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December 2023 edit:

I've done a lot of reflection since February and my perspective on many things has shifted. You can see a statement update here. I've left my original statement unedited (except in one place where noted) below:

Original post

Since the Time article on sexual harassment came out, people have been asking for information about one paragraph of it, about an “influential figure in EA”. I wanted to respond to that.

This is talking about me, more than five years ago. I think I made significant mistakes; I regret them a lot; and I’m sorry.

[March 2024 edited to add:] I've recently discovered that some people had interpreted the act in question to have occurred after she arrived at my house. I want to clarify that it happened before she arrived (I wanted to reduce the extent to which attraction was a significant part of my experience when she was there), but disclosing that to her (which I now think was extremely poorly judged) happened afterwards.

Context

I think the actual mistakes I made look different from what many readers may take away from the article, so I first wanted to provide a bit more context (some of this is straightforwardly factual; other parts should be understood as my interpretation):

  • We had what I perceived as a preexisting friendship where we were experimenting with being unusually direct and honest (/“edgy”)
    • Including about sexual matters
      • There was what would commonly be regarded as oversharing from both sides (this wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned masturbation)
    • Our friendship continued in an active way for several months afterwards
    • I should however note that:
      • We had met via EA and spent a good fraction of conversation time talking about EA-relevant topics
      • I was older and more central in the EA community
      • On other occasions, including early in our friendship, we had some professional interactions, and I wasn’t clear about how I was handling the personal/professional boundary
  • I was employed as a researcher at that time
    • My role didn’t develop to connecting people with different positions until later, and this wasn’t part of my self-conception at the time
    • (However it makes sense to me that this was her perception)
  • I was not affiliated with the org she was interviewing at
    • I’d suggested her as a candidate earlier in the application process, but was not part of their decision-making process

On the other hand I think that a lot of what was problematic about my behaviour with respect to this person was not about this incident in particular, but the broad dynamic where:

  • I in fact had significant amounts of power
    • This was not very salient to me but very salient to her
  • She consequently felt pressure to match my vibe
    • e.g. in an earlier draft of this post, before fact-checking it with her, I said that we talked about “feelings of mutual attraction”
      • This was not her experience
      • I drafted it like that because we’d had what I’d interpreted as conversations where this was stated explicitly
      • (I think this is just another central example of the point I’m making in this set of bullets)
    • Similarly at some point she volunteered to me that she was enjoying the dynamic between us (but I probably interpreted this much more broadly than she intended)
  • She was in a structural position where it was (I now believe) unreasonable to expect honesty about her experience
  • As the person with power it was on me to notice and head off these dynamics, and I failed to do that

(Sorry, I know that's all pretty light on detail, but I don't want to risk accidentally de-anonymising the other person. I want to stress that I’m not claiming she provided any inaccurate information to the journalist who wrote the story; just that I think the extra context may be helpful for people seeking to evaluate or understand my conduct.)

My mistakes

In any case, I think my actions were poorly judged and fell well short of the high standards I would like to live up to, and that I think we should ask from people in positions of leadership. Afterwards, I felt vaguely like the whole friendship wasn’t well done and I wished I had approached things differently. Then when I found out that I’d made the person feel uncomfortable(/disempowered/pressured), I was horrified (not putting pressure on people is something like a core value of mine). I have apologized to the person in question, but I also feel like I’ve let the whole community down, and I would like to apologize unreservedly. It’s extremely important to me that our community is a welcoming place for everyone, and I feel dismayed that I have contributed to it not being so. If there’s anyone else whom I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable or pressured, I’d love to hear about it — I think I might benefit most from a conversation, but I’d also welcome anonymous feedback.

Was this incident an isolated case? Yes and no. I think this was by some way my most egregious mistake of this type. However, in my time in EA there have been four other occasions on which I expressed feelings of attraction towards someone in a way that — in retrospect as I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of power dynamics — I regret. (In most of these cases I’m still on very good terms with the person.) I’ve slowly been improving my implicit models (so I never quite make the same mistake twice), but honestly it’s gone more slowly than I think it should have done.

There were several intertwined mistakes here:

  • I was not attendant to implicit power dynamics
    • I was aware that hard power (like employer relationships or grantmaking) mattered, but I was pretty blind to the implications of the soft power that came from being older and more central in the community
  • I entangled personal and professional (without being clear about how I was handling that)
    • I was aware that it was important not to let personal relationships cloud professional judgements, but I didn’t understand the point as deeply as I do today; moreover I was not properly alive to the importance of keeping these legibly-to-others separate (& I didn’t discuss how I was approaching it with this person)
  • I didn’t respect normal societal standards about what’s oversharing, or what conversational implicature might be, especially re. anything sexual
    • I think this meant that misunderstandings were especially likely; I think it was particularly egregious when combined with the above issues
  • I made decisions about how to communicate while flinching internally
    • I should have been more conscious that I was feeling a lot of shame (over all kinds of things, including the fact of being attracted to people!), and that this meant I would think less well than normal. I should consequently have taken steps sooner to address this

(How could I have come to make these mistakes? I was leaning into my own view-at-the-time about what good conduct looked like, and interested in experimenting to find ways to build a better culture than society-at-large has. I was newly open to polyamory, and newly exposed to circling and saw something powerful and good about speaking truths even when they were uncomfortable. And I was naively optimistic that we could ~do away with interpersonal power dynamics, so that of course someone would tell me if they were ever uncomfortable. (I now think that this kind of power differential represents exactly the circumstances in which it’s unfair to expect the disempowered person to be able to correct conversational dynamics which are off.)  And then I was making decisions quickly without reflecting appropriately — and I was slow to correct mistakes after the fact — because shame impeded my metacognition from looking closely at what was going on.)

What can you expect from me going forward?

Some updates I’d already made (simplified):

  • Before 2020:
    • Don’t be edgy 
    • Make sure that anything intimate comes up only in relationships where there’s a good existing foundation of trust
    • Don’t consider romantic engagements in cases where there’s a big age gap
    • It’s good to make handling of personal/professional matters legible to others
  • 2021:
    • Attend significantly to implicit power dynamics for anything relating to attraction/romance
    • You won’t always know if someone is uncomfortable, or is feeling pressure in some direction
  • 2022:
    • Attend significantly to implicit power dynamics even for things that aren’t romantic
    • Avoid communicating while triggered
    • Consider not being open to polyamory (NB I’ve been in a relationship with my wife for 17 years, which has in practice been monogamous, but for the last few years we’ve been open to the possibility of polyamory)
    • Shame is a big problem for me
      • Talk to a therapist to sort it out (this plan actually got interrupted by the FTX crisis)
      • Don’t express feelings of attraction towards anyone (except my wife) until I’ve sorted this out

What’s the right thing to do now? First, I want to ensure never to repeat these mistakes. I won’t know what my final personal policy updates are for a while longer — some of them might be quite subtle, and I’ll continue to work on these with a therapist, but in the interim I’m planning to hold off on:

  • Expressing feelings of attraction to anyone
    • (this is a continuation of the 2022 policy update; it’s because I want to sort out what’s up with my dubious track record on this, not because I think that nobody should ever express attraction)
  • Being open to polyamory

I don’t know whether I’ll be open to these again in the future. In any case the timeframe on which I might pick these back up will be decided in consultation with my therapist. 

Second, I think it’s helpful if the community is able to process this with my visibly not being in any positions of power. Therefore I have resigned from the EV UK board, my most substantive position in the community, and am consequently no longer in an oversight role for any of its projects. (Although I’m still listed on the FHI website, I actually left FHI over a year ago.) Note that I'm not saying "I deserve to lose my positions of authority" — in this case that would ultimately be a decision for the rest of the board. Rather, I think it's best if right now I give them and others as much space as I can to consider the most appropriate actions. 

For right now, I am also pausing other activities which may give me power:

  • Starting any new mentor relationships;
  • Recommending funding for anything or connecting people with funders; 
  • Organizing events (in the immediate, I’ve stepped back from any decision-making for the Summit on Existential Security).

Again I’ll make decisions about when to resume these in consultation with my therapist. 

(I don’t think I have a way of fully giving up soft power without committing not to be a part of the community in the future, something which doesn’t feel like the right move to me. Instead I will just share that I love it when people do the things that seem to them to be good and true, even when I disagree, or where the consequences might be bad for me personally.)

Third, I think it’s important to ask how the culture or structures we have could be different in ways that would reduce the risk of such harms. I know that this is also important to the person whose story appears in Time, who said in a recent email to me "I deliberately did not name you as I want to draw attention to [systemic issues]. We should expect individuals to make misjudgements over time.". I don’t want to shirk responsibility here — I absolutely think that I could and should have made better judgements. But I also think that holding my flaws at a fixed level, I might not have made these errors in a different culture, and it’s generally good to look for multiple different levels on which things could have been fixed. I don’t think I should be the arbiter of what should be implemented here, but I think it’s possible I have access to helpful inside-view data, so I plan to continue reflecting on this. Topics that I especially want to think about: 

  • When is radical openness good, and what are the bounds on that?
  • When is oversight important, and what types would meaningfully help?
  • What tools could help people better track soft power, and its impacts?
  • Are there mechanisms that could help to empower the voices of the disempowered?

I then plan to feed thoughts to the community, CEA’s Community Health team, or other parties as appropriate.

I’ll leave things there for now. I’m very happy to hear thoughts of other things I should be doing. (Though some of the conversations around this I won’t want to have in public, in order to protect people’s privacy.) But in closing let me say again: I’m so, so sorry to anyone whom I’ve ever made uncomfortable, and I’m so sorry to the broader community for having contributed to these dynamics.

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While I understand that people generally like Owen, I believe we need to ensure that we are not overlooking the substance of his message and giving him an overly favorable response.

Owen's impropriety may be extensive. Just because one event was over 5 years ago, does not mean that the other >=3 events were (and if they were, one expects he would tell us). Relatedly, if it indeed was the most severe mistake of this nature, there may have been more severe mistakes of somewhat different kinds. There may yet be further events that haven't yet been reported to, or disclosed by Owen, and indeed, on the outside view, most events would not be suchly reported.

What makes things worse is the kind of career Owen has pursued over the last 5+ years. Owen's work centered on: i) advising orgs and funders, ii) hiring junior researchers, and iii) hosting workshops, often residential, and with junior researchers. If as Owen says, you know as of 2021-22 that you have deficiencies in dealing with power dynamics, and there have been a series of multiple events like this, then why are you still playing the roles described in (i-iii)? His medium term career trajectory, even relative to other EAs, is in... (read more)

I want to make a small comment on your phrase "it could have a chilling effect on those who have their own cases of sexual assault to report." Owen has not committed sexual assault, but sexual harassment. If this imperfect wording was an isolated incident, I wouldn't have said anything, but in every sexual misconduct comment thread I've followed on the forum, people have said sexual assault when they mean sexual harassment, and/or rape when they mean sexual assault. I was a victim of sexual abuse both growing up and as an adult, so I'm aware that there are big differences between the three, and feel it would be helpful to be mindful of our wording.

As someone with a fairly upvoted comment expressing a different perspective than yours, I want to mention that personally I had never heard of Owen until this post except for the disturbing description in the Time article, and that personally I have no interest in advancing my career based on any of my political opinions, so his power is irrelevant to me. While I appreciate that the last section of your comment came from a place of wanting to be supportive towards early career people like me, I think it oversimplifies the issues and found it a bit condescending. I’m trying  to  encourage women in my position to speak up more because we have important things to say. 

I think it's likely that the difference in the replies to this post and the replies to the official statement by EV UK are from people not reading the link in the EV UK post, and so not getting the full context of the statement.  

Edit: Also, if I was trying to impress Owen, wouldn't I be agreeing with his current perspective instead of arguing that he had over-updated? 

Seconding that it's a bit condescending to imply that people who are not digging into Owen might just "like Owen" or "face cognitive dissonance"

I also find the concept in the last sentence that commentors might look like they are "backing" powerful community members, to be gross. It's not a zero-sum situation. This might not be exactly what Hattie meant by "backing" but I think others night feel vindicated that that's a good way to look at it. But Owen and the woman herself collaborated on the piece so I'd be surprised to find that anyone involved thinks of this situation as like...winner v loser going forward.

I agree with (edit: many parts of) this comment and I've made a mental note to stay extra vigilant in this regard and go out of my way to consider that I might  be biased in Owen's favor (I tend to really like people who seem unusually introspective and open about their exact motivations, potential flaws, etc).

Also, I want to emphasize that while I made comments here that tried to shift the balance more in one direction, I wouldn't necessarily describe and condense this as"taking Owen's side." (I feel like the only comment that "took Owen's side" without any caveats has more than 120 disagreement karma, which is a pretty clear statement.) And I want to say somewhere that this incident was a negative update for me not just in a social-implications sense (pattern of having made people uncomfortable in asymmetric power dynamics). It also affected my impression of the strength of Owen's orientation and ability to overcome "self-serving traps." Especially for the longtermist project where we can't help but rely on the best judgment of a few expert researchers (because there aren't really any short-and-unambiguously-relevant/helpful feedback loops we can check instead), having peopl... (read more)

There may yet be further events that haven't yet been reported to, or disclosed by Owen, and indeed, on the outside view, most events would not be suchly reported.

I want to highlight this. The more general thing to flag is that this is only Cotton-Barratt's side of the story, albeit apparently checked by several people. The prior is that at least some of this presentation to be slanted in his favor, subconsciously or otherwise.

I don't think it's reasonable to take either the facts or (especially) the framing of this story at face value without entertaining at least significant doubts, and I'm surprised at the number of commentators who appear to be doing this. 

I realized you’ve made a good point, and don’t feel as confident about my takes as I used to because of this. People may not have been comfortable being honest when they gave Owen feedback on this post because of the similar power dynamics at play that seem to have made them unwilling to be honest in the first place. Although the policies about sexual misconduct of “Big EA” seem to have evolved substantially since then, so I hope it wouldn’t have been quite as bad.

9
Linch
I agree with that. But also, I don't think you necessarily need a model of bias or malfeasance by anybody else. If I was reading a statement/apology by someone who has zero power remaining in this community, I still would have significant doubts about its accuracy. 

The statement about pausing some exercises of soft power is rather indefinite:

For right now, I am also pausing other activities which may give me power:

  • Starting any new mentor relationships;
  • Recommending funding for anything or connecting people with funders; 
  • Organizing events (in the immediate, I’ve stepped back from any decision-making for the Summit on Existential Security).

Again I’ll make decisions about when to resume these in consultation with my therapist. 

There's no timeframe on that (could it be a month?). There's no meaningful external accountability or oversight of the decision to unpause (only "consultation" with a therapist who is bound by confidentiality). 

Much better would be: I will not  conduct these activities for a minimum of A months, and will not conduct them unless and until [pick one: B and C leaders / a independent therapist psychologist or other professional  chosen by EVF / a community consultation on the Forum / someone other than Owen himself or his therapist] agrees it is appropriate for me to resume.

 

(edited to: psychologist or other professional)

As a friend pointed out, relying on Owen's own judgment regarding whether or when to restart mentorship, event organizing, and funding recommendations seems a really bad idea given that the problematic cases happened in the first place due to errors in Owen's judgment. I think it should go without saying that these decisions should be made by a separate body.

(I don't think these two types of judgments are perfectly correlated, but they seem somewhat correlated. Also I don't mean to take a stance on whether/how Owen should be involved in the future; I think it's good to consider the full range of options.)

4
Jason
Of course, funders and event organizers can collectively decide how long Owen's pause from influence in those areas last. I'm wondering if it would be healthy for them to declare him essentially persona non grata for a period of time and until conditions were met. That would mean his recommendations made after last week would go unread, his attempts at connection would be ignored, and no one would ask him to organize events until the appointed time had passed and conditions had been met.
6
Jason
No one needs to justify their disagreevotes, but I'd be curious if anyone had another idea besides "Owen decides for himself how long the pause needs to be" and "funders/organizers who give him his soft power decide." There isn't an EA Supreme Court to decide these questions.

Personally, I think it's useful if this decision is made by people who competently investigate the case and gather all the information, not by people acting primarily based on public information like this post. Even though I know Owen well, I personally find it hard to say how likely Owen is to make mistakes again; it seems plausible to me that he can learn from his mistakes and continue to be highly involved in the community without causing any further issues, and it also seems possible that he would  continue to make similar mistakes. It seems to me that the main way to find out would be by seeking out conversations and investigating.

I personally think the community health team (after implementing some improvements) would be suitable for deciding his future involvement. Even though they didn't deal with this particular case well, I think overall their track record seems strong, and I think they can learn from this case. They have a lot more relevant context than external investigators.

9
Jason
Sure, you could add non-disqualified CH staff to the "pick one" I described upthread on who could clear his return. My point was that if Owen doesn't propose an acceptable return-to-influence plan, it is ultimately the responsibility of those who give him that power to satisfy themselves that returning it is warranted.
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I feel most confused why the  therapist is important here. The therapist recs might be a necessary condition but clearly not sufficient. Therapist are not trained in this (it might be that his therapist is an expert in dealing with such situations, but then I expect he would have mentioned this). 

4
Jason
Edited my comment to: psychologist or other professional chosen by EVF. Thanks! At least in the US, some mental health professionals have relevant training in assessment, generally those are doctoral-level psychologists.

I feel there's a bit of a "missing mood" in some of the comments here, so I want to say: 

I felt shocked, hurt, and betrayed at reading this. I never expected the Oxford incident to involve someone so central and well-regarded in the community, and certainly not Owen. Other EAs I know who knew Owen and the Oxford scene better are even more deeply hurt and surprised by this. (As other commenters here have already attested, tears have not been uncommon.)

Despite the length and thoughtfulness of the apology, it's difficult for me to see how someone who was already in a position of power and status in EA -- a community many of us see as key to the future of humanity -- behaved in a way that seems so inappropriate and destructive. I'm angry not only at the harm that was done to women trying to do good in the world, but also to the health, reputation, and credibility of our community. We deserve better from our leaders.

I really sympathize with all the EAs -- especially women -- who feel betrayed and undermined by this news. To all of you who've had bad experiences like this in EA -- I'm really sorry. I hope we can do better. I think we can do better -- I think we already have the seed... (read more)

I appreciate you writing this. To me, this clarifies something. (I'm sorry there's a rant incoming and if this comunity needs its hand held through these particular revelations, I'm not the one):

It seems like many EAs still (despite SBF) didn't put significant probability on the person from that particular Time incident being a very well-known and trusted man in EA, such as Owen. This despite the SBF scandal and despite (to me) this incident being the most troubling incident in the Time piece by far which definitely sounded to be attached to a "real" EA more than any of the others (I say as someone who still has significant problems with the Time piece). Some of us had already put decent odds on the probability that this was an important figure doing something that was at least thoughtless and ended up damaging the EA movement... I mean the woman who reported him literally tried to convey that he was very well-connected and important. 

It seems like the community still has a lot to learn from the surprise of SBF about problematic incidents and leaders in general: No one expects their friends or leaders are gonna be the ones who do problematic things. That includes us. Update no... (read more)

It seems like many EAs still (despite SBF) didn't put significant probability on the person from that particular Time incident being a very well-known and trusted man in EA, such as Owen.

These cases seem very different to me. One big update from the FTX situation was "in case you didn't already notice, dark triad traits can be really bad." By contrast, while I'm still processing the update from Owen's case, I think it's gonna be something more like, "probably there really is something unusually bad/unwelcoming with aspects of EA culture even outside the Bay area, sorry I didn't see this earlier." I don't see how I could've made that update just from the FTX scandal.

For what it's worth, I did have significant probability mass on the influential EA figure mentioned in the TIME article being someone who is indeed still influential within EA, despite the fact that the TIME article misrepresented the degree of involvement and centrality of one of accused in one of the other incidents they described. So, it's not like I thought "no way this could happen to EA." The main thing I was taken aback by is that it ended up being someone who was not only very influential within EA, but also some... (read more)

Yeah, I mean I don't disagree with a lot of what you wrote. Maybe my comment was complicated by me trying to word it in such a way that anyone can "get it" whether they believe Owen did a anything  "bad", from a minor faux pas (socially bad, not ill-intentioned) to actual SA (morally bad, or creepy and otherwise badly and selfishly-intentioned) 

At the end of the day what I'm trying to get at is something like: 

"Not every scandal/negative incident is a black swan event. Everything relevant to this situation from 'your supposedly-sage leaders do PR-risky professional misconduct' to 'your trusted friends and idols do SA within your community' should be in your model of the world already. 

On the other side of the coin, just because an incident is not a black swan event, doesn't mean you think you should have been able to predict it. Surprises exist. The community shouldn't feel a need to do a lot of handwringing about the community, society, and what happened. At least not if having these types of surprises (SAs or professional misconduct, including by leaders) were factored in. Why suddenly do a lot of self-flagellation in response?

That the incident is confirmed an... (read more)

I'd say it's more clear than ever that the journalist had an intention to create a salacious narrative even if they stated facts as they knew them. And if anyone had significant suspicion before Owen's post that the Time piece was overblown.. well this is exactly what they should have been imagining. This is what you'd expect a piece written by a bad-actor, lying journalist to look like.... nuggets of truth slanted in such a way that truth is on the back-burner and scandal put front and center. 

I find this characterization of the journalist to be wildly uncharitable, overblown and exaggerated. I'll explain why in detail with reference to this incident, which is the only one where we know anything close to the full story.  

Here is the passage from the article:

A third [woman] 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 masturbat

... (read more)

Other context (reader decide importance):

  • Owen is married, lives with his wife, and offered their spare bedroom in their home
  • [IDK if his wife was out of town or not, but if in town I'd consider it important context that a woman/his wife were there]
  • She stayed in a hotel all but one night
  • The people running the recruitment talked to him in a "this is your friend you recommended, could you help out?" way, before he offered the room

Regardless, I think that counting facts is not fully the right approach here. Like I say, I think a mal-intentioned journalist is going to use nuggets of truth, but put the whole truth on the backburner and a scandalous narrative upfront. When evaluating the intention of the journalism, it's the comparison of the facts to the words surrounding the facts that matters. You don't have to call it lying exactly if that term implies too much forethought to you. But the journalist definitely seemed to be acting in service of a narrative about EA not of the truth. 

[I've also discussed this (what I and many would call "lying") being an unsurprising human tendency here, using veganism as an example EAs might "get" more. I also discuss two groups I think are necessa... (read more)

Owen is married, lives with his wife, and offered their spare bedroom in their home

I've had several experiences where I think men used their relationship status as a shield/to get me to let my guard down/to push my boundaries. Like, they would engage in behavior that I would have otherwise interpreted as them hitting on me, but I would instead assume I was misreading the situation. If I'm confident someone is hitting on me, I can shut them down, but the more unsure I am, the more presumptuous/awkward it is to do this. So, if the woman in this situation knew he was married, but didn't know he was poly (which she might not have, since he says his marriage was "in practice... monogamous"), that makes things worse, not better, imo.

Yes I agree that that is a possibility, albeit a slimmer one as we are travelling down the chain of qualifiers now. You are right that it is worthy context whether she knew he was trying poly or not [or interested in this woman]

Yeah, for sure! I mainly made this point because this is a mistake I’ve made several times (letting my guard down on the basis of relationship status), and I didn’t want others to make the same mistake (“reader decide importance”).

This is more than a mere "nugget of truth". It's majority truth , with  some context missing.  (I don't think your added context adds much, given that Owen was polyamorous  and self-admittedly attracted to the woman. Also, he could have pushed the org to pay for a hotel room but didn't)

As for the larger picture, this anecdote was used to prove the point that there was "sexual misconduct" in EA. This absolutely fits that description. 

As for the wider point, the article title implies that there is a "toxic culture of sexual harrassment and abuse" in EA. (It only explicitly claims that "these women" say that, but in general it sides with the idea that this is true). 

The victim in this case (who again, was 100% honest in her account) claims that there are "systemic issues" in EA. Owen himself claims that the culture of EA contributed to his sexual misconduct.  We also now know that a third party in EA (the org hiring) failed to see the problems in her situation, and was not willing to pay for a hotel room to avoid it. 

Does this prove, on it's own, that EA has a "toxic culture"? Certainly not on it's own. But it is evidence in it's favor, and this is only one anecdote.  You can disagree with the conclusion if you want (I don't think it's entirely fair), but no part of this was "lying" or dishonesty.  

Owen himself claims that the culture of EA contributed to his sexual misconduct.  

Regardless of my own views about which are the largest cultural problems in EA, what's your prior that people who do wrongdoing are accurate in their public assessment of factors that diminish their moral responsibility and/or make themselves look better? Your italicized bolding implies that you think this is an unusually reliable source of truth, whereas I pretty straightforwardly think it's unusually bad evidence.

"As for the wider point, the article title implies that there is a 'toxic culture of sexual harrassment and abuse' in EA."

But this is the part I don't agree with and I think the journalist could have found that the alarm-ringing they chose to go with was easily downgradable in many senses.

You can even tell from the title that put salaciousness before accuracy and in implication, which I consider a bad-faith move:

Title: "Effective Altruism has Sexual Harassment Problem, Women Say"

Better title: "Some Women Say Effective Altruism has Neglected a Toxic Culture Toward Women"

I realize the person who wrote the title is likely not the journalist, but surely you can see how their actual piece prioritizes the scandalous first narrative while putting the second (a truth many more can get behind) on the backburner? It's messed up tbh. [I realize this is normal in journalism but that's why many people find it to be a messed-up field til proven otherwise, and "normal practice" does not mean "okay practice" or "epistemically honest practice"]

And I think all groups have a toxic culture and "systemic issues" around gendered experience. I don't think EA has more of either than the world or tech at l... (read more)

4
titotal
Okay, so you think that EA does have a toxic culture around women, you just don't think it's worse than tech at large. (as a sidenote, what mostly matters is whether there is room for improvement, which I think is undeniable at this point). Your perspective is included in the article with the quotes from Julia Wise: "it’s hard to gauge how common such issues are within EA compared to broader society".  But the women they are interviewing disagree with that. They think it's "particularly acute", and are presenting evidence in favor of that proposition. Do you think they should have refrained from stating their honest opinion? That the reporter should not have reported their honest opinion? I also think the language could have been downgraded somewhat, but this is way below the level of "lying bad-actor". 

I think it's better than tech at large or basically anywhere else I've found.  [Edit: Nobody just writes a Time piece about a community that needs the same level of improvement as other places. Come on.. the world knows this and let's not pretend otherwise. The world therefore should not be happy and shrug its shoulders and allow its attention to be collectively wasted in such a way? Readers should be able to trust that if something is published in Time that it is important and actually noteworthy. To publish something non-noteworthy in there is inherently espistemic dishonesty. So no, that "improvement is needed" is not the only thing that matters when it comes to the question of whether the journalist was dishonest, mal-intentioned, etc

And I think an investigative journalist absolutely could have found more claims to the actual contrary, yeah, and actually should have before blasting a narrative on a nation-wide scale. I see them as basically paying lip service to neutrality by quoting Julia there (if they were truly neutral, they could have just said that themselves, as I see similar qualifying sentiments in Kelsey Piper's journalism). And paying lip service to neutr... (read more)

8
titotal
Time has no way of determining if the rate is higher in EA than in other places. Sexual harassment is hidden by nature, and EA is a niche group. Are you expecting them to conduct a survey or something? That's our job.  The only way of determining the rate of sexual harassment is to raise awareness of the cases that you do know about, so that others feel safe to speak out. I for one am incredibly glad that these cases have come to light. I do not think the world would be a better place if this honest woman had remained silent. 

I realized I neglected your question above about how I feel about the women. Sorry about that:

  1. Actually I am very glad the women came forward and even glad they tried a new method than the CH team (those who had reported already but weren't happy with the outcome). And I respect them for doing so. [My impression is that women were and are still bouncing off EA because of mismatch in professional and cultural expectations so this needed addressing. And I believe it is important for anyone who suspects they might view something awry with our culture to try to raise alarm bells so it can be fixed.]
  2. I am much less happy that the method chosen was to speak to Time. Is any EA happy about this reality specifically? Are the women? I think other methods, like posting anonymous incident reports on the Forum or something with actual usable details (which still no woman has done), could have led to faster resolution, including outcomes like OCB stepping down from the board and prompting a period of reflection where he and other men figure out why he/they'd been so slow to improve and notice perspectives of women before (in other words, both tangible and intangible systemic improvements).
  3. BUT I si
... (read more)

I'm happy to leave it here too. I hope I did not get too argumentative in this conversation, I respect your opinion and I appreciate that you are willing to write a lot of detail on it, especially considering the heated topic matter. 

As my last word, I'll just point out that the some of the women did try going through EA channels like the community team and making posts on this forum, but were unhappy with the results, feeling ignored and belittled. Whereas it seems like the article has caused at least some positive change.

If we want to discourage future articles from coming out, we need to ensure that the people coming forward are treated with the kindness and respect they deserve, and that their reports and concerns are taken seriously. 

Owen self-admittedly went on to make other innapropriate comments to people on 4 other occasions (although they were self-judged to be less egregious). 

Sorry, what was your prior belief here? Upon reading that section in the Time article, I definitely did not interpret (paraphrased) "telling a job interviewee staying at your house about your masturbation habits" as a one-off incident by someone who never otherwise does creepy things, and I doubt the average Time reader did.

EDIT: I'm confused about the disagree-votes. Did other people reading the Time article assume that it was a one-off incident before Owen's apology?

EDIT2: Fwiw I thought the rest of the comment that I replied to was a good contribution to the discourse, and I upvoted it before my comment.

-6
titotal
7
Lukas_Gloor
That makes sense to me now after re-reading your initial comment! I think I was thrown off by various aspects of the comparison to FTX and then didn't read the last two thirds of your comment closely enough to notice that you made a different point than the one I was expecting. I ended up making a different point that doesn't have much to do with yours. Sorry for the confusion!
2
Ivy Mazzola
No worries! 👋

My honest reaction was: This is finally being taken sort of seriously. If an EVF board member acted badly then the community can't just pretend the Time article is about people totally peripheral to the community. At least we got some kind of accountability beyond "the same team that has failed to take sufficient action in the past is looking into things." 

It honestly does feel like the dialogue is finally moving in a good direction. I already knew powerful people in EA acted very badly. So it's honestly a relief it seems like we might get real change.

Thanks for writing this <3

6
MHR
I just want to say that I agree. I am angry not only at Owen's behavior, but also at the people and processes that enabled him to stay in a position of power for years after this pattern of behavior became apparent. 

Thanks for everyone's contributions. I am learning a lot. I see that the author made significant mistakes and am glad he is taking action to correct them and that the community is taking them seriously, but I want to make a small comment on the sentence "She was in a structural position where it was (I now believe) unreasonable to expect honesty about her experience." I don't know enough about the specific relationship in the post to comment on it directly, but felt it could describe enough dynamics that it could use a diverse array of perspectives from women in the structural positions described.

I want to encourage other women in early stages of their careers like myself to continue striving to overcome shyness. I don't think it's too much to expect us to be honest if we dislike a higher status man flirting with us who doesn't have direct power over us, or if we dislike any other thing they do.  I hope this post encourages shy lower status women to feel like they would be heard if they were assertive about behaviors they don't like, that one way of making the behaviors stop could be to be more direct.  

I also think in general the Ask Culture norm prevalent in EA is very ... (read more)

Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think it's good to have a diversity of views and that the forum is better for it. I think your view is empowering, but one thing I want to say is that I don't think we should describe this as "shyness". The point is that when there are power-dynamics at play, such as the one described, people are less likely to say  how they feel since a lot may be on the line, such as their livelihood. This isn't just general shyness, because the same person may feel confident to say how they feel in other settings where the same power dynamics don't exist.

Thank you for your contributions Rebecca and Lauren. My career is the most important thing in the world to me, so I have empathy for women who would take actions that feel drastic to me to protect theirs. I've worked hard to see things from your perspectives, but in thinking about them I actually came away more confident that women should feel comfortable standing up to powerful men.

It dawned on me that until I changed my career plans this month, most of my male friends held positions of power in my field very similar to the power gap that I think the post described. They had no direct power over me, but a word from them would have been extremely helpful in getting an interview or a job. I criticize them freely about all sorts of things, and think this is the best way of engaging in these friendships that honestly feel more like peer relationships than relationships of different status to me.  The idea of trying to be strategic by not being honest if one of them flirted with me and I didn't like it makes me even more uncomfortable than not being honest with them in general would. Wouldn't that mean I was trying to get ahead based on something other than the quality of my work?... (read more)

Hi Sonia, thanks for your thoughtful response. Maybe this scenario will show an example of a more complex power dynamic than the one you describe having with your friends: 

Jen gets a small grant from x and starts working with senior people at y company. She knows all of their names because they are well known people in z community, but doesn't know them personally. She slowly gets to know them by working with them, and knows that having them as contacts, references, etc will be really important to the future of her career (perhaps she wants to even stay at this company longterm). She has spent a year working with them now, and her ability to get future career opportunities within this community, field of work, and/or company is reliant on them being good references for her, or longterm co-workers. One of the senior males begins to get extra friendly with her. At first it seems like normal friendly banter that may push her professional boundaries a bit further than she'd like, but after a few months it is clear that he is interested in her sexually, and that the other senior people in the group know about this, and talk about it in a way that makes it seem as though they are co... (read more)

Oh yes, I agree this would be a very different scenario than the one in the OP and with my friends, and I would feel much the same way you do about it. 

2
Lauren Maria
I think these points in the OP are similar though (though once again the story is not related):

Thanks for sharing. I actually think that quote from the post describes my relationship with my friends very well except for the  saliency and pressure part, although it's vague enough that it's possible it's describing something different too.

I am updating that so many women seem to care so much more about power differentials than I do  that norms that cater to them would probably be net positive because otherwise we would have far  fewer women  in the movement. 

This isn't really about sexual misconduct anymore for me, but a broader issue. If women don't feel comfortable declining romantic interest from senior men outside the workplace, they must be abstaining from criticizing them in all sorts of other ways too. I'm very disturbed by the mass of knowledge we are missing out on if they are refraining from speaking up at the rate it seems like from the conversation around this post. Do you have any thoughts about how we can encourage women in EA to care less about power differentials outside of sexual misconduct problems?

 I think the onus needs to be placed on the people who are abusing their power. There are ways to do this. If the community acknowledges that this isn't ok, there can be a shift in the broader culture. People need to be aware these power dynamics exist and speak out against people who abuse them and I don't mean the person on the receiving end of the abuse of power, but their colleagues. 

Some concrete steps I can think of moving forward would be: 

a) Workplace training on power dynamics and professional boundaries. 
b) An external source where complaints can be made where the people receiving the complaints do not have connections to the EA community such as personal friendships/collegial relationships. 


I'm not sure if this answers your question at all, but I am enjoying this discussion and appreciate the way you are approaching our conversation. Thanks! 

 

Edit: I want to make it crystal clear here that I'm not talking about sexual misconduct at this point, or denying that actual power differentials are a huge problem in EA. I'm learning that the forum requires a clearer writing style that I'm still new at.

The concrete steps you mentioned make sense to me, although my weakly held view is that people with less power caring too much about power differentials is an even bigger problem than actual power differentials. Maybe more workshops about overcoming imposter syndrome would help?  I think epistemics would be weaker in the community if we don't make a large effort to encourage people to be as assertive as I am in the face of power imbalances, but maybe that's a price I'm willing to pay if it means more diversity? A lot depends on how tractable different interventions are, and ultimately I just care about getting people's voices heard. I also appreciate how you've approached this conversation! I hadn't said anything controversial on the forum before this weekend, and this has been much less scary than I expected. 

(Sorry you are getting downvotes as soon as you affirm that commenting on the forum is less scary than you expected. The irony is real and hopefully you can laugh at it.)

9
SoniaAlbrecht
Don't worry I am. I imagine it was hard to tell I wasn't denying that power differentials are a serious problem in their own right for someone who hasn't spent a lot of time critiquing powerful men, or has and hasn't had the positive response I have. I also think the fact that I was no longer talking about sexual misconduct specifically was lost in the comment thread. I'm glad I said it, because I found the feedback useful. Thanks for checking in!
8
Lauren Maria
I'm curious if the people who disagree voted my story could explain why? What is it that you disagree with?
-5
BadFaithActor

I've continued to work hard to see things from the perspective of women like you over the last couple days, and just had another surprising realization. I've actually experienced a conversation in EA that I think could have gone in the Time article (similar to some of the milder examples they gave like the man who expressed an interest in adult relationships with large age gaps to a young lower status woman, not the OP's example). I will give no details because I don't want to get anyone in trouble. I enjoyed the conversation and it took this intense dialogue for me to realize a different woman in my position might feel opressed by it. Not being able to have as many fun, edgy (to me) conversations like that anymore will decrease my quality of life. However, the pain that people are experiencing seems a lot more intense than the joy I get from edgy conversations. I'm really looking forward to the results of the polls EA is putting together about this. My sense is I'm in a minority for my gender and status, but I have no idea by how much. 

9
Lauren Maria
Hey Sonia, I have been trying to see things from your perspective as well. I think it's great you're feeling empathetic for women who might feel differently than you in those situations. I think there's probably still a lot of ways you can get joy having edgy conversations without contributing to this culture within EA itself. I kinda appreciate Will's take on this here. I struggle between feeling like "policing" people's relationships and whatnot is probably bad, while also knowing that not being firm the way I am about professional/personal boundaries likely contributes to a culture where people are taken advantage of. In an ideal world, we could have both your preferences (and the preferences of many others) and a healthy culture, but I don't actually know if that's possible.   
3
bruce
Upvoted!   I can see why this feels like a tradeoff, but I do think it's worth thinking about these conversations in the context that they happened - I don't think people are (or should be!) advocating for EAs to never talk about sex ever again. But clearly there are contexts where personal topics can be discussed safely, and contexts in which these discussions are inappropriate. For example, is it important to you that you are able to have these conversations with anyone, in any context, or just that you are able to have these conversations when you feel comfortable to?
5
SoniaAlbrecht
Thank you for your contributions Lauren and Bruce.  Personally I get a lot out of being able to have these conversations with anyone no matter how high their status is in EA, as long as we don't have a specific workplace relationship with a large power differential. For example, the man I'm referring to was one of the top people at an EA organization I wanted very much to work at at the time, but if I already worked there and it happened at work or in a private environment (this was a group conversation), I would have felt uncomfortable.  If I wasn't allowed to have unique conversations that mention sex/romance with higher status EAs anymore, I wouldn't be able to have them at all at the moment, because I am in a very early stage of my career (I'm an undergraduate) and all my close friends are EAs. Not centering my social life around EA would be a very large sacrifice I am unwilling to make. However, Will's post Lauren referred to seems like it might be a good compromise. I don't personally sleep around, but it appears to be something easier to enjoy with less unique people than edgy conversations are. I also think reducing global poverty and x-risks is so important that I would be willing to make a lot of sacrifices if it made a big difference to these causes. I'm already planning to donate most of my income to charity starting within a few years of graduation. Surely if my personal enjoyment is the only thing at stake, I can dramatically reduce the edgy conversations I have about sex with my friends. I'm only advocating for us to compromise to the extent that I think this is about broader epistemic quality within the movement.  I should clarify how I interpreted the example in the Time article I'm comparing my experience to, as people have different interpretations of the example they gave. I think I would have experienced it as an edgy conversation that involved bad wording that happened to have a large power differential, but didn't involve pressure to engag
3
Rebecca
Yeah I’d say it’s not always confidence, rather sometimes a strategic/rational decision, that determines whether someone pushes back in these circumstances

I'm sorry to be pushing on this when it seems like you are doing the right thing, but could you elaborate more on this sentence from the article?

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.

Why was she being put up in your house and not a hotel, if you weren't affiliated with the group she was interviewing for? I think this is the part a lot of people were sketched out by, so more context would be helpful. 

Sorry I'm mostly trying to take a day away from the forum, but someone let me know that it would be helpful to chime in here. Essentially what happened: 

  • The org had arranged accommodation (not a hotel), but it didn't cover the first night she'd be in the country 
  • The people running the recruitment talked to me in a "this is your friend you recommended, could you help out?" way 
  • We had a spare room so I offered that; they said yes so I communicated with her about that 
  • This was all arranged on the day of her flight (before she flew) 

(I'm eliding details to reduce risk of leaking information about the person's identity.)

This is a lot worse than I was expecting. This makes it clear that the woman was in a situation where it was extremely hard to refuse Owen's offer of accommodation. 

Firstly, the organization screwed up majorly. You should not be arranging accommodation for someone on the same day they fly to a foreign country. I know I would have been fairly distressed if this had happened to me. 

Secondly, we need to remember that this was an organization she was interviewing for, and Owen was the one that recommended her, and was presumably on good terms with the org. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think that making a fuss about staying at Owen's house could hurt her chances with the org. 

Thirdly, the power imbalances in their friendship might make her concerned about what would happen to her position if refusing accommodation hurt said friendship. 

Fourthly, it's often very expensive to get a last minute hotel. Refusing to stay with Owen could have occurred a large financial penalty. 

This was not a case of "hey do you want to crash at mine when you fly over next month?". This is a case of "no better options". It's extremely inappropriate to push boundaries on someone who is in this situation.  I'm very saddened at the extreme lack of empathy and judgement that was shown here. I'm relieved that Owen is no longer in leadership positions in EA, and I deeply hope he has sincerely reformed since this encounter. 

To clarify, do you think:

(1) Owen should have pushed the organization to find other housing for the interviewee?

(2) If the organization would or could not do so, Owen should not have agreed to host the interviewee for an evening (leaving her to find an expensive last-minute hotel?)

One potential concern with a yes to (2) is that -- assuming it would have been OK to offer lodging in this situation to an older male to whom Owen wasn't attracted -- this could be seen as imposing extra costs on the woman for being young, female, and attractive to Owen.

(Personally, I would never make the hosting offer to any candidate.)

The most important thing he needed to do was to not mention masturbation or anything else sexual. The situation makes it significantly harder to for her to push back against unwanted behavior. (I think this would also have been wrong if she had agreed in advance to stay there, but the fact that it was foisted on her on the day makes it  worse). 

I absolutely agree with 1), I definitely think the org should have paid for a hotel, given how badly they screwed up it's the least they can do. I'm not too sure about 2), I think an offer of lodging could be okay if it was the absolute last resort and kept strictly professional. 

From the article, it sounds like her flights to the UK were paid for by the org (although it's a little ambiguous, could read it as Owen paying, although that wouldn't really make sense to me). If they can pay for flights, it seems reasonable that a hotel room is not an excessive extra cost. 

I've stayed at a (non-EA) professional contact's house before when they'd invited me to give a talk and later very apologetically realized they didn't have the budget for a hotel. They likely felt obliged to offer; I felt like it would be awkward to decline. We were both at pains to be extremely, exceedingly, painstakingly polite given the circumstances and turn the formality up a notch.

I agree the org should have paid for a hotel, I'm only mentioning this because if baseline formality is a 5, I would think it would be more normal to kick it up to a 10 under the circumstances. It makes this situation all the more bizarre.

3
Jason
Thanks. I got (and agree) that the context makes the masturbation comment worse. Wasn't sure on the other points, thanks for clarifying.
2
JoshuaBlake
Owen should have told the org this situation is unacceptable and that they should arrange accommodation at their own expense.

[Edit: I'll redact this comment once someone who knows more actually clarifies it. My intent was to help provide a way to connect the concern to OP's piece as-written. If you don't want that and want perfect clarity instead, just skip this thread]

(I'll throw my hat in the ring that this doesn't surprise me, now seeing that he was pretty sure that he had a friendship with this woman. Personally If I arranged for a friend to have an interview at an effective nonprofit in my city, I would definitely ask them if they wanted to stay in my spare bedroom. I'd always offer because (1) I personally greatly prefer to stay in a place with a kitchen and some opportunity for social interaction over a hotel room, and (2) hotel costs are counterfactual donations and trades of this flavor have been going on in EA for a decade now.

It's bad if he didn't clarify first and give her the option of hotel or not. And possibly, due to perceived power dynamics, it would even be bad anyway to offer his space... like maybe it's important that he had been totally hands-off with her entire work-related visit since their friendship was not actually so cemented. But this whole housing dynamic seems qualitatively similar to the type of mistakes and misunderstandings of power dynamics that he made elsewhere, and is now working on improving and addressing proactively in future. So I personally do not continue to be worried about the housing aspect although it was not named in this apology piece.)

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

"she recalls being surprised to discover that she was expected to stay in his home" seems to preclude the notion that Cotton-Barratt asked her first, so I'm not sure why you're writing as if we're not clear whether they discussed it beforehand.

Sorry I'm on mobile and it's hard for me to see exactly how my comment comes off in the scheme of larger discussion. I agree it sounds like he didn't ask her first. My main intention with my comment was to say that his treatment of that situation seems qualitatively related to the idea that he needs to address power dynamics and find clarity more proactively.

[[Edit: That said I can come up with an exchange where he would consider himself to have asked. I don't really want to theorize this as likely to have happened, but maybe it can illustrate why I try to speak hesitantly about the actions people might or might not have taken. Example dialogue:

Owen: So normally in this situation I'd just host the interviewee at my place rather than having people faff around with a hotel. Is that cool here?

Woman: (thinking: damn that's expected huh? Im surprised) um I guess so

My second paragraph appears to go off on a tangent but I was actually thinking in response to a potential exchange like this and trying to get ahead of anyone who might think that asking would always be good enough. I'm not necessarily ensorsing asking as a singular plan though I'd probably do it myself in some situations. The only sure solution is the solution that Owen appears to be taking, more proactivity and avoid these dynamics when possible anyway]]

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Yes, that is one possible explanation for the sentence. There are also other, more problematic possible explanations, such as if the org itself told her they had a place for her and then sprung the surprise that it was at Owen's house.  

I tried to avoid speculation like this with my original comment because we can just ask what happened. We don't need to make up stories, we can just find out what actually happened from the OP and the woman and put the matter to rest. 

Yes I agree and I do hope someone who knows chimes in. I waited hours to comment here hoping someone else would, but in the hours I waited the original comment got over 60 more upvotes. It seemed like a growing and urgent concern for people, and I was becoming less confident that Owen or the woman would chime in in a timely manner.

I commented in parentheses to try to imply I was just dropping in, but now I really regret not writing something like: "I'll delete this comment once someone who knows more actually clarifies it"

7
titotal
Just letting you know that Owen has chimed in to give more context, see the reply above. I think the added context is much worse than speculated here, a key point being that this was only sprung on her one day in advance. 

Ah, thanks! I've retracted my first 2 comments here. 

context: I'm relatively new to EA, mid 20s, and a polyamorous woman. Commenting anonymously because I am not yet totally "out" as polyamorous to everyone in my life.

I feel that this post risks conflating and/or unfairly associating polyamory with poor handling of power dynamics and personal/professional boundaries. Such issues can overlap with any relationship structure. Sexual misconduct exists throughout our society, and throughout both monogamous and non-monogamous spaces. 

I've experienced a range of sexual misconduct prior to my involvement in EA, and so far have found my dating and professional interactions with men in EA to be high quality, relative to high personal standards. In particular, the openness to and active solicitation of feedback I've experienced is something I've never really experienced outside of polyamory within EA. Since I learned about EA thanks to polyamory (not the other way around), I think I have a pretty different experience than that shared by women in the Time article. Their experience is not a representation of what polyamory done well actually looks like.

Additionally, the Time article fosters skepticism about restorative justice approaches to ... (read more)

6
agunning
So, also  speaking as a poly person:   I feel like the heuristic missing here is "in situations where people are this sexually open it should always be possible for one person to run away screaming" like, this should generally rarely happen if you're not an asshole but it being part of the payoff matrix makes people feel a lot safer. The thing is, I'm not sure how I'd have  internalised this deeply without accidentally polyhacking myself? like "Q: aren't you worried your partner is going to leave you for them? A: that sounds like it would be a me problem" I suppose monogamous people manage this by feeling more comfortable hewing to societal expectations? [eta: in this particular case I took this as "the only person I will date in the immediate future is my wife" which is fair enough under the circumstances]

Totally agree that Owen was mainly meaning to say "the only person I will date in the immediate future is my wife" and think that's a smart decision for him while he works on himself.

I think the part that came in the zone of unfairly associating polyamory with poor handling of power dynamics and persona/professional boundaries comes here:

"How could I have come to make these mistakes? I was leaning into my own view-at-the-time about what good conduct looked like, and interested in experimenting to find ways to build a better culture than society-at-large has. I was newly open to polyamory, and newly exposed to circling and saw something powerful and good about speaking truths even when they were uncomfortable." 

Here, Owen lists new openness/exposure to  polyamory/circling almost  as if they are reasons/explanations for his mistakes. Which to me simply isn't the issue, plenty of people explore polyamory/circling without making such mistakes, because they come from a background of already having done work to understand their identities and social positions. To me the issue appears to be primarily a lack of a sufficiently formed critical lens for his own position of powe... (read more)

I knew Owen at university. The circles he moved in regularly had conversations about: gendered dynamics, power imbalances in relationships, rape culture. Metoo did not invent these ideas, feminists have been talking about them for decades & longer.

He has no excuse not to have learnt minimal human decency when dealing with other people.

Thank you for sharing. In particular, I find your mention of shame vs edginess interesting.. But I expect that at least one person reading your story will think "Uh sounds like you need more shame, dude, not less" so I'd like to share a perspective for any such readers: 

If I understand Owen anyway, I'll say that I relate in that I also have had some brazen periods of life, prompted by a sort of cultural rebirth and sex-positive idealism. An outsider might have labelled these brazen periods as a swinging of the pendulum in response to my strict religious upbringing, but that isn't quite right.. It's hard to notice how it is related to shame but in my case:

For a very shame-prone or shame-trained person, it can be very difficult to parse out "What is the actual harm here? What are the actual bad acts and why, when I know that most of these things I'm programmed to feel shame about simply are not wrong or shame-worthy?" This can lead to a sort of idealistically-motivated throwing out of all feelings that look like shame. Anxiety, hesitance, guilt, and self-criticality are examples of possibly-adaptive-feelings that can be mistakenly thrown out here. This, I think, can lead to soci... (read more)

This is such a good comment, thank you! I've also been mulling over the shame/inappropriateness connection. Another, complementary frame is something like, if you have strong psychological parts that shame you, while at the same time other parts recognize that this shaming is toxic and overpowerful, those parts might well be like 'F*** you, I refuse to be shamed anymore!' which might lead to leaning hard in the opposite direction and doing things that healthy shame/embarrassment might have warned you not to do. 

[Edit: this comment was a tangent... now I wish this thread was better organised]

Totally. I think that even when living "shame-free" starts out idealistically, from there, ppl can move into the territory of valuing willfulness and recklessness intrinsically. And that value swap can be hard to catch for them, because they threw out one of their major tools (shame) for noticing when they were behaving self-interestedly and recklessly. Although they may still have conscious intent to behave ethically, safely, and considerately, it becomes easy to miss the ways you are betraying those values, especially if you are surrounded by people who also value edginess intrinsically.

(Idk what happened in Owen's case but I think I've seen this in the BM community)

Largely in response to the final paragraph of Ivy's comment: FWIW, as a woman in EA, I do not feel "healed" by Owen's post. I feel *very* annoyed and sorry for the person who was affected by Owen's behavior. In response to the final sentence ("extra obligations like board responsibilities on hold til you have things sorted"), I would be concerned if Owen was in a board position in EA because he has clearly proved himself incapable of doing so in a way that doesn't discredit legitimate actors in the space and cause harm. I'm surprised, and again really annoyed, this is already a topic of discussion.    

I agree with everything you wrote. I guess I think some things are so obvious they don't need to be said. The intention of my comment was to make overt things which were probably not obvious.

Okay, Ivy. I did really like your other point about shame. Thank you. 

9
Ivy Mazzola
Thank you, I didn't really expect it to get upvoted much tbh but glad it helped
-19
britomart

I am also a woman in EA, and do not feel "healed" by this post. That comment really rubbed me the wrong way, and I'm confused why the OP assumed to speak for many women in EA. 

I also wish the empathy that is evident in that comment was directed towards the person on the receiving end of his behaviour rather than him. 
 

I think my sentiments are not only my own though? Just as I'm sure your sentiments are not only your own and it is important that you say them. I never said I speak for all. I also never said I was fully healed nor that anyone should be fully healed by reading this piece.

I do have empathy toward that person too. I think that went without saying. In future I really hope that others will not try to map any particular women like me and other women who do feel healed and/or hopeful about moving forward to any particular side of any fence.

Same and I'm also annoyed that the comments here are so fluffy versus the blistering skepticism against women who do post when they've had a bad experience.  I'm not advocating being unkind to Owen but I am wondering why the chasm-like discrepancy.  

Also while I am collecting downvotes instead of doing my actual job: Why is the community health team getting more criticism than Owen himself? 

For my part, I'm not sure who disagrees with Owen's current position, or what that would change going forward. Ritually chanting "You Did Wrong" around him doesn't seem useful to me. I don't know what I want him to do differently now. Some of that is that it's harder to talk about an individual that I don't know than the policies a team should take.

What he did was unacceptable. The existence of repeated incidents of this sort is more concerning.

Right now, I have not been able to discern any plan from the Community Health team more extensive than "Julia screwed up and will try not to do that again."

I'm not saying that they acted less badly. I have more opinions on what they should do differently going forward. I suspect that that is fairly common.

There is absolutely a  point to "ritually chanting you did wrong at Owen."  It's the same point underlying why a lot of EA leaders issued statements condemning FTX and it's the reason I'm commenting on this post at all: There are a lot of people, particularly women, who are viewing the comment section of this post to see how we as a community respond to allegations like these and deciding whether this is a safe and welcoming space for them. I know because I spent most of my workday yesterday speaking to at least 6 of them, 1 of whom was in floods of tears. For most of yesterday, the 2nd to top comment thanked Owen and essentially told him to take a break before coming back and running boards again) and the top thanked him for doing the right thing.  I have to say that undermined my ability to emphasize the community doesn't condone this type of behavior. I'm not into retributive justice (I think it's pretty gross actually) but there are very good reasons to send a solid signal here and people are watching to see if we do.  

Thank you. It's hard for me (and I think for many people) to remember to say what feels obvious to them. 

FWIW I was assaulted (not in EA). It was not obvious to me at the time that people either believed me or took it seriously. Some people go into these conversations with a different sense of what is obvious than others.*

*Please read my tone here as sad/wistful not angry/preachy.

-8
Nathan Young

Hi Keller -

Regarding

> Right now, I have not been able to discern any plan from the Community Health team more extensive than "Julia screwed up and will try not to do that again."

(Note that I’m speaking as interim head of the Community Health team) 

I’m planning on spending significant time over the next several weeks on the plan I laid out in this comment (which is on a different top-level post, so you might have missed it if you are only reading this post’s discussion).

There will also be an internal reflection process. Julia and Nicole are going to do retrospectives on this situation, which will then get discussed with me, Ben West (as transition coordinator at CEA), and some senior management and/or trustees of the EV entities, possibly looping in others at CEA or EV as well. 

Further steps are yet to be decided (and some will depend on the information we learn), but could include having other members of the team do assessments of the process and decision-making in this situation and getting opinions on this situation and our approach generally from other people who do similar or analogous work, in and out of EA. 

Discussing retrospectives with senior manageme... (read more)

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Nathan Young
I guess because noone has written a comment saying "this was bad". Similar to the Bostrom stuff I think that a lot of agreement goes unsaid. I think there is widespread agreement that Owen has behaved badly here and worse than the CH team.

Thanks for pointing this out; I agree. I feel like the TIME article was held to a standard of scrutiny that was unusual and unwarranted, and that was frustrating and felt bad.

 

[Edit: My reaction was informed by the "People Will Sometimes Just Lie About You" post having 330 upvotes, and the comments there suggesting many people were reluctant to update much/at all in the direction of "EA has a problem with sexual harassment" on the basis of the TIME article. Unless people had good reasons to strongly hold the prior that EA doesn't have a problem with sexual harassment—which some may—this seemed misguided to me, given the reporter had spoken with 30 EAs who shared anecdotes that ranged from "ambiguous but worrisome" to "clearly bad." That is relatively good evidence in the context of the kind of evidence we generally get about sexual harassment, which is notoriously difficult to study and report on, and in the absence of much other evidence about sexual harassment in EA, seemed worth taking seriously. But I also understand why some people felt differently.]

Hmmm, I thought people were pretty supportive of the Time article and looking back most of the top comments are supportive. I guess you mean the article that was taken down? I guess there is a bit of a double standard here though even before we knew who this story was about the reaction has generally been horror.

-4
Lauren Maria
I had the same sense. I wasn't sure how to word it, so thank you for saying this. 

Agree-also, do we have any indication that Owen is doing this because of "transparency and accountability", rather than a forced response because this was information that was going to come out anyway?

Even the claims about him volunteering his own mistakes to Julia, which normally seems like a commendable action, could be interpreted as him trying to get ahead of any reports to a sympathetic ear inside the system. Given the community health team's relative inaction about this case until the TIME article's publication, it's hard to discount this possibility without other information.

EVF UK is under statutory inquiry for conflict of interest concerns among other things, and I think it is reasonably likely the CC would have asked about the Time article. I would not want to be in a position of explaining to the CC why the board hadn't sacked Owen over this.

In other words, I don't think there was any viable universe in which Owen wasn't leaving the board. So one might weigh that in evaluating transparency and accountability vs. a forced response.

6
David M
What's 'CC'? Edit: found elsewhere, Charity Commission

Even the claims about him volunteering his own mistakes to Julia, which normally seems like a commendable action, could be interpreted as him trying to get ahead of any reports to a sympathetic ear inside the system. Given the community health team's relative inaction about this case until the TIME article's publication, it's hard to discount this possibility without other information.

My impression is that many bad actors* are literally incapable of doing this. They never volunteer this sort of information. It's bizarre – I don't know why they don't do it.** It would probably make them more credible if they occasionally disclosed extra information or admitted to having made mistakes you don't already know about. In any case, because many bad actors are psychologically weird in this regard and seem incapable of admitting anything that makes them look worse than you already suspected, it still counts as evidence that someone is high on integrity if they proactively share information that had a good chance of not coming to light. I think this an instance where it makes sense, incentives-wise as well as epistemically, to give a person significant credit for disclosing things. 

(Obv... (read more)

it still counts as evidence that someone is high on integrity if they proactively share information that had a good chance of not coming to light.

It might be reasonable for you to think that it wouldn't have come to light but it would also be reasonable to think that it would. This really depends on how bad the case was, and how the interactions between OCB and the victim a few months ago went. Unless you have nonpublic information, we don't know what the truth is here, and it feels weird to say that it "makes sense" to give him credit for this given these uncertainties.

Also, it's possible that something has a good chance of not coming to light but that this still does not count as evidence that someone is high on integrity. For example: Owen sees Julia as someone who at least empirically has protected his interests. Or perhaps he thinks the case a few months ago was "less bad" than the masturbation case. Whatever the reason, he feels comfortable that sharing will be unlikely to lead to a bad outcome for him, and in fact may have a chance of reducing the risk of a bad outcome by getting in first with his version of events. If true, I don't see why I should reward this behavior. The continued inaction of the community health team, and the fact the OCB did not suffer any meaningful negative consequences as a result of his actions prior to the TIME article could also support this hypothesis. I'm not claiming that this is what's happening, but given this is a live possibility, I think you're being too charitable here.

I agree that we should give no credit if there was a high chance of something further coming to light.

I guess I also agree that we don't actually know what the status is of these other cases. (I don't have non-public information.)

Owen's account is here: 

Was this incident an isolated case? Yes and no. I think this was by some way my most egregious mistake of this type. However, in my time in EA there have been four other occasions on which I expressed feelings of attraction towards someone in a way that — in retrospect as I’ve developed a more nuanced understanding of power dynamics — I regret. (In most of these cases I’m still on very good terms with the person.) I’ve slowly been improving my implicit models (so I never quite make the same mistake twice), but honestly it’s gone more slowly than I think it should have done.

I feel like saying "in most of these cases I'm still on very good terms with the person" isn't the sort of thing that's easy to lie about. If several future accusations were to come out, it'll become clear that this was wrong, which would defeat the purpose of preemptively saying something. 

Of course, for anyone who just hears the story itself and d... (read more)

4
pseudonym
Right-given his claim that this was by some way much less egregious than the TIME case, this should be an update that he would feel similarly confident that he'd take on very minimal risk from disclosing to Julia. I can see where the predatory sociopath etc is coming from, but to be clear, all I am suggesting here is that just because something might have a good chance of not coming to light, this isn't necessarily good evidence for a person being high integrity. The "coming to light" part is a proxy for "negative consequences", so if Owen is sufficiently confident that there will be minimal risks of negative consequences of disclosure (indeed, because previous experience with a much more egregious case suggests this), and some indication that disclosing may be helpful for him in some way, this can be done in a self-interested way not indicative of high integrity. Importantly, doing this does not require Owen being a "predatory sociopath", or ill intentions from him. Just to be clear, you are not talking about Bostrom's apology? I think I know what you're referring to if not, and I'm not asking you to share it, but just thought I'd check as iirc we had a brief exchange about the Bostrom apology, and it would be useful for onlookers to know that you're not referring to that if they don't have context here.
3
Jason
"In most of these cases I'm still on very good terms with the person" is a hard statement to falsify. Unless Owen somehow pre-commits to who the individuals are in a way that could be revealed if necessary, we wouldn't know if someone who came forward was one of the four. More importantly, it may be logistically and emotionally difficult for these four people to come forward in a way that protects their anonymity and allows us assurance that they are who they claim to be.
9
Lukas_Gloor
It takes just two people coming forward to falsify the statement instead of more than four, so the statement is more falsifiable than it could be.  (Another way in which it's more falsifiable than it could be is because it makes claims about him still being on good terms with several people he has expressed interest in, which is falsifiable if the community health team or investigators were to ask him to mention the names of these people and then go talk to them. I'm not saying they need to do this – I'm just saying it's good if people open themselves up to potential falsifiability.)  My experience is that people who habitually lie and deceive rarely constrain their options unnecessarily in this way. I want to emphasize that I see this as quite a strong pattern."Keeping your cards hidden" is something I see really a lot in people I'd classify as bad actors. I've seen other apologies in similar context where this difference is like day and night.  This isn't to say that signals like that can never be faked. It's perfectly possible to hold both of the following views at once: (1) Some aspects of the apology are reassuring signals. (2) No matter how reassuring an apology is by itself, it makes sense to look into things a lot more, especially if there's the possibility of a pattern.
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Will Bradshaw
It does seem pretty unfortunate that the last paragraph of the top-level comment was in the same comment as the rest of it. 
9
Ivy Mazzola
Yeah I regret that. In future, I'll probably comment on a post twice when I've got both something neutrally educational to share and a personal response. As it is the best I can do is edit my original comment to add clarity which I've done.

Hi all,

Nine months later, I wanted to provide a brief update, in service of letting people make informed decisions about how to interact with me, and in service of helping people to understand the patterns that can cause harm.

Professional updates

I previously said I was pausing some professional activities, such as starting new mentor relationships or organizing events, and actually paused a larger class (e.g. posting on the forum; attending professional events I’m invited to). I'm now cautiously resuming some of these activities. In some cases (like posting things online) this is just a decision in my court, though I’ll continue to seek advice. In other cases there will be decisions for others to make about how to interface with me[1] (e.g. whether to have me at events) — in such cases I’d like to cooperate with the relevant parties to help them reach whatever decisions they’d most endorse. I'm making this change after working in-depth with a therapist, integrating more feedback, asking advice from wiser folks, and reflecting to better understand what I did wrong, how it was problematic, and how to act appropriately going forwards.

If anyone has any bad experiences interacting ... (read more)

Thanks for the public update. Some readers might also be interested in what actions and decisions EV and the Community Health team have been taking around this.

  • Over the last 9 months Owen has not been allowed to attend EV-run events and in-person spaces (like EA Global and EV run offices). EV exec is currently deciding how EV will interact with Owen going forward, and are planning to publish that in the future. They have sought external advice and advice from our team.  
  • We are in communication with Owen about professional updates on his end so we can check in about safeguards where relevant. We have given him some advice aimed to prevent possible future harm. 


People actively considering the choice of whether to work with Owen based on the balance of information available are welcome to reach out to us for input as part of their decision making process. Feel free to reach out to me (catherine@centreforeffectivealtruism.org) if you are in this position. 

9
Rebecca
Quite useful to get these updates. Though i think it would have been good as a quick take that was linked to here - I’ve only just accidentally come across this now, and even though I saw you posting on the forum again recently, didn’t think to check back here. I would imagine this is true of most people who are likely to interact with you going forward
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Owen Cotton-Barratt
Thanks for the feedback, I didn’t really consider a quick take, and find it plausible it would have been the best option. I think EV may post a related update in the not-too-distant future, so at this point I’ll plan to wait and then post a link to this update on that (so as not to pull people’s attention onto the topic twice when once will do). Or if it looks like that’s not going to happen I’ll take some other step to make sure it’s visible. Does that seem sufficient?
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Rebecca
Seems good

I’m the woman who Julia asked on a hunch about her experiences with Owen, and one of the women who Owen refers to when he says there have been four other less egregious occasions where he expressed feelings of attraction that he regrets. I’m sharing my experience with Owen below, because I think it’s probably helpful for people reflecting on this situation (and by default, it would remain confidential indefinitely), but as an FYI, I’m probably unlikely to participate in substantive discussion about it in the comments section. (I’m posting this anonymously because I’d prefer to avoid being pulled into lots of discussions about this in a way that drains my time and emotional energy, not because I’m afraid of retribution from someone or negative consequences for my career.)

  • Several years ago, I stayed at Owen’s house for a while while I was visiting Oxford. Owen and I were friends, I had been to his house several times before, and he had previously offered that I could stay there if I was in Oxford. I was working at an EA organization at the time that was not professionally connected to Owen.
  • Towards the end of my stay, Owen and I went on a long walk around Oxford, where we ta
... (read more)

I had  ChatGPT rewrite this. Probably not the best place to share this, but if I don't post here it here, might not post it anywhere.

My  impression is that young women new to the community have at the least felt uncomfortable or uneasy in EA in some of their interactions with men who've been in the community longer and are a bit older. There's probably enough of an issue here that it warrants a systemic solution.

As for myself, I admit that I have contributed a bit to the problem. Being a bit older and having been in the community for a while, I have engaged romantically and sexually with women who are younger and new to the community. Looking back, I recognize the problematic power dynamics at play and think there are things I would take back if I could. Nothing egregious, just stuff that wasn't ideal.

I'm uncertain about the ideal systematic changes and norms, and where to draw the line when it comes to engaging in romantic relationships. While not abusing power is obvious, the gray area is unclear.

In my opinion, the best changes will come from a deeper understanding of the current situation and how we got here. From what I've seen, heterosexual men in the EA community wh... (read more)

Something about this comment rubbed me the wrong way. EA is not meant to be a dating service, and while there are many people in the community who are open to the idea of dating someone within EA or actively searching for this, there are also many people who joined for entirely different reasons and don't consider this a priority/don't want this.  

I think that viewing the relationship between men and women in EA this way - eg. men competing for attention, where lonely and desperate men will do what it takes to to get with women - does a disservice to both genders. It sounds like a) an uncomfortable environment for women to join, because they don't want to be swarmed by a bunch of desperate men, and b) an uncomfortable environment for men, because to some extent it seems to justify men doing more and more to get the attention of women, often at the cost of women being made to feel uncomfortable. (And many men in EA do not want women to feel uncomfortable!)  

Let's zoom out a bit. To me, it's not that important that everyone in EA gets a match. I find the gender imbalance concerning for lots of reasons, but ‘a lack of women for men to match with’ is not on my list of concern... (read more)

Does anyone have data on retention rates in EA by age and gender? This comment makes me wonder if the effects of a hostile environment for young women would be demonstrated in that data.

4
Tiresias
I appreciate the comment, and agree that accurately understanding motivations is important for effective reform. I also agree that a lot (if not most) of the harassment/women face in EA come from sentiments like the one you're describing in this comment. Admitting fault and vulnerability can be difficult to share, and I'm glad you're doing so.  I also agree with S.E. Montgomery's reply that some of this comment rubbed me the wrong way. As I mentioned, my guess is that most sexual harassment stems from sentiments like the one you described. It comes from an understandable place -- romantic longing -- but has oppressive outcomes. This means, even if the emotional origin is sympathetic, the men who hold this perspective should still work to change their perspective. The specific manifestation of romantic longing that I find ends up being oppressive is one which causes men to see EA women they encounter primarily as potential romantic/sexual partners. Rather than say, having their thoughts about a woman shaped by her professional accomplishments or personality. This is de-personifying, and leads to many harmful behaviors. If you meet a woman and categorize her primarily as a romantic/sexual interest, you are much less likely to instinctively think of other aspects of her. For example, if you learn of a new opportunity, and are thinking of people who might be matches for it, just on a gut level, it makes it more likely you'll forget about her when you're not in a romantic/sexual state-of-mind. Or, if you describe her to other people, if you are primarily commenting on her appearance/your interest in her, what you are then not commenting on (at least as much) is other aspects of her, aspects you would describe if you were meeting a man. This causes other people to view her in a de-personifying way, even if they've never met her/don't have any romantic/sexual interest in her. Maybe she gets a reputation for being a "hot EA" rather than a reputation for something like "ear

 If there’s anyone else whom I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable or pressured, I’d love to hear about it — I think I might benefit most from a conversation, but I’d also welcome anonymous feedback."

 

Sorry if this is uncharitable, but this sentence rubs me the wrong way. It reads to me like "hey people who I might have harassed, it would be good for me if you talked to me".
I think the priority here should not be what YOU benefit from.

[anonymous]25
11
2

You may be right, but FWIW, I read that sentence as, "I think I might understand a lot more and be able to update my behaviour in a more appropriate way if we have the benefit of the back-and-forth of a conversation, but of course I'm also open to anonymous feedback if that's what you prefer." (Versus him coming from a place of something like, "I'd personally feel most comfortable with a conversation.")

Yeah, I agree with that, and I'm really glad how much Owen expresses he's keen to work on himself. 

I'm not sure my anger is appropriate here, but I've been in similar situations as this woman. If one of these people asked me for a conversation about their behaviour, I imagine being impressed/glad by them wanting to change but also feeling a bit like, 'You already made me feel shitty, and now it's my job to make sure you don't do this again?'. 

I think this is especially because the quoted sentence does not acknowledge the person much - even an addition of something like 

'If there’s anyone else whom I’ve ever made feel uncomfortable or pressured <<I'm deeply sorry and regretful this happened. I would like to make sure I never put anyone in that position again.>>" 

would have made me feel less bad about the phrasing. 

1
agunning
I think for this kind of sentiment you should ... make it clear that you don't expect to hear from everyone who's felt uncomfortable and this is fine? you'd just appreciate feedback? (I feel slightly weird about the sentence you wrote above in a "the optimal amount of making women uncomfortable is not zero" kind of a way. Like, in this case there should be clearly much less of it on the current margin, just... as the sort of person some women are going to be occasionally uncomfortable about for dumb reasons)
2[comment deleted]

Thanks Laura, I agree. It feels that whenever these incidents are brought to light, women must still take on a large part of the work in educating men on why/how their behaviour was bad. It is exhausting. 

Lorenzo Buonanno
Moderator Comment53
12
3

Hey everyone,

Note that there's also a statement from EV UK board, and there is some discussion in the comments there. We suggest centralizing the discussion there if you think a comment could be written on either post.

Edit: unpinning this comment because there are now several independent conversation threads on the two posts, with little overlap

JP Addison
Moderator Comment24
9
0

Another mod here. We think that discussion has not centralized there. That's ok — there are different flavors of conversation it kind of makes sense to have on these different posts. We've unpinned this comment.

I sense there is a lurking disagreement about whether what Owen did was clumsy or really bad and I guess that will make a lot of this pretty hard to discuss. 

My take is the action is quite bad, though its origins were in clumsiness. But people not intending to do harm can still do quite bad things. I have two theories as to what Owen even meant, one of which is much worse than the other, but both still result in the action itself being quite bad. 

One version is, Owen felt attracted to this women, her presence caused him to want to masturbate, and so his sharing this information meant (at least to him) "I am very sexually attracted to you and cannot treat you 'normally' until I have masturbated." This is truly appalling behavior, though I can understand why someone who is socially obtuse about these things might not realize the extent of its harm/its appalling nature. It's just this whole implication of "Frequently, I do not think of you in terms of your accomplishments or personality, but rather your looks and body. I indulge in my sexualization and objectification of you and am making little attempt to remedy that. I want you to know that I think of you sexually, and I will leave and think about your body as I go engage in this sexual act. Only after this will I be able to think of you as a full, fully fleshed out person with valu... (read more)

Do you think one can feel sexually aroused by a person while at the same time not objectifying that person / not reducing the person to their body / while thinking of them as a full person with value? Am surprised you seem to suggest this is not a possibility here, seems somewhat more plausible to me.

5
Tiresias
I think it is possible to find someone sexually attractive and not objectify them. But, I think it is hard for people (both men and women) to view women sexually without objectifying them. There are a few studies that demonstrate this, though I haven't seen a massive body of literature on this, which means I view these studies with some skepticism. Specifically, the studies will find that people can view sexual images of men without objectifying brain responses, but cannot do the same for women. Women are consistently objectified in a way men aren't when viewed in a sexual context. See this study, this other study by the same authors, this study, or this study. (There may be more studies on this; I spent a few minutes googling and reading abstracts based on a memory of a study press release I read some time ago). The issue here is not that people are sexually attracted to women, it's that this sexual/romantic attraction becomes the primary way they view the woman.  Sometimes when I bring up this trend (finding women sexually attractive often involves a high level of objectification, and this is harmful to women),  people's response is "It's natural/normal so it isn't a problem." But the behavior is harmful, and leads to systemic oppression. That it's extremely common and may be largely innate means it's more challenging to solve, not that we should not put effort into solving it. There are a few things I recommend men do to try to curb this behavior. (1) Try to notice when you are engaging in this behavior. That is, when you are speaking to/thinking of a woman and viewing her primary as a sexual/romantic option. (2) When you do notice it, try to reframe her in your mind, actively thinking of things like her professional accomplishments or personality. [This is going to be very difficult to do, and you will not be perfect at it.] (3) Do not talk about her to other people in an objectifying way, which (in the broad definition I'm using now), includes talking about

Thanks a lot for the elaboration, I appreciate that!

I don't have time to read into the literature right now, just very quickly responding to give you some impression of my thoughts and points of potential disagreements (which I haven't reflected on too much yet, so really interested in your responses):

  1. I spontaneously weigh the evidence of fMRI recordings of "objectification" very litte (my background is in cogsci and I worked a little with fMRI, though far from having any expertise, just general impressions of fMRI data being really hard to usefully connect to interesting psychological phenomena), but I agree there's definitely a "there" there where women's physical features are generally much more central in terms of what men find sexually attractive than for men's sexual attractiveness to women.
  2. I would not use the term "objectification" to also include thinking of a person as a potential romantic partner. That seems to invite misunderstandings and paint things that are predominantly very beautiful (having a crush) in a problematic way.
    1. (Definition from Wikipedia: "In social philosophy, objectification is the act of treating a person, as an object or a thing. It is part of dehumani
... (read more)

Your Phoebe example is interesting and not something I had considered much before. :) The idea that discussion about her romantic/appearance aspects could crowd out discussion of her personality or talents would make sense if we assume that the total amount of talk about Phoebe versus the other man is the same. In practice, I suspect that if someone has a crush on Phoebe, he'll talk about her way more than the other man to his friends, including about both romantic/appearance and personality/talent attributes. One might even expect Phoebe to get an advantage relative to the other man due to this.

A number of female political commentators and celebrity female politicians are unusually attractive, and this is probably because their appearance makes people more interested in all aspects of them, including their intellectual/policy contributions. The main unfairness here would then be to crowd out the less attractive women and men whose work is of equal quality.

3
Tiresias
We can maybe think through this with real life examples. If you have a friend who has a minor crush on someone they met once/twice, and you don't know that person, what is the primary thing you think about them? What category do you put them in?
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Brian_Tomasik
Ok. :) If the crush isn't an EA, I probably would mainly think of her as "my friend's crush", though with some curiosity about her career and other attributes. If the crush is an EA, I would be more curious about the other aspects of her (such as wondering what field she works in), though you're right that "my friend's crush" would still be a main way to think of her until I learned more. What I was getting at with my comment was that even merely being a friend's crush can increase the salience of the person in general, making it more likely I would learn more information about her, including her personality and career pursuits. So my total amount of knowledge about her achievements would be higher than otherwise. And in some cases, people who started out interested in someone for superficial reasons may come to be primarily interested in the less superficial parts. TV Tropes gives this example: Traditionally, this is even how many people approach dating: starting with superficial attraction to someone and then coming to like them on a deeper level. (Personally I think that if you ultimately want the deeper level in a relationship, it's better to directly search for someone who is a good match in that regard. But this is a bit of a tangent.) Of course, there will be some people who only ever notice the superficial level and don't explore deeper, but I still think the total amount of deeper knowledge about something tends to be higher when there's more superficial attention to it. There might be some exceptions where if something is perceived as too gaudy, then serious thinkers may be deterred from engaging with it to avoid appearing low-brow. For example, PETA's old marketing tactics using nudity might make some elites less likely to engage with animal-rights philosophy for fear of appearing unserious.

so his sharing this information meant (at least to him) "I am very sexually attracted to you and cannot treat you 'normally' until I have masturbated." This is truly appalling behavior, though I can understand why someone who is socially obtuse about these things might not realize the extent of its harm/its appalling nature.

I feel pretty scared to say this. 

I think some people might read this not in the context of this case, but in general, that you can never talk to your consenting friends about sex. That isn't the case. Many people do, and it's usually fine. 

What made this bad was a repeated pattern of upsetting people, not thinking about the fact that she was alone in his house, in a foreign country and that they didn't understand one another's boundaries well. And perhaps that he had a lot of soft power in general, though I find that harder to parse.

But to those reading who aren't in those situations who have friends with whom they sometimes talk about sex, that's fine. If you feel uncertain - just ask if someone is comfortable talking about it in a way they can say no to. 

I don’t think we have nearly enough infortmation to make conclusions like the ones you’re making here.

For example, we have no idea what sort of exchanges the parties had previously. We do know, from the OP, that this wasn’t a comment made to a stranger, which would be considerably worse - their relationship was established, was “unusually direct and honest”, including talking about sexual things and “oversharing”. For all we know the first person to make a sexual comment might have been the woman in question, thus setting the tone for him to make his comment. I think that would be a significant mitigating factor in how “bad” Owen’s actions were (ie could be reasonably have expected the comment he made to be in keeping with the tone of the relationship they already had).

This needn’t excuse making someone else feel uncomfortable, but the context of which we have no knowledge is hugely important in establishing just how bad an infraction this was.

1
Tiresias
This may be nitpicky about your word choice, but my original comment is framed outright as speculation as to what Owen meant, so I'm not making conclusions.  But, as I state later in the original comment, what Owen meant by the comment is not the biggest factor in this situation. The comment has an ambiguous meaning and that ambiguity might lead the women to think he meant (or has some chance of meaning) the first version of what I laid out. The details of their relationship Owen shared in his statement do not make me think he had a good reason for thinking this was an appropriate statement. Even if they have a history of oversharing (which she may have felt pressured to do with him in the first place), it's still not clear whether this is oversharing or a statement of the first type that I described. Both are versions of the meaning I posited involve "oversharing," it's just that the second version of what I posited had a meaning that more more "merely oversharing" rather than also having all this other implication laid into it.

hmmm
my feeling is
-in general I'm pro erring on the side of deferring to the people affected, there's likely a lot of information missing

- i feel like there's a benefit to a norm of 'if people are obeying the letter of the law/widely agreed community norms and acting in good faith we should try to make them feel assured they'll be left to their private lives and can work through their dumb mistakes on their own'

if we're deciding this merits an intervention we should decide what the community norm violated should be, because this does seem to be good faith
 

Since I expect some people to be a bit confused as to what exactly was the bad thing that has happened after reading this post, I think it would be great if the community health team could write a post explaining and pointing out exactly what was bad here and in other similar instances.

I think there is value in being crystal clear about what were the bad things that happened because I expect people will takeaway different things from this post.

Since noone else has, I'll try, downvote if you think this isn't worth reading. The badness is broken up into a number of different factors.

Most interactions don't lead to upset. So If we trust Owen's narrative, then he misread social cues in a way that upset his accuser by talking about masturbation when she didn't want to and so upset her. If you are a consequentialist, upsetting people is bad. If you are a deontologist, not taking time to understand boundaries such that you overstep them is bad.

If we trust his account, which I guess I do, they had talked about this kind of thing before. But she still didn't want to and she is still upset about it 5 years later. This caused harm and so was an error.

If there was nothing else at play I guess personally I think this was a bit bad. Worth sitting down and evaluating how one communicates. I think some men you know will have done something like this (though I think it was avoidable and that the costs weren't worth it). I imagine there is disagreement on his bad this is. I guess some of those reading this aren't thinking "will I talk about sex despite not wanting to" but instead "will I be as upset as this woman is. I'd like to avoid th... (read more)

I'm not sure if this is actually a point of disagreement, but just to be clear:

Next, the woman in question was staying at his house in a foreign country. And she knew that he had the ability to recommend her for jobs and (I sense) figured that he was important to have on her side. This seems to be why Owen thinks she went along with it. Owen was pretty well respected in EA even then, right?

If there was nothing else at play I guess I'm somewhere between a more than a bit bad and very bad.

I think the "if there was nothing else at play" is doing a lot of work here.

My view is that choosing to offer his room and confirming this with the hiring organization first, instead of checking in with the friend first about the situation and asking her what she options she would feel most comfortable with first, while this was being arranged on the day of her flight rings serious alarm bells to me, and suggests a significant lapse in professional judgement, awareness of power dynamics and a lack of empathy to his friend (or at least poorly communicated).

I'm not excluding the scenario that she in fact was given multiple options and had a fair chance to consider these options and the opportunity to ... (read more)

1
Nathan Young
Mostly seems fair. The only things I'd say is that I don't personally think he needed to publicly apologise for this thing 5 years ago. But I want to know if there is stuff that's much more recent and what he's done to break the pattern. I think CH has done worse there for not reporting it to the board. On supporting Owen Vs the accuser I think that there is some right amount to support each and I'm comparing to that. Though that said it's not clear to me that I should support the accuser loads more because she's the accuser. I guess I should a bit to account for bias, but mainly I should be supportive because she is mostly harmed and he has a pattern of this behaviour.
3
ChristianKleineidam
To me, Owen's post reads like he didn't notice at the time that he upset her. Owen writes: "She was in a structural position where it was (I now believe) unreasonable to expect honesty about her experience". It's unclear how long it took for Owen to know how uncomfortable he made her. 
2
Nathan Young
Rereading this, I sense that also, if none of the other cases were junior community members (say only involved for a year or 2) I'd would feel Owen's actions less bad overall.
1
Tiresias
I get the impression you are trying hard to do good here, and I appreciate that. I also find this comment extremely disheartening, as even a thoughtful attempt to try to work through the harm of this behavior minimizes the harm and leaves out a big portion of the harm. I'm guessing many, many others in EA share a similar perspective to you, and that is just bumming me out right now. I love so many parts of EA, but I'm being reminded about how, as a women, my entire existence will be swimming uphill against these sorts of perspectives. It's demoralizing to me, and even though I found the original TIME piece to be extremely uncharitable, I also newly believe that oppressive perspectives about gender and a failure to recognize these perspectives is a major contributor to why the gender ratio is so imbalanced.  I'm not saying you in particular are bad here, or that you are particularly bad. I see that you are being very thoughtful and trying to work through this. It's just disheartening to see someone who is so thoughtful and operating in good faith still continue -- in my view -- to get it wrong. I know that this is inevitable in communities, but I also do not enjoy the process of going up against this sort of thing. My impulse is just to go seek refuge and security in a group that understands this sort of thing more, likely a group of mostly women.  For my explanation (though I could've gone into more detail) about the harm done, see this comment I made in reply to another one of your comments. This is a pretty emotional comment, and I'm not sharing to make you feel bad or anything. Or even to say that you're wrong to share your explanation. I'm sharing my emotional response to your comment to help people imagine what is maybe a cause for the gender imbalance/women feeling demoralized about EA.

Yeah as an extroverted male reading this makes me wonder if I'm supposed to be threatmodeling that I'll be promoted and gain movement power some day? Because being around for longer than someone else is informal power (?) and I'm responsible for futures in which that becomes formal power?

Everyone is confused and there's not a clear takeaway, IMO. 

I don't think the only reason the women felt uncomfortable here is because of power dynamics. The power dynamics just made the situation much worse. But you should generally try to avoid making people uncomfortable, particularly in a way that touches on their membership in part of a marginalized group. 

So, one way I think all men, not just those in power, should modify their behavior is to refrain from making sexual comments. Especially with people you don't know well yet. If you know someone quite well, and they seem to be making these comments themselves, and you have a level of trust and security with each other, you can be much more open with what you talk about. But for people you don't know that well, for people who haven't initiated this sort of thing themselves, just don't make sexual comments. 

2
Nathan Young
I think he was relatively well known and respected in a much smaller community 5 years ago. So I think it's a bit different. But if you have power over job apps and someone stays at your house without any other options, yeah, probably be more careful.
-25
Jgray

For the times when I have been done wrong to, I would have been really happy if the injuring party had been as reflective, genuinely self-critical and (from what I can see) steadfast in trying to do better as you are.

From what I can tell, you didn't have to "out" yourself for this. I respect the move to do this and to make amends and doing so (from what it seems) with the person you wronged. It's impressive that (from what it seems) they're keen to see things put right and giving you some support in this regard (if only fact checking this post).

I've more often felt like the younger woman in this scenario did. But the depths of your reflections Owen are leading me to think more critically about how I can be careless / flippant from my relative position of power and how that would make others feel.

Whether someone has had a big fuck up or minor infractions, I think this stuff is life long learning. There is no simple algorithm (though some guidelines, always evolving); diversity of people and emotional world's mean that it's just hard work to understand other people better, and not become complacent or over-confident when you think you're doing is well or dismissive and derisive if you're dismayed by lack of success.

From what I can tell, you didn't have to "out" yourself for this.

This might not be true. Effective Ventures's statement on the matter says that they were informed of this by Julia Wise, so at least they knew, and it's possible that someone would have outed him more publicly had he not done so himself.

Right, I think it would have been perilous for the board not to remove Owen with a statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission already underway.

So looking at the set of polls I wrote, what would the community have had happen here? Seemingly on net we don't think that people should publicly report immediately or that behaviour like this is instant disqualification. I guess many believe Owen acted wrongly, but there is little agreement afterwards.

In short, I'm confused as to what agreed ideal behaviour was here, beyond not making this woman uncomfortable in the first place.

Also, there seems to be a big difference between the two accounts of this event. In the accusers account it is clearly awful and Owen has a lot power over her and women like her. In Owen's account they previously know one another, it's unclear why she ends up staying with him and he has little power over her job.

Seems underrated how different those are.

I would not conflate "the accuser's account" with "the account of the Times article".

My best guess is that the author heavily cherry-picked statements by the accuser and set up context to make things seem maximally scandalous. Indeed, the Times article really doesn't score highly on accuracy, and this post seems to corroborate that.

I think the perspectives might still differ a lot, but we don't know, we only have info through a highly filtered lens of the times article, which I would not treat as a reliable source about anyone's sentiments.

I'm not sure the accounts actually are that different. The only statement in the article that owen said was false was that he wasn't an official recruiter at the time. However, if we look at the statements:

  • My role didn’t develop to connecting people with different positions until later, and this wasn’t part of my self-conception at the time
  • (However it makes sense to me that this was her perception)

This implies that while he wasn't officially a recruiter, it was reasonable for her to think that he was. It's plausible to me that he was playing the role unofficially at the time, but thought he was just helping out friends with recommendations. He did confirm that he "suggested her as a candidate" and had "signficant power". 

I think some of the context was flattened in the editing of the times article, but I don't see any contradictions between the accounts. 

3
Guy Raveh
Doesn't seem like a big difference to me.
8
Guy Raveh
I think on the first report, how far this needs to go depends on the person who was harassed. It's ok not to require a public apology and it's ok not to want the accused to lose their job (although it's also ok to want the opposite!). But after Wise became aware of more cases, he should have been removed from the board. Personally I think he should have also apologized publicly (like he now did), but I find this less important.