- Leverage Research has now existed for over 7.5 years1
- Since 2011, it has consumed over 100 person-years of human capital.
- From 2012-16, Leverage Research spent $2.02 million, and the associated Institute for Philosophical Research spent $310k.23
Some of the larger outputs of Leverage Research include:
- Work on Connection Theory: although this does not include the initial creation of the theory itself, which was done by Geoff Anders prior to founding Leverage Research
- Contributions to productivity of altruists via the application of psychological theories including Connection Theory
- Intellectual contributions to the effective altruism community: including early work on cause prioritisation and risks to the movement.
- Intellectual contributions to the rationality community: including CFAR’s class on goal factoring
- The EA Summits in 2013-14: The EA summit is a precursor to EA Global, which is being revived in 2018
Its website also has seven blog posts.4
- Leverage Research previous organized the Pareto Fellowship in collaboration with another effective altruism organization. According to one attendee, Leverage staff were secretly discussing attendees using an individual Slack channel for each.
- Leverage Research has provided psychology consulting services using Connection Theory, leading it to obtain mind-maps of a substantial fraction of its prospective staff and donors, based on reports from prospective staff and donors.
- The leadership of Leverage Research have on multiple occasions overstated their rate of staff growth by more than double, in personal conversation.
- Leverage Research sends staff to effective altruism organizations to recruit specific lists of people from the effective altruism community, as is apparent from discussions with and observation of Leverage Research staff at these events.
- Leverage Research has spread negative information about organisations and leaders that would compete for EA talent.
- The website of Leverage Research has been excluded from the Wayback Machine5
- Leverage Research has had a strategy of using multiple organizations to tailor conversations to the topics of interest to different donors.
- Leverage Research had longstanding plans to replace Leverage Research with one or more new organizations if the reputational costs of the name Leverage Research ever become too severe. A substantial number of staff of Paradigm Academy were previously staff of Leverage Research.
Readers are encouraged to add additional facts known about Leverage Research in the comments section, especially where these can be supported by citation, or direct conversational evidence.
[My views only]
Although few materials remain from the early days of Leverage (I am confident they acted to remove themselves from wayback, as other sites link to wayback versions of their old documents which now 404), there are some interesting remnants:
I think this material (and the surprising absence of material since) speaks for itself - although I might write more later anyway.
Per other comments, I'm also excited by the plan of greater transparency from Leverage. I'm particularly eager to find out whether they still work on Connection Theory (and what the current theory is), whether they addressed any of the criticism (e.g. 1, 2) levelled at CT years ago, whether the further evidence and argument mentioned as forthcoming in early documents and comment threads will materialise, and generally what research (on CT or anything else) have they done in the last several years, and when this will be made public.
An article in Splinter News was released few days ago, showing leaked emails where Jonah Bennett, a former Leverage employee who is now editor-in-chief for Palladium Magazine (LinkedIn ), was involved with a white nationalist email list, where he among other things made anti-Semetic jokes about a holocaust survivor, says he "always has illuminating conversations with Richard Spencer", and complained about someone being "pro-West before being pro-white/super far-right".
I have 35 mutual friends with this guy on Facebook, mostly EAs. This makes me think that while at Leverage he interacted a reasonable amount with the EA community. (Obviously, I expect my EA mutual friends to react with revulsion to this stuff.)
Bennett denies this connection; he says he was trying to make friends with these white nationalists in order to get information on them and white nationalism. I think it's plausible that this is somewhat true. In particular, I'd not be that surprised if Bennett is not a fan of Hitler, and if he said racist jokes more to fit in. But I'd be pretty surprised if it turned out that he didn't have endorsed explicitly racist views--this seems ... (read more)
"Leverage" seems to have employed at least 60 people at some time or another in different capacities. I've known several (maybe met around 15 or so), and the ones I've interacted with often seemed like pretty typical EAs/rationalists. I got the sense that there may have been few people there interested in the neoreactionary movement, but also got the impression the majority really weren't.
I just want to flag that I really wouldn't want EAs generally think that "people who worked at Leverage are pretty likely to be racist," because this seems quite untrue and quite damaging. I don't have much information about the complex situation that represents Leverage, but I do think that the sum of the people ever employed by them still holds a lot of potential. I'd really not want them to get or feel isolated from the rest of the community.
Ok actually I just reread this comment and now I think that the thing you quoted me as saying is way too strong. I am confused by why I wrote that.
Yep, understood, and thanks for clarifying in the above comment. I wasn't thinking you thought many of them were racist, but did think that at least a few readers may have gotten that impression from the piece.
There isn't too much public discussion on this topic and some people have pretty strong feelings on Leverage, so sadly sometimes the wording and details matter more than they probably should.
Yeah, I don't think that people who worked at Leverage are pretty likely to be racist.
Hi Buck, Ozzie and Greg,
I thought I’d just add some data from my own experience.
For context, I’ve been heavily involved in the EA community, most recently running CEA. After I left CEA, I spent the summer researching what to do next and recently decided to join the Leverage Research team. I’m speaking personally here, not on behalf of Leverage.
I wanted to second Ozzie’s comment. My personal experience at least is that I’ve found the Leverage and Paradigm teams really welcoming.
They do employ people with a wide range of political views with the idea that it helps research progress to have a diversity of viewpoints. Sometimes this means looking at difficult topics and I’ve sometimes found it uncomfortable to try and challenge why I hold different viewpoints but I’ve always found that the focus is on understanding ideas and the attitude to the individual people one of deep respect. I’ve found this refreshing.
I wanted to thank Ozzie for posting this in part because I noticed reticence in myself to saying anything because my experience with conversations about Leverage is that they can get weird and personal quite fast. I know people who’ve posted positive things about Leverage on the E... (read more)
I'd be eager to see anything that speaks to Leverage's past or present research activity: what have they been trying to find out, what have they achieved, and what are they aiming for at the moment (cf).
As you know from our previous conversations re. Leverage, I'm fairly indifferent to 'they're shady!' complaints (I think if people have evidence of significant wrongdoing, they should come forward rather than briefing adversely off the record), but much less so to the concern that Leverage has an has achieved extraordinarily little for an organisation with multiple full-time staff working for the better part of a decade. Showing something like, "Ah, but see! We've done all these things," or, "Yeah, 2012-6 was a bit of a write-off, but here's the progress we've made since", would hopefully reassure, but in any case be informative for people who would like to have a view on leverage independent of which rumour mill they happen to end up near.
Other things I'd be interested to hear about is what you are planning to work on at Leverage, and what information you investigated which - I assume - leads to a much more positive impression of Leverage than I take the public evidence to suggest.
Thanks for the message and for engaging at the level of what has Leverage achieved and what is it doing. The tone of your reply made me more comfortable in replying and more interested in sharing things about their work so thank you!
Leverage are currently working on a series of posts that are aimed at covering what has been happening at Leverage from its inception in 2011 up until a recent restructure this year. I expect this series to cover what Leverage and associated organisations were working on and what they achieved. This means that I expect Leverage to answer all of your questions in a lot more depth in the future. However, I understand that people have been waiting a long time for us to be more transparent so below I have written out some more informal answers to your questions from my understanding of Leverage to help in the meantime.
Another good way to get a quick overview of the kinds of things Leverage has been working on beyond my notes below is by checking out this survey that we recently sent to workshop participants. It’s designed for people who’ve engaged directly with our content so it won’t be that relevant for people to fill in necessarily but it gives ... (read more)
Did this series end up being published?
Just wanted to say I super appreciated this writeup.
Thanks Raemon :-) I'm glad it was helpful.
Thanks Larissa - the offer to write up posts from Leverage Research is a generous offer. Might it not be a more efficient use of your time, though, to instead answer questions about Leverage the public domain, many of which are fairly straightforward?
For example, you mention that Leverage is welcoming to new staff. This sounds positive - at the same time, the way Leverage treated incoming staff is one of the main kinds of fact discussed in the top-level post. Is it still true that: (i) staff still discuss recruitees on individual slack channels, (ii) mind-mapping is still used during recruitment of staff, (iii) growth-rates are overestimated, (iv) specific lists of attendees are recruited from EA events, and (v) negative rumours are still spread about other organizations that might compete for similar talent? To the extent that you are not sure about (i-v), it would be interested to know whether you raised those concerns with Geoff in the hiring process, before joining the organization.
For other questions raised by the top-level post: (a) are Leverage's outputs truly as they appear? (b) Is its consumption of financial resources and talent, as it appears? (c) Has it truly gone... (read more)
I’d like to do two things with my reply here.
1. ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS
I’d recommend first reading my recent reply to Greg because this will give you a lot of relevant context and answers some of your questions.
Questions a, b and d: outputs, resources and future impact
In terms of questions a, b and d, I will note the same thing as I said in my reply to Greg which is that we’re currently working both on a retrospective of the last eight and a half years of Leverage and on updating Leverage’s existing website. I think these posts and updates will then allow individuals to assess for themselves
For now, though sections “What did Leverage 1.0 work on?” and “What is Leverage doing now” in my reply to Greg... (read more)
I imagine most people have made up their minds by now, but there is now a first-person account from one of the former employees of Leverage 1.0, with some attendant discussion on LessWrong.
So, after I read this comment I left thinking that Reserve performed exceptionally poorly, but it seems that almost all cryptocurrencies have gone down about the same amount since June 19th (the time of Reserve's launch, from what I can tell). Here are some random currencies that I clicked on, on the coinmarketcap website that you linked. This is a comprehensive list, so I report the price change since June 19th for every currency that I looked at:
You are also incorrect that Bitcoin has returned 1% over the same time period. On June 19th, the price of Bitcoin was $9273, and it now is $8027. So while you are correct that Bitcoin went down significantly less than Reserve, it performed drastically better than almost all other cryptocurrencies, and still went down by about 13%.
I don't think Reserve is overall a super great idea, but I think the statistics you cited seem misleading to me, and it seems that Reserve overall is performing similarly to the rest of the non-Bitcoin crypto-market.
Reserve Rights was floated on May 24 according to CoinMarketCap, at which time Bitcoin was worth $7800-$7950, and it is now worth the same amount, so the error must be either with you, or with CoinMarketCap.
I also don't know much about it, but I think Reserve includes a couple of coins. 'Reserve Rights' is not intended to be a stablecoin (I think it is meant to perform some function for the stablecoin system, but I'm ignorant of what it is), whilst 'Reserve', yet to be released, is meant to be stable.
Your initial impression was correct. Reserve has entered a terrible market and managed to perform substantially worse than its terrible competitors. Since May 24, when Reserve Rights was priced:
Three years later, a similar post with some more details about Leverage's internal management processes, and an update from Leverage here.
I was interviewed by Peter Buckley and Tyler Alterman when I applied for the Pareto fellowship. It was one of the strangest, most uncomfortable experiences I've had over several years of being involved in EA. I'm posting this from notes I took right after the call, so I am confident that I remember this accurately.
The first question asked about what I would do if Peter Singer presented me with a great argument for doing an effective thing that's socially unacceptable. The argument was left as an unspecified black box.
Next, for about 25 minutes, they taught me the technique of "belief reporting". (See some information here and here). They made me try it out live on the call, for example by making me do "sentence completion". This made me feel extremely uncomfortable. It seemed like unscientific, crackpot psychology. It was the sort of thing you'd expect from a New Age group or Scientology.
In the second part of the interview (30 minutes?), I was asked to verbalise what my system one believes will happen in the future of humanity. They asked me to just speak freely without thinking, even if it sounds incoherent. Again it felt extremely cultish. I expected this to l... (read more)
I had an interview with them under the same circumstances and also had the belief reporting trial. (I forget if I had the Peter Singer question.) I can confirm that it was supremely disconcerting.
At the very least, it's insensitive - they were asking for a huge amount of vulnerability and trust in a situation where we both knew I was trying to impress them in a professional context. I sort of understand why that exercise might have seemed like a good idea, but I really hope nobody does this in interviews anymore.
Note: I was previously CEO of CEA, but stepped down from that role about 9 months ago.
I've long been confused about the reputation Leverage has in the EA community. After hearing lots of conflicting reports, both extremely positive and negative, I decided to investigate a little myself. As a result, I've had multiple conversations with Geoff, and attended a training weekend run by Paradigm. I can understand why many people get a poor impression, and question the validity of their early stage research. I think that in the past, Leverage has done a poor job communicating their mission, and relationship to the EA movement. I'd like to see Leverage continue to improve transparency, and am pleased with Geoff's comments below.
Despite some initial hesitation, I found the Paradigm training I attended surprisingly useful, perhaps even more so than the CFAR workshop I attended. The workshop was competently run, and content was delivered in a polished fashion. I didn't go in expecting the content to be scientifically rigorous, most self improvement content isn't. It was fun, engaging, and useful enough to justify the time spent.
Paradigm is now running the EA summit. I know Mindy and Peter,... (read more)
Found this surprising given the positive valence of the rest of the comment. Could you expand a little on why you don't think Leverage et al. are a good use of time/money?
I think their approach is highly speculative, even if you were to agree with their overall plan. I think Leverage has contributed to EA in the past, and I expect them to continue doing so, but this alone isn't enough to make them a better donation target than orgs like CEA or 80K.
I'm glad they exist, and hope they continue to exist, I just don't think Leverage or Paradigm are the most effective things I could be doing with my money or time. I feel similarly about CFAR. Supporting movement building and long-termism is already meta enough for me.
Interesting. I don't usually conflate "good use" with "most effective use."
Seems like "not a good use" means something like "this project shouldn't be associated with EA."
Whereas "not the most effective use" means something like "this project isn't my best-guess about how to do good, but it's okay to be associated with EA."
Perhaps this is just semantics, but I'm genuinely not sure which sense you intend.
CEA appears as a "participating organisation" of the EA Summit. What does this mean? Does CEA endorse paradigm academy?
Evan, thank you for these comments here. I just wanted to register, in case it's at all useful, that I find it a bit difficult to understand your posts sometimes. It struck me that shorter and simpler sentences would probably make this easier for me. But I may be totally ideosyncratic here (English isn't my first language), so do ignore this if it doesn't strike you as useful.
CEA is not involved in the organizing of the conference, but we support efforts to build the EA community. One of our staff will be speaking at the event.
I'd like to start off by apologizing. I realize that it has been hard to understand what Leverage has been doing, and I think that that's my fault. Last month Kerry Vaughan convinced me that I needed a new approach to PR and public engagement, and so I've been thinking about what to write and say about this. My plan, apart from the post here, was to post something over the next month. So I'll give a brief response to the points here and then make a longer main post early next week [UPDATE: see 2nd edit below].
(1) I'm sorry for the lack of transparency and public engagement. We did a lot more of this in 2011-2012, but did not really succeed in getting people to understand us. After that, I decided we should just focus on our research. I think people expect more public engagement, even very early in the research process, and that I did not understand this.
(2) We do not consider ourselves an EA organization. We do not solicit funds from individual EAs. Instead, we are EA-friendly, in that (a) we employ many EAs, (b) we let people run EA projects, and (c) we contribute to EA causes, especially EA movement building. As noted in the post, we ran the E... (read more)
Hi Geoff. I gave this a little thought and I am not sure it works. In fact it looks quite plausible that someone's EV (expected value) calculation on Leverage might actually come out as negative (ie. Leverage would be causing harm to the world).
This is because:
Most EA orgs calculate their counterfactual expected value by taking into account what the people in that organisation would be doing otherwise if they were not in that organisation and then deduct this from their impact. (I believe at least 80K, Charity Science and EA London do this)
Given Leverage's tendency to hire ambitious altruistic people and to look for people at EA events it is plausible that a significant proportion of Leverage staff might well have ended up at other EA organisations.
There is a talent gap at other EA organisations (see 80K on this)
Leverage does spend some time on movement building but I estimate that this is a tiny proportion of the time, >5%, best guess 3%, (based on having talked to people
Could you comment specifically on the Wayback Machine exclusion? Thanks!
(1) founded THINK, the first EA student group network
(2) ran the EA Summit 2013, the first large EA conference (video)
(3) ran the EA Summit 2014
(4) ran the EA Retreat 2014, the first weeklong retreat for EA leaders
(5) handed off the EA Summit series to CEA; CEA renamed it EA Global
(6) helped out operationally with EA Global 2015.
Did you end up posting anything on this subject?
In reading this I'm confused about the relationship between Paradigm and Leverage. People in this thread (well, mostly Evan) seem to be talking about them as if Leverage incubated Paradigm but the two are now fully separate. My understanding, however, was that the two organizations function more like two branches of a single entity? I don't have a full picture or anything, but I thought you ran both organizations, staff of both mostly live at Leverage, people move freely between the two as needed by projects, and what happens under each organization is more a matter of strategy than separate direction?
By analogy, I had thought the relationship of Leverage to Paradigm was much more like CEA vs GWWC (two brands of the same organization) or even CEA UK vs CEA USA (two organizations acting together as one brand) than CEA vs ACE (one organization that spun off another one, which is now operates entirely independently with no overlap of staff etc).
Sure, happy to try to clarify. I run both Leverage and Paradigm. Leverage is a non-profit and focuses on research. Paradigm is a for-profit and focuses on training and project incubation. The people in both organizations closely coordinate. My current expectation is that I will eventually hand Leverage off while working to keep the people on both projects working together.
I think this means we’re similar to MIRI/CFAR. They started with a single organization which led to the creation of a new organization. Over time, their organizations came to be under distinct leadership, while still closely coordinating.
To understand Leverage and Paradigm, it’s also important to note that we are much more decentralized than most organizations. We grant members of our teams substantial autonomy in both determining their day-to-day work and with regard to starting new projects.
On residence, new hires typically live at our main building for a few months to give them a place to land and then move out. Currently less than 1/3 of the total staff live on-site.
Thanks for clarifying!
Two takeaways for me:
Use of both the "Paradigm" and "Leverage" names isn't a reputational dodge, contra throwaway in the original post. The two groups focus on different work and are in the process of fully dividing.
People using what they know about Leverage to inform their views of Paradigm is reasonable given their level of overlap in staff and culture, contra Evan here and here.
The reason for posting these facts now is that as of the time of writing, Leverage's successor, the Paradigm Academy is seeking to host the EA Summit in one week. The hope is that these facts would firstly help to inform effective altruists on the matter of whether they would be well-advised to attend, and secondly, what approach they may want to take if they do attend.
Leverage Research has recruited from the EA community using mind-maps and other psychological techniques, obtaining dozens of years of work, but doing little apparent good. As a result, the author views it as inadvisable for EAs to engage with Leverage Research and its successor, Paradigm Academy. Rather, they should seek the advice of mentors outside of the Leverage orbit before deciding to attend such an event. Based on past events such as the Pareto Fellowship, invitees who ultimately decide to attend would be well-advised to be cautious about recruitment, by keeping in touch with friends and mentors throughout.
I think this would be more useful as part of the main post than as a comment.
See Geoff's reply to me below: Paradigm and Leverage will at some point be separate, but right now they're closely related (both under Geoff etc). I think it's reasonable for people to use Leverage's history and track record in evaluating Paradigm.
Good day all,
Can anyone please provide an example of a tangible output from this 'research organization' of the sort EA generally recognize and encourage?
Any rationale or consideration as to how association with such opaque groups does anything other than seriously undermine EA's mission statement would also be appreciated.
I honestly don't get all this stuff about not publishing your work. Time to brag, boy will I get shit on for this comment, but it's really relevant to the issue here: I never even had a minor in the subject, but when I had a good philosophical argument I got it published in a journal, and it wasn't that hard. Peer reviewed, not predatory, went through three rounds of revisions. Not a prestigious journal by any stretch of the imagination, but it proves that I knew what I was doing, which is good enough. You think that peer review is bullshit, fine: that mea... (read more)
Just a note. I think this might be a bit missleading. Geoff, and other members of Leverage research taught a version of goal factoring at some early CFAR workshops. And Leverage did develop a version of goal factoring inspired by CT. But my understanding is that CFAR staff independently developed goal factoring (starting from an attempt to teach applied consequentialism), and this is an instance of parallel development.
[I work for CFAR, though I had not yet joined the EA or rationality community in those early days. I am reporting what other longstanding CFAR staff told me.]
Thanks for making this post, it was long overdue.
Just to add a bit of info: I helped with THINK when I was a college student. It wasn't the most effective strategy (largely, it was founded before we knew people would coalesce so strongly into the EA identity, and we didn't predict that), but Leverage's involvement with it was professional and thoughtful. I didn't get any vibes of cultishness from my time with THINK, though I did find Connection Theory a bit weird and not very useful when I learned about it.
I don't think this is accurate. (Please excuse the lack of engagement with anything else here; I'm just skimming some of it for now but I did notice this.)
[Edit: Unless you meant EA Funds (rather than Effective Altruism Foundation, as I read it)?]
That one is accurate.
Also "incubees" is my new favourite word.
There's a big difference between feeling cultlike, as in "weird", "disorienting", "bizarre" etc, and exhibiting the epistemic flaws of a cult, as in having people be afraid to disagree with the thought leader, a disproportionate reverence for a single idea or corpus, the excommunication of dissenters, the application of one idea or corpus to explain everything in the world, instinctively explaining away all possible counterarguments, refusal to look seriously at outside ideas, and so on.
If you could provide any sanitized, abstracted details to indicate that the latter is going on rather than merely the former, then it would go a long way towards indicating that LR is contrary to the goal of well-calibrated beliefs and open-mindedness.
See Geoff's reply to me above: Paradigm and Leverage will at some point be separate, but right now they're closely related (both under Geoff etc). I don't think viewing them as separate organizations, where learning something about Leverage should not much affect your view of Paradigm, makes sense, at least not yet.
Some participants of the Pareto fellowship have told me that Leverage resembles a cult. I can't remember many specifics. One thing is that the main guy (Geoff Anders?) thinks, 100% in earnest, that he's the greatest philosopher who's ever lived.
I'm confused: the comments on Less Wrong you'd see by "person" and "personN" that were the same person happened when importing from Overcoming Bias. That wouldn't be happening here.
They might still be the same person, but I don't think this forum being descended from LessWrong's code tells us things one way or the other.
About two years have now passed since the post. Main updates:
Given by their own admission in a comment response to their original post, the author of this post is providing these facts so effective altruists can make an informed decision regarding potentially attending the 2018 EA Summit, with the expectation these facts can or will discourage EAs from attending the EA Summit, it’s unclear how these facts are relevant information.
In particular, no calculation or citation is provided for the
It might be worthwhile to have some sort of flag or content warning for potentially controversial posts like this.
On the other hand, this could be misused by people who dislike the EA movement, who could use it as a search parameter to find and "signal-boost" content that looks bad when taken out of context.
What are the benefits of this suggestion?
This is a romp through meadows of daisies and sunflowers compared to what real Internet drama looks like. It's perfectly healthy for a bunch of people to report on their negative experiences and debate the effectiveness of an organization. It will only look controversial if you frame it as controversial; people will only think it is a big deal if you act like it is a big deal.