger
Hi Peter - these posts (from Owen and from the UK boards) + comments from me and Julia on the latter have just gone up that might have the information and comments you're looking for.
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Peter Wildeford
Thank you. I am still considerably unhappy with how this situation was handled but I accept Julia's apology and I am glad to see this did come to some sort of resolution. I'm especially glad to see an independent investigation into how this was handled.
4
Jason
I imagine not many people would meet the description of the person , so I think it's plausible that publicly providing further information of that sort would allow for the person's identification -- despite what I understand to be the harassment survivor's request that the person not be publicly identified.
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Peter Wildeford
I don't need any description of the person. I just want to know in broad strokes what the risk level is, so I can advise my organization accordingly. Hence the two-part yes/no questions.

I'm saying that Time gave a description that likely narrowed down the list to a few people. Let's say there were five to ten people it could reasonably apply to. If CH told you the person is no longer in EA, or is in EA but no longer performing that role, you could probably identify the person by looking into what those five to ten were up to nowadays. Even if there were more candidates, presumably you could significantly narrow the list with those answers.

Thus, if CH doesn't have permission from the survivor to answer those questions and had agreed to keep the person's identity confidential, answering them could breach that promise. They would need to go back to the survivor and ask permission to make additional disclosures.

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Simon_M
I know I'm probably being dense here, but would it be possible for you to share what the other possibilities are? Edit: I guess there's "The person doesn't have the role, but we are bound by some kind of confidentiality we agreed when removing them from post"
6
ChanaMessinger
No, it's a reasonable question. I hope to be able to answer these questions better next week. I'm really sorry, I know that's not very helpful.
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Peter Wildeford
I don't see how confidentiality would prevent anyone from literally saying "The person doesn't have the role, but we are bound by some kind of confidentiality we agreed when removing them from post", which would actually be a reassuring thing to hear.
7
ChanaMessinger
Hi Simon -  Two posts (from Owen and from the UK boards) + comments from me and Julia on the latter have just gone up that might have the updates you're looking for.
-7
Simon_M

Agreed. There's a lot of harrowing claims in the piece, but this one had me go "What the fuck" out loud. 

7
ChanaMessinger
Hi Marzhin -  Two posts (from Owen and from the UK boards) + comments from me and Julia on the latter have just gone up that might have the information and comments you're looking for.

From the article:

Another woman, who dated the same man several years earlier in a polyamorous relationship, alleges that he had once attempted to put his penis in her mouth while she was sleeping.

This rang a bell for me, and I was able to find an old Twitter thread (link removed on David's request) naming the man in question. At least, all the details seem to match.

I'm pretty sure that the man in question (name removed on David's request) has been banned from official EA events for many years. I remember an anecdote about him showing up without a ticket at EAG in the past and being asked to leave. As far as I know, the ban is because he has a long history of harassment with at least some assault mixed in. 

I don't know who introduced him to Sonia Joseph, but if she'd mentioned him to the people I know in EA,  I think the average reaction would have been "oh god, don't". I guess there are still bubbles I'm not a part of where he's seen as a "prominent man in the field", though I haven't heard anything about actual work from him in many years.

Anyway, while it sounds like many people mentioned in this article behaved very badly, it also seems possible that the incidents CEA k... (read more)

They are also is not a fan of EA,[1] which would make them an even odder example for this article, if that is indeed who they are referring to.

  1. ^

    (Previous version cited evidence; removing as per David's suggestion)

2
fenneko
I've removed the name of the alleged person and the Twitter link as a result of David's comment. I'd recommend you do the same here.

And I hope that Aurora Quinn-Elmore, if this depiction of her is accurate, sees her mediation work dry up.

For what it's worth, prior to reading this article, I knew Aurora by reputation as someone who was aggressively feminist. I remember having a conversation with a [edit: conservative-leaning] woman at a party who told me something like: "I tried to have a discussion with Aurora about consent, and I wasn't able to get through to her. You might want to avoid kissing her or anything like that, to stay on the safe side."

Needless to say, this leaves me feeling fairly confused about what's actually going on.

I guess I don't even really understand her relevance. Fully a third of the TIME article is about her mediation in an EA house, and makes her bad behaviour out to be emblematic of problems at the core of EA, but she's... just some random person, right?

From some online digging: she's listed as an attendee at EA Global 2016. She appeared on the Clearer Thinking podcast in 2021. She's never posted on the EA Forum or LessWrong, at least not under her own name that I can find. Her relationship with EA seems at the most to be very, very slight. Am I missing something about her relevance in this whole thing?

I have had a terrible mediation experience with her where she was friends with the other party and not friends with me. This tracks with the Time Mag reporting where she did a mediation while dating one of the parties. Do not let her mediate anything. I saw once that she specializes in or was looking to help survivors of sexual assault. Stay away from this person.

This tracks with the Time Mag reporting where she did a mediation while dating one of the parties.

Maybe? The article has " Quinn-Elmore told TIME, adding that although she spoke to both parties and recommended a path forward, she didnt consider this to be an official mediation."

6
orellanin
This comment is currently at -6 agreement votes. Does anyone want to explain to me why this is so?

I think that sometimes when someone has a good experience with a mediator they doubt that it's possible for other people to have bad experiences. Also Aurora is actually on this forum and messaged me to ask if I wanted to do a session so she can listen to the impact she's had on me and I absolutely do not. If you mention that you had a negative experience with her, she might message you too, so watch out.

[comment deleted]15
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-2[comment deleted]

Good point. Removed, as requested. 

4
fenneko
Per David's comment, I recommend removing this name and the linked spreadsheet.
4[comment deleted]

I think the article was fairly clear: "TIME is not naming the man, like others in this story, due to the request of one or more women who made accusations against them, and who wanted to shield themselves from possible retaliation". 

Please respect the wishes of women who face serious threats of professional and personal harm and have chosen to take steps to protect their identities. 

The accusations are public and have already received substantial exposure. TIME itself seems to be leveraging this request for confidentiality in order to paint an inaccurate picture of what is actually going on and also making it substantially harder for people to orient towards the actual potential sources of risk in the surrounding community. 

I don't currently see a strong argument for not linking to evidence that I was easily able to piece together publicly, and also like, probably the accused can also figure out. The cost here is really only born by the people who lack context who I feel like are being substantially mislead by the absence of information here. 

I'll by-default repost the links and guess at identity of the person in-question in 24 hours unless some forum admin objects or someone makes a decent counterargument.

I personally found seeing a copy of the name and information (e.g., tweet) prior to its removal very clarifying for this particular instance (though other alarming instances still remain unresolved to me, and I hope they are similar). I suppose having the details without the name is still helpful, but I'm unsure. I find myself very conflicted when thinking through the request not to share this information -- I want to be respectful, I don't want to harm any victims, and I don't want to be a unilateralist.

Reposting the concrete accusations: One of the accusations here seems very likely to be about Michael Vassar and one of his previous partners, who accused Michael publicly a few years ago about "[putting] his penis in her mouth while she was sleeping". 

Michael used to be somewhat central in the EA/Rationality community, but has not been for around 5-6 years, and also has been banned from the vast majority of large EA and Rationality-adjacent events and gathering spaces. He also very explicitly does not identify as "an EA" and indeed would consider himself more as an active enemy of the movement.

(Note: This comment is not an endorsement of the accusation representing the situation accurately. I haven't looked into this, and I don't really have much of any additional evidence on what happened here.)

Michael used to be somewhat central in the EA/Rationality community

Vassar was pretty central in the rationality community (president of MIRI, co-founder of Metamed, active LessWrong contributor, etc.), but not in the EA community. I don't think he ever considered himself an EA, and was an early vocal critic of the movement.

Yes, Vassar was more than "somewhat central" in the rationality community. When I first visited SF in 2013 or so, he was one of the main figures in the rationalist tradition, especially as transmitted face-to-face. About as many people would recommend that you hear Michael talk as any other individual. Only 1 or 2 people were more notable. I remember hearing that in the earlier days, it was even more so, and that he was involved in travelling around to recruit the major early figures in the rationalist community from different parts of the US. 

Although I can't say for sure, I would also bet that there's dozens of unofficial rationalist events (and a few unofficial EA events) that he attended in the last five years, given that he was literally hanging out in the miri/cfar reception area for hours per week, right until the time he was officially banned.

Whereas he was orders of magnitude less present in EA world (although his presence at all is still bad).

Whoever disagreed-voted my comment, could you explain why (feel free to PM)? I never ask for downvote or disagree-vote explanations, but I think I know the history of EA pretty well and I'm fairly confident that what I say above is accurate, so your explanation will either reveal that you are mistaken or cause a significant and valuable update for me.

ETA: Noe that the above was written when the disagree-vote count was negative.

Update: Someone on community health asked me to wait at least until Monday since they are trying to think it through and are somewhat under water right now. Seems reasonable to me, so I'll wait.

Ben_West
Moderator Comment21
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0

Mod here.

  1. It's fine to link to information which is already easily publicly available. (I.e. don't link to a Facebook post from seven years ago that they accidentally set to be public, but it's okay to link to a very public Twitter thread.)
  2. We may ask you to rot13 encrypt names so that your comment is not discoverable via search engine while still being useful to people reading this post
  3. Don't share addresses, contact info, or other information that could be used to harass someone, and don’t incite harassment

See more on our norms here.

Note: this is a statement about what violates Forum norms, not what is ethical. There might be compelling reasons not to post this even if it doesn't technically violate our rules.

Community health request, different from the moderation decision on whether this is allowed:
The person whose Twitter thread has indicated elsewhere that she doesn't think the accused should be identified, because that could reveal information about other women in the piece. The community health team is requesting that people not link to her Twitter thread.

4
Jason
If people are going to be allowed to use names in a post or comment pertaining to someone's private life, there should be at least a norm/rule of rot13'ing those names upfront rather than having them up in cleartext unless and until a mod notices it.

Good thought, I very much prefer norms that don't require moderators to notice things.

It's hard to make a "bright line" rule here though. Maybe something like:

If you are sharing information about a specific individual which you believe they would not want associated with them, consider rot13ing the information so it's not discoverable via search engine

?

(This is offhand and coming just from me, I suspect other moderators might have different opinions.)

4
Jason
Maybe the bright line rule is that if another Forum user asks you to rot13 a name in a discussion that even arguably implicates the principle of respect for the named person's private life, you are expected to do so and can appeal to the mods if you think that request was inappropriate. I think it's hard to avoid a unilateralist problem either way on this one until mods can weigh in. Since I think the harm of erroneous rot13 is low, I would prefer to give a temporary veto to a single user who thinks rot13 is necessary than allowing a single user to decide that cleartext is appropriate. I expect there would be few if any unreasonable rot13 requests, and thus very few appeals.

I would personally prefer for you/us not to publicly write the name, to set a very clear precedent that we respect these kinds of requests (unless there is a very strong reason not to), and because the relevant information (i.e. the individual has been banned from EA events for years, and is not currently a fan of EA) has been written in other comments.

Written in a personal capacity, not as a mod

I have seen confidentiality requests weaponized many time (indeed, it is one of the most common ways I've seen people end up in abusive situations), and as such I desperately don't want us to have a norm of always erring on the side of confidentiality and heavily punishing people who didn't even receive a direct request for confidentiality but are just sharing information they could figure out from publicly available information.

I'll by-default post repost the links and guess at identity of the person in-question in 24 hours unless some forum admin objects or someone makes a decent counterargument.

I think the best counterargument would probably be something like: posting links and guessing the identity would deter other survivors from coming forwards. I feel like my model of what deters survivors from coming forwards is pretty bad, and I would want to read the literature on this (hopefully there is a high-quality literature?)

I'm pretty confused about what's going on here.  The person who made this accusation made it on Twitter under their real name using an unlocked account, and the accusation remains public to date.  Is the concern here that the accused did not previously know of the accusation against them, but would be made aware of it by this discussion?

 

(I'm not sure whether I'd want them named in absence of a request to the contrary, but I don't understand the implied threat model and think other explanations for the request are plausible, given the whole "public tweet" thing.)

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David Thorstad
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fenneko
That's a fair point — I've removed the name and Twitter link.
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David Thorstad
Thank you! :).

The alleged perpetrator seems to be at least tolerated by some influential people. About Two years ago Anna Salomon wrote:

(1) X seems to me to precipitate psychotic episodes in his interlocutors surprisingly often, to come closer to advocating physical violence than I would like, and to have conversational patterns that often disorient his interlocutors and leave them believing different things while talking to X than they do a bit later.

(2) I don't have overall advice that people ought to avoid X, in spite of (1), because it now seems to me that he is trying to help himself and others toward truth, and I think we're bottlenecked on that enough that I could easily imagine (2) overshadowing (1) for individuals who are in a robust place (e.g., who don't feel like they are trapped or "have to" talk to a person or do a thing) and who are choosing who they want to talk to. (There were parts of X's conversational patterns that I was interpreting as less truth-conducive a couple years ago than I am now. I now think that this was partly because I was overanchored on the (then-recent) example of Brent, as well as because I didn't understand part of how he was doing it, but it is possible th

... (read more)

While I don't really disagree, I think it's worth pointing out that Anna here is talking about pretty different behaviors (precipitating psychotic episodes, approaching advocating physical violence, misleading reasoning, yelling) than we're talking about here (sexual abuse).

5
sapphire
Would be extremely surprising if she didn't know about the sexual abuse allegations. They are very well known among her social circle. Despite this she has chosen to defend the fellow.

My interpretation of Anna was that if she thought there were credible allegations she would have included them in her long list of potentially undesirable actions?

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sapphire
I doubt she agrees with the accusations but I assume she knows they exist.

Probably important nitpick: The last bit of your first quoted paragraph misses a redaction.

Given what I've heard of this person, I'm really surprised and dismayed by the tolerance of this person by some, and wish they wouldn't do that.

1
sapphire
Pm'd you
-11
purple_cat

Having read the full TIME article, what struck me was if I replaced each mention of ‘EA’ with ‘the Classical Music industry’ it would still read just as well, and just as accurately (minus some polyamory). 

I worked in the Arts for a decade, and witnessed some appalling behaviour and actions as a young  woman. It makes me incredibly sad to learn that people have had similar experiences within the EA community. While it is something that should be challenged by us all, it is with regret that I say it is by no means unique to the EA community. 

I admire the people who have spoken out, it's an incredibly hard thing to do,  I hope that they are receiving all the care and support that they need. But, I also know this community is full of people trying really hard, and actually doing good.

I have been saddened to learn of similarly bad behaviour in other communities I have been involved in. However it's important not to let the commonness of abuse and harassment in broader society as an excuse not to improve. (I'm 100% not accusing you of this by the way, it's just a behavior I've seen in other places). 

EA should not be aiming for a passing grade when it comes to sexual harassment. The question is not "is EA better than average", but "is EA as good as it could be". And the answer to that question is no. I deeply hope that the concerns of the women in the article will be listened to. 

I agree that EA should aim to be as good as it could be, but comparisons to other communities are still helpful. If the EA community is worse than others at this kind of thing then maybe:

  • Someone considering joining should seek out other communities of people trying to do good. (Ex: animal-focused work in EA spaces vs the broader animal advocacy world.)

  • We should start an unaffiliated group ("Impact Maximizers") that tries to avoid these problems. (Somewhat like the "Atheism Plus" split.)

  • We should be figuring what we're doing differently from most other communities and do more normal things instead. (Ex: this post)

[EDIT: this also feeds into how ashamed people should feel about their association with EA given what's described here.]

I am pretty certain it wasn't intended that way but:

Some EAs should start an unaffiliated group ("Impact Maximizers") that tries to avoid these problems. (Somewhat like the "Atheism Plus" split.)

Set off minor alarm bells when reading it, more so than the other bullet points, so I tried to put some thought into why that is (and why I didn't get the same alarm bells for the other two points).

I think it's because it (most likely inadvertently) implies "If people already in the movement do not like these power dynamics (around making women feel uncomfortable, up to sexual harrassment etc) then they should leave and start their own movement."(I am aware this asks for some people, not necessarily women/the specific person concerned by this, to start the group, but this still does not address the potentially lower resources, career and networking opportunities). This can almost be used as an excuse not to fix things, as if people don't like it they can leave. But, leaving means potentially sacrificing close relationships and career and funding opportunities, at least to some degree. Taken together, this could be taken to mean:

If you are a woman uncomfortable about the current norms o... (read more)

I think you're just playing in to a broader cultural problem here. Too many younger EAs are too invested in getting a job at an EA organization, and/or in having the movement as a part of their identity (as distinct from the underlying ideal). If you think the movement has serious flaws that make it not a good means for doing the most good, then you should not be trying to work for an EA org in the first place, and the access to those opportunities is irrelevant.  

 

People should not be using the movement for career advancement independent of the goal of doing the most good they can do with their careers (and in most cases, can't do that even if they intend to, because EA org jobs that are high-status within the movement are not similarly high-status outside of it).

 

I find the EA movement a useful source of ideas and a useful place to find potential collaborators for some of my projects, but I have no interest in working for an EA org because that's not where I expect I'd have the biggest impact. I think the movement as a whole would be more successful, and a lot of younger EAs would be a lot happier, if they approached the movement with this level of detachment. 

2
Lin BL
I believe you are conflating several things here. But first, a little tip on phrasing responses: putting the word 'just' in front of a critical response makes it more dismissive than you might have intended. Agreed to that as stated, but I think this is a straw man. Things can both be bad in some ways, and better than some other options, but that doesn't mean any flaws should be dismissed. This could even go to the extreme of (hypothetically) 'I know I can have the highest impact if I work here, so I will bear the inappropriate attention of my colleagues/will leave and not have the highest impact I can'. Some people may think that working at an EA org is the highest impact thing they could be doing (even if just for the short term), and career paths are very dependent on the individual. EA basically brands itself as the way to do the most good, so it should not be surprising if people hold this view. I was writing up my first comment it was with the broad assumption of 'connections/opportunities within EA = connections/opportunities that help you do the most good' (given the EA forum audience), not as a judgement of 'EA is the only way of having a high impact' (which is a different conversation). I also have thoughts on this one, but this again is a different conversation. EA is not the only way to have a very high impact, but this should not be used as an excuse for avoiding improvements.

Hmm, yes, that's not what I was trying to say. Edited to change "Some EAs" to "We", to make it clearer that this is not addressed specifically to people who have experienced harassment.

The first and third bullet point do not have this same issue, as the first one does not explicitly reduce existing opportunities for people

I think this is probably not true: there are probably people considering joining EA who would find EA a much easier place to get funding than their other best opportunities for trying to do the kind of good they think most needs doing.

(Overall, what I was trying to communicate with my comment is that how EA compares to other communities is something that would be relevant to decisions many people might be making.)

Thanks for your response!

I don't think changing "some EAs" to "we" necessarily changes my point of 'people concerned should not have to move to a different community which may have fewer resources/opportunities', independent of who actually creates that different community.

Note that my bigger point overall was why the second bullet point set off alarm bells, rather than specific points on the others (mostly included as a reference, and less thought put into the wording). That said:

there are probably people considering joining EA who would find EA a much easier place to get funding than their other best opportunities for trying to do the kind of good they think most needs doing.

I agree with this. I added "although may reduce future opportunities if they would benefit a lot from getting more involved in EA" after "i.e. someone considering joining EA does not have as much if anything already invested in it" a couple of minutes after originally posting my comment to reflect a very similar sentiment (however likely after you had already seen and started writing your response).

However, there is very much a difference between losing something that you have, and not gaining something t... (read more)

should not have to move to a different community which may have fewer resources/opportunities

To be clear, I'm very much in favor of efforts to make EA better here. I think the CEA Community Health Team's (disclosure: my wife is on that team) work is important, that many EAs need to be more aware of how power dynamics impact relationships (disclosure again), and that fixing this should not primarily fall on the people impacted.

I added "although ..." a couple of minutes after originally posting my comment to reflect a very similar sentiment (however likely after you had already seen and started writing your response).

That's right, sorry!

I also think the second bullet point is probably not a good idea even if we did know that EA has higher rates of this sort of issues than you'd expect: Atheism Plus didn't go very well! I'm not saying that any of the three points are things that would definitely be worth doing in that world, but they're an illustration about how the information of whether EA does have higher rates would be relevant to decisions people might make.

1
Lin BL
That's good to hear re in favour of efforts to make EA better (edited for clarity). Thanks for your engagement on this. Agreed with the necessity for awareness around power dynamics with the nuance of fixing this not having to fall on the people impacted by it. I found it good to see that post when it came out as it points out things people may not have been aware of.
8[comment deleted]

I strongly agree here. As far as I know (but I have limited experience), EA does better than all other social movements I have been a part of (animal advocacy, new atheism) on the question of sexual harassment. But I still think we have much room to improve - we should.

Funnily enough, I think EA does worse than other communities / movements I'm involved with (grassroots animal advocacy & environmentalism). My partner and other friends (women) have often complained about various sexist issues when attending EA events e.g. men talking over them, borderline aggressive physical closeness, dismissing their ideas, etc., to the point that they doesn't want to engage with the community. Experiences like this rarely, if ever, happen in other communities we hang out in. I think there are a few reasons for why EA has been worse than other communities in my cases:

  • I think our experiences differ on animal issues as when groups /movements professionalise, as has been happening over the past decade for animal welfare, the likelihood that men will abuse their positions of power increases dramatically. At the more grassroots level, power imbalances often aren't stark enough to lead the types of issues that came out in the animal movement a few years back. EA has also been undergoing this professionalisation and consolidation of power, and seems like the article above highlights the negative consequences of that. 
  • As has been noted many times, EA is current
... (read more)

Pointing out the %70 male number seems very relevant since issues like this may contribute to that number and will likely push other women (such as myself) away from the movement.

While I haven’t experienced men in EA being dismissive of my ideas (though that’s only my personal experience in a very small EA community) I have found that the people I have met in EA are much more open to talking about sex and sexual experiences than I am comfortable with in a professional environment. I have personally had a colleague in EA ask me to go to a sex party to try BDSM sex toys. This was very strange for me. I have worked as a teacher, as a health care professional, and have spent a lot of time in academic settings, and I have never had an experience like that elsewhere. I also felt that it was being asked because they were sussing out whether or not I was part of the “cool crowd” who was open about my sex life and willing to be experimental.

I found this especially strange because there seem to be a lot of norms around conversation in EA (the same person who asked me to go to that party has strong feelings about up-keeping these norms) but they for some reason don’t have norms around speaking about sexual relationships, which is taboo in every other professional setting I have been a part of. I think having stronger “norms” or whatever you want to call it, or making discussions like this more taboo in EA, would be a good start. This will make it less likely that people in EA will feel comfortable doing the things discussed in this article.

I have found that the people I have met in EA are much more open to talking about sex and sexual experiences than I am comfortable with in a professional environment. I have personally had a colleague in EA ask me to go to a sex party to try BDSM sex toys.

I would guess this is a mixture of

  • Founder effects: Sexuality being a topic of discussion in communities which were precursors to EA. EA didn't originate as a professional community.

  • Openness to weird ideas: The idea that buying a $40K car instead of a $30K car means you gave up an opportunity to save a life is pretty weird. The idea that vast numbers of people could exist in the future and our overwhelming moral priority should be to ensure that they're living happy lives is pretty weird. The idea that shrimp welfare is super important is pretty weird. These are all intense, extraordinary conversation topics. Polls show most people masturbate. Most of us don't talk about it. But if anyone talks about it, I imagine it's a person who is comfortable with (or even delights in) intense, extraordinary conversations more generally.

fwiw, I haven't personally experienced this much in EA; my guess is that individual variation in local groups explains more of the difference than any EA-wide thing.

EA may not have originated as a professional community, but it is one now.  And that means raising the standards and changing the norms to exclude behavior such as the ones described above. 

4
Aptdell
Agreed.
6
Cornelis Dirk Haupt
Didn't EA originate as a professional community though specifically in the context of finding effective charities and 80k? I have a hard time picturing an early EA community that isn't professionally focused. Though maybe I didn't get into EA early enough to know. Strongly agree with your second point regarding openness to weird ideas.
7
Aptdell
Not in the Bay Area. Polyamory was a big discussion topic on LessWrong as far back as 2011: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/kLR5H4pbaBjzZxLv6/polyhacking

Thanks for sharing your experience and that of your partner. I agree that experiences here can differ dramatically. And I admit I in particular have very limited experience with discrimination by nature of being a white man in a position of power in my community.

I definitely have seen men talking over women and dismissing their ideas within EA and this does bother me and I do try to point it out when I see it (e.g, "Hey I think Sarah wanted to make a point here").

I do personally think a more balanced gender ratio would be helpful for improving EA culture and would love to do what I can to recruit and retain women into EA.

While I do agree that "woke" and "cancel culture" can have some excesses, I am incredibly disappointed to see these excesses used to dismiss any possibility of a legitimate point about a particular axis of race/gender/nationality/language/etc. disparities, and I currently see this as the bigger problem in EA right now.

men talking over them... dismissing their ideas

While I think these behaviours are antisocial, it seems preemptive to label them as sexist without looking at whether they're unique to women. As a man, I've had many men and some (though a smaller proportion of) women talk over me or dismiss my ideas. I consider it jerkish behaviour - and quite possibly more common among EAs than the population at large - and I try to discourage it when I see it done to others (I usually don't it mind too much in a 1-on-1) but it doesn't seem obviously mysogynistic.

(Borderline aggressive physical closeness sounds more likely to be gender specific)

I'm not super familiar with the idea, but I think the idea here is that many people (unconsciously or otherwise) think that women are easier to interrupt, dismiss, or talk over. It's the bias that's sexist, not the act itself.

You could make that claim, but then it should be evidenced. Personally I have noticed my tendency (which I try to suppress!) is more readily to interrupt/dismiss people who are shorter than me, which seems to accord with the data.

I think the evidence is there to the same extent as your height evidence:

We find a number of significant differences, including the fact that women are more often interrupted overall and that men interrupt more often women than other men, in particular using speech overlap to grab the floor (Eecke & Fernández, 2016 "On the Influence of Gender on Interruptions in Multiparty Dialogue")

It also matches my personal experience.

I think there's a natural reason to feel defensive when faced with this since it carries the label "sexist" which kinda takes a wide range of badness of behavior under one label, but I think this is frequently an unconscious bias people have so I don't mean it to suggest you or others are bad people, but just that we can do better.

9
Arepo
That evidence wouldn't explain why (or show that) EAs would be more sexist. The behaviour James Ozden describes sounds consistent with, for example, EA containing a higher proportion of aspy types who, generally lacking some awareness of social norms, are more inclined to talk over everyone.
-1
Peter Wildeford
You seem to be really hung up on the term "sexist" and I think I get that. I think it's very clear there is unintentional and unconscious sexism in the EA movement, like there is everywhere else. I'm not calling anyone bad. But I am going to throw a "Isolated Demand For Rigor, Five Yard Penalty" at your argument here.

Of course there's sexism (unconscious and otherwise) in the EA movement.

But with the very strong caveat that I believe citing logical fallacies can lead to nothing more productive than arguments over whether the fallacy was correctly cited, I submit that this whole thread is a discussion about  whether sexism is more than averagely prevalent in EA (for healthy reference classes),  and, therefore whether EAs should put more resources into the problem.

In that context, I would argue the latter is the isolated demand for rigour, for which I'm making an in-context demand for justification.

[ETA: for the record I weakly agree that we should put more resources into the problem. I just don't want us to sabotage our epistemics while making that determination]

6
Peter Wildeford
I'm sorry I'm very confused what we are supposed to be discussing. I thought earlier you were arguing that there's no sexism in EA because people who are interrupting women could just be interrupting people with lower height or just interrupting everyone equally. I was arguing against that. I'm personally not saying "EA is more sexist than relevant reference classes". I don't think I believe that, or it would depend a lot on the reference class... and there appears to be notable within-EA variation. I probably am saying "we should put more resources into figuring out sexism in EA", but that's not what I thought we were talking about, and of course I'd want to think a lot more about what that's supposed to look like, what "more" means, what "resources" means, what "figuring out sexism" means, etc.

I certainly didn't mean to claim that. I've known of multiple examples of sexism in EA. I think the comment to which I originally replied might not have been another such example, and wanted to guard against assuming it was.

2
timunderwood
Lol, and now I'm wondering how much I do of that as someone over six foot/ 185cm
  • As has been noted many times, EA is currently about 70% male, whilst environmentalism/animal advocacy is majority women.  I would be fairly confident that a more balanced gender ratio would mean less misogyny towards women. 

I don't think the 70/30 gender ratio causes misogyny. I think it amplifies experiences of it among women because they are the minority here. Imagine a group of 100 EAs, 70 men and 30 women, and a group of 100 environmentalists, 30 men and 70 women. Suppose 10% of all men do something misogynistic towards a random woman in their group. Then 23% of EA women experience misogyny compared to only 4% of environmentalist women, even though each individual man in each group is equally likely to have behaved misogynistically.

(Prior to seeing this post, I'd have conjectured that men in EA are less likely than men elsewhere to behave misogynistically, and maybe that's still true, but these reports are really alarming.)

This idea has been called the Petrie multiplier. I agree that this probably makes things worse for women in EA.

Suppose 10% of all men do something misogynistic towards a random woman in their group.

If instead you model it as X% of all men do something misogynistic toward women they encounter instead of as toward a random woman in the group you end up with something much less skewed.

5
David Higgs
I think that both modeling choices would make sense depending on which specific type of misogyny is the concern. For example, interruptions would seem likely to fit your model better, while asking a woman out in an inappropriate manner might be fit by the random group member model better. Although I think that the group size is realistically going to be smaller than 100 in almost all cases, often far smaller, which would also lead to less skew. Edit: although if instead of considering how many women experience >0 instances of (significant) misogyny, and instead consider how much misogyny on average each woman experiences, then it would go back to being heavily skewed by the proportion of genders in each group.
6
None of them along the line Know what any of it is worth
Ozden comment contains great (but predictable) points.  He also packs in his self-interested argument, into this extremely important/sensitive heated discussion: Don't have a lot of time to explain, but this isn't true, it's almost the opposite. The power structures in distributed movements exist and are controlled in different ways, sometimes producing pretty bad behavior but with more dubious leadership/management. DxE, for example, had an almost existential problem with sexual misconduct/abuse. This was probably connected to second-tier leaders and the distributed, chapter-like system, as opposed to Wayne actively courting it.  When I spoke to Wayne (and the subsequent leadership), they pointed to reforms such as central sexual harassment policies and enforcing a better culture. While I don't know how substantive these reforms were, something like this would be probably involved in a true solution. Being "top down" helps a lot, as well as having a professionalized staff/leadership to execute this.    Don't have time to put in an essay, but there's a much longer thread here about distributed movement and power, and also a separate thread here about sexual harassment and animal advocacy. On the latter point, we got multiple layers of a nightmarish "motte and bailey" that is ongoing—we're approaching the point of non-viability in attaching EA to us. Incredibly, these articles aren't in the top 5 things I would need to communicate to EAs right now. On the plus side, Ozden's comment did produce a great thread by Lauren Maria, who is a thoughtful and brilliant leader.
5
Tsunayoshi
Just wanted to point out that Peter and you seem to mention two different classes of behaviors. While the behaviors you mention certainly create a more unwelcoming environment to women and shouldn't be welcome in EA environmens, I don't think they would meet the (legal ?) definition of sexual harassment and may not be the types of actions Peter had in mind.
-1
lc
My guess is that EA is currently male because aggressively quantifying and measuring charitable giving is an activity that appeals primarily to men. As long as that remains true, and Effective Altruism remains Effective Altruism in that way, my prediction is that the gender ratio will remain the same, just as most hobbies and social groups maintain similar gender ratios over time even when people work really hard to change them. If this form of harassment is inherent to male-dominated activities then that would be pretty sad. I'm pretty sure the standard left-American take on everyday harrassment is straightforwardly compatible with believing it's not very important in a world with existential risk and malaria and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, and that this is a sensible position for EAs to hold even when they're not explicitly "anti-woke".

I strong disagreed (but did not downvote) this comment for a few reasons:

(1) I don't think there's any evidence that EA is an inherently and immutably male activity, and we shouldn't assume such. EA is currently male-skewed, yes, but I was involved in a college "venture philanthropy" group that involved explicit rankings of non-profit organizations (quite similar to EA in many ways) and it was female-skewed, and I've observed this in my broader experiences with venture philanthropy (though don't have statistics to confirm). There's a lot of ways EA can end up male-skewed (or venture philanthropy can end up female-skewed) without it being an inherently and immutably male or an inherently and immutably female activity.

(2) Even if EA is an inherently and immutably male-leaning activity in general (which I don't necessarily agree with per above), there's a lot of value in finding ways to involve the remaining ~50% of the population, so surely we'd want to find ways to make it less male-leaning on the margin. Thus writing off the idea of being more inclusive to men seems needlessly dismissive and reductive and leaves a lot of impact and opportunity on the table.

(3) If you care about ach... (read more)

(1) I don't think there's any evidence that EA is an inherently male activity, and we shouldn't assume such.

There's at least some evidence, in that it's a tradition that is currently mostly participated in by men.  I don't know exactly what you mean by "inherently" or what brand of evidence you're looking for, but it's not really relevant to the discussion that the cause for the difference in interest be  biological or social or whatever. These sorts of gender ratios seem hard to "correct" when it comes to C.S. departments and Magic the Gathering tournaments, and my guess is that with EA it will be similar. If someone wants to prove me wrong then I'd welcome the attempt.

(2) Even if EA is a male-leaning activity (which I don't necessarily agree with per above), there's a lot of value in finding ways to involve the remaining ~50% of the population, so surely we'd want to find ways to make it less male-leaning on the margin. 

Well, that depends, doesn't it? If "making EA less male-leaning on the margin" means coming up with fewer WELLBYs, then plausibly "making EA less male" means making EA less able to accomplish its goals. 

Often what I've seen academic departments... (read more)

I agree with this (what Peter said) and also have a couple stuff to add:

  1. Just so you know, in the Philippines, generally women are considered more charitable, and this somewhat manifests in EA Philippines, where we are mostly women. This might not account for the quality of who is more likely to “quantify charity” but definitely gender is not binary, and I think it’s limiting to say “men more likely; that’s why this community is made up like this.”

Maybe what you say is because there are more men in the movement, but I don’t think it’s simply because men “quantify charity more;” I think that statement is very limiting. There are a ton of factors as to why predominantly white men are those who are into EA, and I think even just the idea that they generally can afford to be philanthropic is one of them (not that this is negative since it’s good they help and presumably wanna help effectively).

  1. I think saying sexual harrassment doesn’t matter if there XYZ other stuff happening might be in utilitarian cases kinda true, but this belief gives leeway to damaging the movement longer-term. Let’s say 1000 years from now we theoretically obliterated x-risk but knowingly or unknowingly allo
... (read more)
4
Elinor
I agree wholeheartedly with the two comments above. 
5
kta
Agreed... I think similar stuff happen in many communities and social groups, and I think maybe EA gets tricky 'cause it's like, hey, aren't we generally good people? So shouldn't we like... be outliers and like... be people who are sensitive and stuff and by a given, never sexually harrass? So not that it's any less important, but EA ends up sticking out because of that.    To me, EAs being nice is usually the case, as per the usual impression of non-EAs who see EA conferences ("wow, this was the nicest crowd I've ever seen!) but we are not infallible, and should never justify bad behavior and keep improving especially given who we are (i.e., EAs; like what you said, "is EA as good as it could be"). And I think we should keep assessing how norms/spaces enable/allow upsetting behavior like those in the article to happen
2
skyblue20
  My intuition would be that a community of altruists that care so deeply about the suffering of all beings should be much much better than average when it comes to sexual assault/sexual harassment both in terms of prevalence and handling of incidents? Which means that even if we find we are average, it is shocking because it suggests that there are certain aspects of this community's culture that are negative enough to drag us back to being average from much much better?  

Interestingly, a friend in academia claims the norms are much much better there. I certainly would guess there's just more general acceptance of hooking up with people in your community in EA versus professional communities, though I suspect that in e.g. queer or feminist communities there's tons of dating and hookups.

I can think of problems like this with non-EA academics too. There was a a famous medic who taught at my undergrad degree and iirc gave weird physical compliments to female students during his lectures, and I can think of at least one non-EA prof who made multiple female students uncomfortable.

Having said that, my personal hunch would be that things are worse in EA. Some of the reasons are unpopular to talk about, but they include it being quite male, young (including minors), poly, aspie, less professional and due to what we are discovering can be quite a fine line between consequentialism and amorality. In some of these respects, it resembles the chess community and the atheism community, which have had significant problems.

5
Devin Kalish
I can understand some of these even where I disagree, but could you elaborate on why a group being more “aspie” contributes to sexual harassment (disclosure I am an aspie, but in fairness I’m also male and feel that I understand that one much more).

The cases I know of come disproportionately from more aspie people, and I can think of at least one case where the person didn't think that they had done anything wrong. This would make sense, because aspie people are on average less competent at judging the lines of socially acceptable behaviour

1
BrownHairedEevee
Yeah, let's be careful not to stigmatize aspies here.

I disagree. IMO, many of the issues that EA faces when it comes to sexual harassment/abuse stem from aspects that are particular to the community itself. I did research for a book on this topic, and sexual misconduct and abuse thrive in contexts where power is more concentrated and there is less accountability; basically, the harder it is to speak up about someone, the more likely that their bad behavior will go unchecked and they will continue hurting people.

EA (particularly Bay Area EA?) tends to concentration of power among particular figures. And concentration of many kinds of power, including control over funding and job opportunities as well as things like social status. EA can also be pretty insular. If speaking up about someone means endangering your job and your friends, it’s harder to speak up. That’s not even getting to the fact that you might be endangering your housing situation, or might be worried about how it might affect your impact on the world. 

These factors are not totally unique to EA -- I spent a long time in the classical music world as well, and concentrations of power let countless bad actors off the hook. But I would say that they're particularly severe within EA, and understanding the particular factors that worsen things allows for more targeted solutions.

This feels complicated to say, because it's going to make me seem like I don't care about abuse and harassment described in the article. I do. It's really bad and I wish it hadn't happened, and I'm particularly sad that it's happened within my community, and  (more) that people in my community seemed often to not support the victims. 

But I honestly feel very upset about the anti-polyamory vibe of all this. Polyamory is a morally neutral relationship structure that's practiced happily by lots of people. It doesn't make you an abuser, or not-an-abuser.  It's not accepted in the wider community, so I value its acceptance in EA. I'd be sad if there was a community backlash against it because of stuff like this, because that would hurt a lot of people and I don't think it would solve the problem. 

I think the anti-poly vibe also makes it kind of...harder to work out what's happening, and what exactly is bad, or something? Like, the article describes lots of stuff that's unambiguously bad, like grooming and assault. But it says stuff like 'Another told TIME a much older EA recruited her to join his polyamorous relationship while she was still in college'. Like, what do... (read more)

I agree that the article moves between several situations of issues of hugely varying severity without acknowledging that, and this isn't very helpful. And I like that EA is able to be a welcoming place for people who enjoy relationship structures that are discriminated against in the wider world. But I did want to push back against one particular piece:

Polyamory is a morally neutral relationship structure that's practiced happily by lots of people. It doesn't make you an abuser, or not-an-abuser.

In figuring out how we should view polyamory a key question to me is what it's effects are. Imagine we could somehow run an experiment where we went back to having a taboo on non-monogamy regardless of partner consent: how would we expect the world to be different? Some predictions I'd make:

  • People who enjoy polyamorous relationships would be worse off.

  • Some people would be more productive because they're less distracted by partner competition.

  • Other people would be less productive because getting a lot done was part of their approach to partner competition.

  • Some people would have kids who otherwise wouldn't, or have kids earlier in life.

  • ...

  • There would be less of the

... (read more)

[this is partly also responding to your response to Kelsey below]

I think I view this differently because I prize personal freedom (for everyone) really highly, and I also think that the damage of community disapproval/the norms being 'against' you is pretty high, so I would be hesitant to argue strongly against any consensual  and in-principle-not-harmful relationship style, even if there was evidence that it led to worse outcomes. In that situation, I'd try to mitigate the bad outcomes rather than discouraging the style. 

To get a sense of why poly people are upset about this, imagine if someone was like 'there are better outcomes if people are celibate - you save so much time and emotional energy that can be spent on research! So you should break up with your partner'. You'd probably have a strong 'uh, no, wtf, I'm not doing that' reaction. And maybe you'd say 'oh I would never say anyone would break up with their partners', but depriving someone of future potential positive relationships is also bad, and... like... maybe I'm just neurotic or not assertive enough or something, but if someone says 'X is bad', and I do X, I am inclined to take that seriously

I also t... (read more)

3
Jeff Kaufman
I'm confused by your analogy to celibacy because the analogous statements seem really different from anything I've said or think? I don't think there are better outcomes if people refrain from polyamory, haven't told anyone they should break up, and don't think polyamory is bad. This is getting deeper into a hypothetical ("what I think I would do in an alternative world where I had strong evidence that polyamory was harmful") that I don't think is very helpful? If you really want to know what I would do in this situation I'm willing to continue, but I'm nervous about people misinterpreting and thinking that I'm talking about a non-hypothetical.