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This is a cross-post and you can see the original here, written in 2022. I am not the original author, but I thought it was good for more EAs to know about this. 

I am posting anonymously for obvious reasons, but I am a longstanding EA who is concerned about Torres's effects on our community. 

An incomplete summary

Introduction

 

This post compiles evidence that Émile P. Torres, a philosophy student at Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany, has a long pattern of concerning behavior, which includes gross distortion and falsification, persistent harassment, and the creation of fake identities.

Note: Since Torres has recently claimed that they have been the target of threats from anonymous accounts, I would like to state that I condemn any threatening behavior in the strongest terms possible, and that I have never contacted Torres or posted anything about Torres other than in this Substack or my Twitter account. I have no idea who is behind these accounts.

To respect Torres's privacy and identity, I have also omitted their first name from the screenshots and replaced their previous first name with 'Émile'.

Table of contents

Introduction

My story

Stalking and harassment

Peter Boghossian

Helen Pluckrose

Demonstrable falsehoods and gross distortions

“Forcible” removal

“Researcher at CSER”

Giving What We Can

Brief digression on effective altruism

More falsehoods and distortions

Hilary Greaves

Andreas Mogensen

Nick Beckstead

Tyler Cowen

Olle Häggström

Sockpuppetry

“Alex Williams”

Conclusion

My story

Before I discuss Torres’s behavior, I will provide some background about myself and my association with effective altruism (EA).  I hope this information will help readers decide what biases I may have and subject my arguments to the appropriate degree of critical scrutiny.

I first heard about EA upon attending Aaron Swartz’s memorial in January 2013.  One of the speakers at that event was Holden Karnofsky, co-founder of GiveWell, a charity evaluator for which Aaron had volunteered.  Karnofsky described Aaron as someone who “believed in trying to maximize the good he accomplished with each minute he had.” I resonated with that phrase, and in conversation with some friends after the memorial, I learned that Aaron’s approach, and GiveWell’s, were examples of what was, at the time, a new movement called “effective altruism.”

Despite my sympathy for EA, I never got very involved with it, due to a combination of introversion and the sense that I hadn't much to offer.  I have donated a small fraction of my income to the Against Malaria Foundation for the last nine years, but I have never taken the Giving What We Can pledge, participated in a local EA group, or volunteered or worked for an EA organization.  

I decided to write this article after a friend forwarded me one of Torres’s critical pieces on longtermism.  I knew enough about this movement –– which emerged out of EA –– to quickly identify some falsehoods and misrepresentations in Torres’s polemic.  So I was surprised to find, when I checked the comments on Twitter, that no one else was pointing out these errors.  A few weeks later, I discovered that this was just one of a growing number of articles by Torres that attacked these ideas and their proponents.  Since I also noticed several factual inaccuracies in these other publications, I got curious and decided to look into Torres’s writings more closely.

I began to follow Torres's Twitter presence with interest and to investigate older Twitter feuds that Torres occasionally references.  After looking into these and systematically checking the sources Torres cites in support of their various allegations, I found Torres’s behavior much more troubling than I had expected.  Specifically, I learned that Torres had not only misrepresented and distorted many people's views and made various other demonstrably false claims, but had also engaged in stalking, harassment, and sockpuppetry.

My original plan was to spend a day or two examining this material, but the project  took more than a week of my spare time.  Furthermore, the initial draft was about 60% longer than the article you are now reading.  To publish what I ultimately decided to leave out would have taken a lot more time and effort, and I currently have a limited budget for these side projects.

I tried to document every claim in the article rigorously.  If you spot any mistakes, however, please let me know, anonymously or otherwise, using this form.1  You are also welcome to contact me if you have additional evidence corroborating my findings or other documented examples of concerning behavior by Torres.  Please note that I have a real life and a real job, and that I may be unable to respond to your messages or suggestions.

In what follows, I discuss:

How Torres harassed and stalked multiple people, and made racist comments about at least one person.  [more]

How Torres repeatedly made demonstrably false claims.  [more]

How Torres grossly distorted the views of several people.  [more]

How Torres created multiple fake accounts to harass their targets, evade bans, and discredit their opponents.  [more]

Stalking and harassment

Peter Boghossian

For much of the 2010s, Torres was heavily involved with New Atheism and was close with several prominent New Atheist figures, including Peter Boghossian, back then a professor of philosophy at Portland State University.  In 2016, for example, Torres published a Time magazine article with Boghossian and James Lindsay, entitled “How to Fight Extremism with Atheism.”

In a pattern that has repeated itself with several people Torres was friends with and communities Torres was part of, around late 2017 Torres switched from regarding Boghossian as a “brilliant” scholar to the sort of person who “defends Nazis.”

(It is beyond the scope of this article to examine Torres's violent "sign reversals" in their assessment of people and communities.  But it is striking by how often these shifts in opinion appear, upon closer inspection, to be triggered by Torres experiencing a feeling of rejection, such as being denied a job, not being invited to a podcast, or having a book collaboration terminated.  Torres’s subsequent “realization” that these people and communities, once held in such high esteem, were in fact profoundly evil or dangerous routinely comes after those personal setbacks, as a post hoc rationalization.  A future article may explore these incidents, which shed so much light into Torres’s character and motives, in much greater detail.)

In February 2018, when Boghossian tweeted about a seminar he would teach, Torres replied with a link to an unrelated Buzzfeed story, prompting Boghossian to block Torres.  Torres responded by creating a second account and leaving further replies to Boghossian, who also blocked the second account.  Astonishingly, Torres then made a third account to further evade Boghossian’s block and leave even more comments.

At the same time as Torres was harassing Boghossian and creating these accounts, they were also tweeting about Boghossian from their main account.  In a disturbing tweet, Torres gloats about having informed Boghossian that they would visit Portland and sit in the front row of his class:

Phil Torres: Hahaha. I actually emailed Peter about being in Portland soon and wanting to sit in on his class. I explicitly said that I wouldn't be disruptive. Here's the exchange. Phil Torres: I wanted to let you know that I will be in Portland in early March for two weeks. I have never once had a professor object to me sitting in on a class, even in the middle of the semester (for a few classes). Thus, I plan to stop by your "Science and Pseudoscience" course on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 10:00-11:50. I know you care deeply about critical thinking and open debate, academic freedom in all its varieties, never banning or blocking people from campus (however controversial or triggering those people may be), etc., I'm sure you'll be happy to have me there. I like to sit in the front row (for your interest), but obviously I won't be disruptive. Really excited to learn a bit more about science and pseudoscience! See you soon. Best, Phil. Peter Boghossian: I'm going to send this email to campus security. If you come anywhere near me on or off campus, I'll call the police.

 

Torres then contacted Portland State University (without disclosing that they had been stalking Boghossian) with the apparent intention of going ahead with their plan.

Phil Torres: I actually wrote the PSU police and they said that a professor CANNOT have someone forcibly removed simply because the she/he finds that person triggering. I've passed that info along to Peter; we'll see what he says, the poor guy.

James Lindsay‏: See, you got your facts wrong, Phil. Tut. You won't be removed from campus, which is different than classroom. I already cited the relevant PSU ordinances: 577-071-0010(13) and 577-071-0030(3). You're still muted, for your interest.  Phil Torres‏: Please don't mute me; I haven't muted you. I have read the ordinances you cite. How do either of them pertain to me coming "anywhere near me—on or off campus" (Pete's words)? Again, the PSU police said that a prof can't simply have someone removed for triggering them. Kevin‏: This is about you threatening to show up in the front row of his class, obviously.

 

When confronted by a user, Torres even admitted that Boghossian was justified in perceiving their email as threatening:

alex‏: Perhaps if the email were from Milo to a black professor you might be able to more clearly see how bizarre and threatening it is. Phil Torres‏: You're not getting it. I would agree that it would be perceived as threatening. The point is that folks like Peter--hypocrites about their values--would point to it as another reason the "regressive left" is rotten. But when it's the rather than feminists, they become authoritarian Phil Torres‏: When it's feminists being triggered by people they dislike, Peter, James, and the others have a moral panic attack. When it's them being triggered by someone who disagrees with them, they censor, threaten, and bully. alex‏: Stop using words like "triggered" and "disagree", because in this context it's either disingenuous or insane. The email you sent is not "triggering", whatever that even means in this context, it's "threatening". If you disagree with their stances, argue. Don't threaten people. alex: He didn't 'censor, threaten or bully' you. His response to your (unreasonable, threatening, quite frankly scary) email was totally rational. You are the one being irrational here, Phil. And being scary with 'good' ideological motives is still being scary.

 

Aside from harassing Boghossian, Torres inundated various Facebook groups with posts about Boghossian unrelated to the groups’ purposes.  People who appeared to be on good terms with Torres began to worry about his mental health:

Anthony Magnabosco: This fascination with P. B. seems to only be escalating since we had to boot you from off-topic posting (about P. B.) in one of the study groups few months back. Maybe consider taking a breather, chat with a friend, see a professional about it? Hard seeing you this way, brother.

 

Torres also accused Boghossian of being a sexual predator:

Keiko: PHIL has also accused Peter B. of being a sexual predator while providing no evidence, which he said would be "out soon". No such story has been published since these tweets last March.

 

When questioned by a user, Torres explained that the evidence “should be out soon.”

Kevin‏: You're the guy who specifically accused Peter Boghossian of being a sexual predator with no evidence a couple hours ago, right? Just want to make sure I'm not hallucinating.  Phil Torres‏: This is false: it wasn't without evidence, it was without evidence that has, to date, been made public. Should be out soon, though. Fair enough holding my feet to the fire here. Kevin‏: Haha I'm gonna be charitable and assume this correction is a joke.

 

This was in March 2018. Five years on, they have yet to deliver on that promise.

Another disturbing incident occurred when, from one of their secondary accounts, Torres urged Boghossian’s followers to “freak [Boghossian] out by “jok[ing] about adopted Asian children”:

Torres‏: Peter is easily triggered. He's a snowflake. (Just joke about adopted Asian children; he'll freak out.) What's worse is that he's not clever enough to realize this. Please check on this in a day or two: he will block me for this tweet. The guy is a censorious authoritarian.

The reference to “adopted Asian children” is Torres’s way of alluding to Boghosian’s daughter:

Peter Boghossian: We adopted our daughter from China as a waiting child when she was almost 3. She’s the light of our lives. The savage attacks on parents who’ve adopted children of another race represents the ugliest of humanity.

 

I don’t like to accuse people of racism lightly, but the accusation seems appropriate in this case.  Even if Torres had intended to provoke Boghossian by encouraging his followers to ask him about his daughter, the reference to her race seems completely gratuitous.  Consider what the reaction would have been if Torres had joked about “adopted Black children.”

[Update: Torres silently deleted the racist tweet after this post was published. An archived copy of it has been preserved here.]

In sum, there is clear evidence that Torres did the following: began posting obsessively about Boghossian and being openly hostile; in this context, threateningly told Boghossian he was going to show up at his class; laughed about how this made Boghossian uncomfortable; referenced Boghossian's daughter as “adopted Asian children”; and encouraged their followers to “freak [Boghossian] out” by messaging him about his daughter.

Yet, in recounting this incident years later, Torres makes it sound like Boghossian told Torres that he'd call the police in response to Torres's criticisms.  There is no mention of the persistent harassment, the multiple accounts, or the incitement to “freak [Boghossian] out by “jok[ing] about adopted Asian children.”

Émile P. Torres: I once spoke out agains the Intellectual Dark Web and received literal threats, both publicly and in private. I was also blocked and unfriended. And Boghossian told me that if I ever showed up to a lecture of his, he'd call the police. The censorship movement IS the Intellectual Dark Web.

 

Helen Pluckrose

Another victim of Torres' harassment is Helen Pluckrose, a British author and liberal humanist.  In this case, the harassment began when Pluckrose pleaded with Torres to stop stalking Boghossian. In response, Torres sent Pluckrose a torrent of tweets, upon which Pluckrose, fearing for her safety, asked Torres to stop tweeting at her

Helen Pluckrose‏: I have given the evidence in the form of your own posts. Legal stuff cannot be discussed publicly. There is nowhere further to go. You will either refrain from harassing individuals online & turning up at their place of work & laughing when they say they'll call police or not.

 

In that same thread, Pluckrose tells Torres: "I really don't want a connection with you.  You scare me."

Helen Pluckrose‏: I don't think your stalking behaviour is really a suitable subject for ongoing medium discussion. I would simply like you to stop it. Continue to argue against all the ideas you want but not harass & intimidate individuals. I don't really want a connection with you. You scare me.

 

Torres, however, continued tweeting at Pluckrose, ignoring her request.

Helen Pluckrose: This is why so many people warned me never to speak to you after I did once. You are known for obsessive stalking & never stopping even when clearly asked to, ignored, blocked & legal advice & restraining orders sought. I've wanted to argue with you but been afraid. This is why. Helen Pluckrose: If I refuse to agree you are right, will you send me dozens of emails, obsessively attack me at every opportunity, make me seek legal advice and then when finally blocked on every possible access point, threaten to turn up at my place of work & 'I like to sit at the front, by the way' Helen Pluckrose: There is a reason so many people are freaked out by your behaviour. This is not normal or healthy. It is obsessive and deranged. It is frightening because it's so mad. Stalkers do mad things. Helen Pluckrose: This is why you are blocked all over the place. This. Is. Not. Normal. When people are seeking restraining orders and calling security because you have stalked them for months getting increasingly deranged, reconsider your avic Consider getting help.

 

Disturbingly, Torres responds by accusing Pluckrose of harassing them:

Helen Pluckrose‏: You're all over the place and you are freaking me out. I just want you to leave me alone now. Phil Torres: I have repeatedly asked you to stop pestering me -- it's harassment -- and you have repeatedly ignored me and kept tweeting, I have those screenshots and will use them to support my own view that you get obsessed with twitter threads and end up stalking people online. Take care.

 

Roman Schorscher: But, since you seem like a nice young man, search for the recent interaction between Torres and Helen Pluckros, and answer, how many time does a woman hask to ask a good male progressive feminist to stop pestering her? How many times does she has to say he is scary, for him to stop? Phil Torres: Just for the record, I had asked her to stop harassing me for almost an entire day. She repeatedly ignored my request, and then flip the tables later on. These are the sort of people I'm dealing with. Helen Pluckrose: You asked me to stop harassing you as a way to be snarky about tweets not being harassment but then wouldn't stop tweeting me. Then you alternated madly between 'Why won't you talk to me?' & 'I have asked you to stop harassing me' often 2 minutes apart. I have screenshots. Helen Pluckrose: These all happened within the same ten minutes.  Helen Pluckrose: I know he's not well. That doesn't mean he's not dangerous. And it certainly doesn't mean I need to talk to him.

 

Phil Torres: She has made repeated accusations that are factually false. And she refuses to get the facts straight with me via a civil conversation. Helen: If you'd like to have a civil discussion about the issues that both of us have been raising this morning, I would be happy to engage you in a friendly back-and-forth for Medium, or whatever (I'm open to ideas)! There ore a number of claims on your Facebook feed either by you or others that ore simply, factually wrong and/or misguided. As my personal history affirms, I never, ever object to being challenged by others—indeed, quite the opposite, since this is how one learns—but I do think that you and I, and your quick-to-judgment followers (or so I would argue), need to get the facts right. I would also be more than willing (hold me to this!) acknowledge any errors that I've made, in the interest of truth and intellectual honesty. Twitter is a platform conducive to unfounded accusations and triggered outrage. I think I made a mistake by trying to engage others on it (too many threads, too few people

 

After Torres made Pluckrose their new harassment target, other users intervened, but Torres still refused to back down:

Kevin‏: Yep, she's probably the most reasonable, charitable and honest person I've met since I joined Twitter. His attempt to smear her won't get very far in my opinion.  Phil Torres‏: Well, why does she keep making false claims? I am seriously asking that: Why? Why doesn't she just ask me about some verifiable things to get her facts straight?

 

Describing these events year later, Torres claimed that Pluckrose –– “who has made a career out of lying about people” –– had blocked them over a single Twitter DM.  However, as documented in the screencaps above, Torres admits that they were tweeting at Pluckrose "almost for an entire day", and complains that she "ignored" Torres.  This was after Pluckrose had said, on March 2, that she was afraid of Torres due to their behavior regarding Boghossian, whom (as we’ve seen) Torres had been stalking for months.  Just as with Boghossian, Torres recounting of their behavior paints a very distorted picture of the actual events.

Émile P. Torres: Also, someone in the comments quotes Helen Pluckrose. PLUCKROSE, who has made a career out of lying about people, including me. This is what she means by "harassment." One message to her. After this, she blocked me. So much dishonesty.

 

In part as a result of the abuse she received from Torres and others over the years, Pluckrose suffered serious mental health issues, was in psychiatric care, and has mostly withdrawn from public life.

Demonstrable falsehoods and gross distortions

“Forcible” removal

In December 2021, Carla Zoe Cremer, a Research Scholar at the Future of Humanity Institute, and Luke Kemp, a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, released a paper entitled “Democratising Risk: In Search of a Methodology to Study Existential Risk.”

The following year, Torres made the startling revelation that the paper had been written by three people: Cremer, Kemp… and Torres.  Indeed, Torres indicated that they (Torres) were the first author.  Torres also noted that, when the paper was near completion (“penultimate draft”), Torres was “removed [f]orcibly” after Cremer and Kemp “were instructed that Torres could not be part of the collaboration.”

Émile P. Torres: No, they wouldn't. The Cremer/Kemp paper was originally Torres/Cremer/Kemp. They were instructed that I could not be a part of the collaboration. We had already finished a penultimate draft of the paper. I was removed. Forcibly. So much for academic freedom.

 

However, when Torres's tweet was discussed on the Effective Altruism Forum a few days later, Cremer gave a substantially different account of what happened.

Cremer first observed that Torres’s contribution to the paper was restricted to collaborating with Kemp on “a very early draft” that, according to Cremer, required “major re-writing of both tone and content.”  The paper that Cremer and Kemp eventually published “was completely different” and, as Cremer put it, “in such a totally different state and it would have been misplaced to call it a collaboration with Torres.”

Moreover, Cremer stated that no one had instructed her to abstain from collaborating with Torres, and that she did not remember being "forced" to take Torres off the collaboration. In fact, it was Cremer and Kemp who decided to end Torres' involvement, and Cremer notes that “Torres agreed with those plans.”

Carla Zoe: The post in which I speak about EAs being uncomfortable about us publishing the article only talks about interactions with people who did not have any information about initial drafting with Torres. At that stage, the paper was completely different and a paper between Kemp and I. None of the critiques about it or the conversations about it involved concerns about Torres, co-authoring with Torres or arguments by Torres, except in so far as they might have taken Torres an example of the closing doors that can follow a critique. The paper was in such a totally different state and it would have been misplaced to call it a collaboration with Torres.  There was a very early draft of Torres and Kemp which I was invited to look at (in December 2020) and collaborate on. While the arguments seemed promising to me, I thought it needed major re-writing of both tone and content. No one instructed me (maybe someone instructed Luke?) that one could not co-author with Torres. I also don't recall that we were forced to take Torres off the collaboration (I’m not sure who know about the conversations about collaborations we had): we decided to part because we wanted to move the content and tone in a very different direction, because Torres had (to our surprise) unilaterally published major parts of the initial draft as a mini-book already and because we thought that this collaboration was going to be very difficult. I recall video calls in which we discussed the matter with Torres, decided to take out sections that were initially supplied by Torres and cite Torres’ mini-book wherever we deemed it necessary to refer to it. The degree to which the Democratising Risk paper is influenced by Torres is seen in our in-text citations: we don't hide the fact that we find some of the arguments noteworthy! Torres agreed with those plans.

 

Surprisingly, in their reply, Torres thanked Cremer “for correcting the record” and apologized “if I’d misremembered some of this.”

philosophytorres: Thank you for correcting the record, Zoe, and my apologies if I'd misremembered some of this. I am more than happy to update on the information provided. (Also consulting with a few others who were somewhat involved in this whole process, i.e., who knew what was going on from the inside, to see what they remember.)

A user then asked Torres to explain how it was possible for Torres to misremember something as peculiar as having been “removed forcibly”:

Matis: To recall, what you tweeted was this: "We had already finished a penultimate draft of the paper. I was removed. Forcibly. So much for academic freedom". Did you or did you not, at the time, have definite evidence of being "removed forcibly" after the penultimate draft? It strains credulity that you could have been "misremembering" that this happened.

 

Torres never answered the question.

“Researcher at CSER”

Another occasion in which Torres conveniently forgot something relates to Torres’s involvement with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER).  Although Torres was only a visitor for a couple of months, years later Torres was, intentionally or otherwise, presenting themself as still working at that institution.  When Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, then CSER’s co-Director, pointed this out on the Effective Altruism Forum, Torres responded with a series of uncivil comments.

In one comment, Torres tells Ó hÉigeartaigh: “your intellectual dishonesty here is really upsetting.”

philosophytorres: "He has unfortunately misrepresented himself as working at CSER on various media (unclear if deliberate or not)." No, I haven't, Sean, and you know this from our personal exchanges. I forgot to change the CSER affiliation on FB -- and only FB -- for a few months after leaving. As soon as you pointed it out, I changed it immediately. Your intellectual dishonesty here is really upsetting.

 

In another comment, they accuse Ó hÉigeartaigh of “lying… over and over again” and ask: “How can someone lie this much about a colleague and still have a job?”

philosophytorres: Haydn, Michael Plant, etc. etc. I am happy to release screenshots of everything to show that Sean is lying. Over and over again, above, he lies. Here is proof of his lie about about me "misrepresenting [myself] as working at CSER on various media (unclear if deliberate or not)." I absolutely did no such thing! The only medium this was an issue on was Facebook and I corrected it immediately (although there was some delay, for reasons I don't understand) with an explicit apology (because, I say in the screenshot from 2019, I genuinely, honestly didn't realize that it still says "works at"). Indeed, throughout our exchanges, I am repeatedly open and receptive to criticisms, constantly hedging, frequently apologizing, while Sean is, well, not exactly the interlocutor I'd hoped. Ask me about any of his silly, hurtful accusations above and I'll address them with verifiable evidence. What is wrong with this community? (Check timestamps, please. I think one screenshot is out of order -- apologies for that.) How can someone lie this much about a colleague and still have a job?

 

In a third comment, a “pretty f*cking upset” Torres calls Ó hÉigeartaigh “a jerk.”

philosophytorres: I am trying to stay calm, but I am honestly pretty fucking upset that you repeatedly lie in your comments above, Sean. See here for a screenshot. I won't include your response, Sean, because I'm not a jerk like you.

But Ó hÉigeartaigh was not lying: as he explains in his response, years after Torres’s CSER visitorship had ended, Torres was still listing themself as a "Researcher at Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge” on LinkedIn, the most popular professional networking platform.  In their defense, all Torres could say was, once more, that they had forgotten about it –– tacitly admitting that Ó hÉigeartaigh was right all along.

Giving What We Can

In a series of tweets published in October 2022, Torres implied that William MacAskill had not co-founded Giving What We Can.  To back up this audacious allegation, Torres cited a clip from a 2016 talk in which MacAskill said he first met Toby Ord in 2009, and a snapshot from the Wayback Machine showing that Giving What We Can’s website existed already in 2007.

Émile P. Torres: In a 2016 EA Global conference talk, MacAskill says that he met Toby Ord in 2009, the same year GWWC was founded. You can see this in the transcript on the right.

 

Émile P. Torres: Yet if you search givingwhatwecan.org on Wayback Machine, you’ll find (surprise!) that the website for this organization was first posted online in 2007, a whole two years before MacAskill had even met Ord.

 

I watched the talk and was flabbergasted by Torres’s accusation.  Torres neglects to mention that this very same talk includes Toby Ord's story of the early years of Giving What We Can, in which Ord acknowledges that the idea of Giving What We Can pre-dates MacAskill.  Far from being a shocking secret unearthed from a forgotten video recording, MacAskill and Ord have both acknowledged that the idea of Giving What We Can was Ord’s.  MacAskill is regarded as a co-founder because he helped Ord launch it as a public-facing international community, as several Twitter users pointed out:

Robert Long: There's (much) more to launching an org than having the idea and a website. From what I can tell, Ord's always been happy to call MacAskill a cofounder because Will helped Giving What We Can launch. Ord discusses the history of Giving What We Can (and Will's role) in the talk you cite. A slide: 2005 An essay, a commitment. 2006 Seeds of an organisation. 2007-2008 Iterate, iterate, iterate. 2009 Meeting Will. Launch.

 

Additionally, another Wayback Machine snapshot, which Torres chose not to link to, proves that, even though the website did exist in 2007, the organization hadn’t yet launched: the sidebar lists a bunch of content and services that they “will offer.”

What we will offer: A network for givers. Ratings of aid organizations. Refutations of aid myths. Essays on poverty and aid. The major poverty reports. Development news.

 

When users on Twitter asked Torres if they had reached out to Toby Ord or Giving What We Can for clarification before making their accusation, Torres responded that they were merely asking "a question":

Robert Long: so I don't really see how this could be used as an example of MacAskill claiming credit for the achievements of others. Did you ask Toby Ord or @givingwhatwecan for clarification before making this accusation? Emile P. Torres: It's not an accusation, it's a question: I am genuinely baffled as to how MacAskill could have cofounded an organization that already had a name, a mission, and a website in the works *years* before he entered the fledgling EA scene. Something's not right here. Rational Sophistry: "It is not an accusation, it's a question" You cannot seriously be this dishonest, the implication is very obviously an accusation of stealing credit. It's literally listed in a thread of questionable practices of stealing credit.

 

Brief Digression on Effective Altruism

Torres has levelled some serious accusations against certain figures in the effective altruism (EA) movement, which we will examine shortly. But before we do so, I will provide a brief overview of EA, which should help those unfamiliar with it to understand the discussion that follows.

Effective altruists (EAs) are primarily interested in answering the question of how to use the available resources to best help others. Many EAs believe that supporting charities focused on global health is the best way to help the global poor. Other EAs, however, have argued that something else might be even more beneficial: reducing the risk of global catastrophes that threaten future generations.  My understanding is that this group of EAs –– sometimes known as “longtermists” –– see this position as a natural extension of the principle of “radical empathy”, or “working hard to extend empathy to everyone it should be extended to, even when it is unusual or seems strange to do so.” In particular, longtermists EAs believe that empathy should be extended not only to other historically neglected groups, such as people in other countries and animals from other species, but also to people in the distant future. As Fin Moorhouse writes,

For much of history, we lived in small groups, and we were reluctant to help someone from a different group. But over time, our sympathies grew to include more and more people. Today, many people act to help complete strangers on the other side of the world, or restrict their diets to avoid harming animals (which would have baffled most of our earliest ancestors). […] Yet, expanding the moral circle to include nonhuman animals doesn't mark the last possible stage — it could expand to embrace the many billions of people, animals, and other beings yet to be born in the (long-run) future.

So, whether the best ways to do good involve helping the global poor, reducing animal suffering, or protecting future generations (or something completely different) is an area of active debate among EAs.  What's critical for our purposes is that Torres has repeatedly done the following:

Quote someone explaining why and how longtermism implies that donating to prevent (e.g.) engineered pandemics is even more cost-effective than donating to global poverty causes.

Characterize that person as advocating for actively taking money from poor people and giving it to rich people.

I will now review some examples of Torres doing this.

More falsehoods and distortions

 

Hilary Greaves

 

Torres's first target is Hilary Greaves, Director of the Global Priorities Institute.  In 2020, Greaves conducted a video interview as part of a series featuring prominent philosophers discussing their work.  Torres’s polemical Salon article, “Understanding longtermism,” focuses on one remark Greaves made during the interview:

As Hilary Greaves — another research associate next to Hanson and MacAskill — notes in an interview, we intuitively think that transferring wealth from the rich to the poor is the best way to improve the world, but "longtermist lines of thought suggest that something else might be better still," namely, transferring wealth in the opposite direction.

However, nowhere in that interview (or anywhere else) does Greaves say that “transferring wealth in the opposite direction” would be better still.  It is a fabrication by Torres.

In the interview, Greaves merely notes that, while some global health interventions are very cost-effective, other interventions could be even more so. The reason is that (I) relatively few resources are being spent on preventing risks that could lead to humanity’s premature extinction, and (II) humanity could have a very long and flourishing future if it does not go prematurely extinct.  Analogously, climate change activists or animal rights activists might argue that preventing climate catastrophe or reducing animal suffering is currently even more cost-effective than improving global health, because of the sheer number of people or animals involved.  No matter what one thinks of this argument, these activists are evidently not advocating for poor-to-rich wealth transfers.  Nor is Greaves.

To leave no room for doubt about this point, here is a transcript of the relevant passage in the interview, with the parts omitted by Torres highlighted:

Suppose that I just want to know, as an empirical matter of fact, in which cause area would I be best advised to spend my resources, insofar as my aim is doing the most good improving the world, by the most that I can, given that resource constraint. And at the moment, many people think the answer to that is, for example, global health and poverty interventions. And there's a clear reason why you think that might be the case: in a world with massive global inequality, given that a given amount of money improves people's well-being by a lot more when they're poor than it does when somebody's already rich, there's a clear case for transferring resources from the affluent Western world to the global poor. But longtermist lines of thought suggest that something else might be better still. There are a number of candidates for potentially very high-value long-term interventions. The most clear-cut one, I think, is reducing risks of premature human extinction. There are now all these threats we didn't historically have to think about, and the areas are currently very under-resourced. So there are lots of things we could be doing to mitigate those threats that we're not currently doing.

 

When Hayden Wilkinson, a researcher at the Global Priorities Institute, confronted Torres, Torres pretended that they had never attributed those views to Greaves:

Hayden Wilkinson: Just a reminder that, regardless of whatever actions you speculate that other particular longtermists would endorse or should endorse, it's still a lie that Greaves has in fact advocated for poor-to-rich wealth transfer.

 

Émile P. Torres: Okay? Who said she did? Hayden Wilkinson: Sure looks like you did. Émile P. Torres: Now who's putting words into whose mouth?

 

It is perplexing that Torres would accuse Wilkinson of putting words in their mouth, when Torres did attribute to Greaves, as we just saw, a view she never defended.

Torres then relied on that fabricated attribution to even claim that Greaves, along with other longtermists, endorses “atrocious” views, which are “very much about the preservation of white Western civilization”:

Émile P. Torres: I would highly recommend people read actual publications by longtermists. Ask me for a list. Bostrom, Beckstead, Ord, Greaves, etc. Their views are atrocious. It’s very much about the preservation of white Western civilization.

 

Andreas Mogensen

 

Torres has also made similar critical remarks about Andreas Mogensen, another researcher at Oxford University:

There are other reasons for worrying about longtermism gaining more clout. For example, consider Tyler Cowen’s observation that utilitarianism seems to "support the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, if we have a deep concern for the distant future." The reason pertains to the features of this ethical theory that we discussed above. The Oxford philosopher Andreas Mogensen echoes this idea in a more recent paper published by the Global Priorities Institute. "It has been assumed," Mogensen writes, "that utilitarianism concretely directs us to maximize welfare within a generation by transferring resources to people currently living in extreme poverty. In fact, utilitarianism seems to imply that any obligation to help people who are currently badly off is trumped by obligations to undertake actions targeted at improving the value of the long-term future."

 

However, Mogensen here describes what he considers to be the implications of utilitarianism.  Mogensen is not himself endorsing this view.2 In fact, Mogensen is not a consequentialist, let alone a utilitarian, as one can verify online:

Today’s guest, Andreas Mogensen — senior research fellow at Oxford University’s Global Priorities Institute — does reject utilitarianism, but as he explains, this does little to dampen his enthusiasm for effective altruism. Andreas leans towards ‘deontological’ or rule-based theories of ethics, rather than ‘consequentialist’ theories like utilitarianism which look exclusively at the effects of a person’s actions.

 

Moreover, and more seriously, Torres again falsely equates the claim that there are more urgent moral requirements than transferring resources from the rich to the poor with the claim that there is a requirement to transfer these resources in the opposite direction.  Mogensen never claimed that utilitarianism requires this, let alone endorsed such a view himself.

Having mischaracterized Mogensen’s position, Torres (just like they did with Greaves) again draws the conclusion that these claims are “clearly white supremacist”:

On this definition, the claims of Mogensen and Beckstead are clearly white supremacist: African nations, for example, are poorer than Sweden, so according to the reasoning above we should transfer resources from the former to the latter. You can fill in the blanks.

Torres draws this conclusion even though, as noted, (I) Mogensen is not endorsing –– and, in fact, rejects –– the view whose implications he describes and (II) Mogensen never claimed that this view had the implications Torres attributes to it.

Nick Beckstead

 

Torres is especially critical of Nick Beckstead, an early and respected member of the effective altruist community. Torres criticizes Beckstead in several publications and mentions him ad nauseam in over 30 separate tweets from 2022 alone.  However, virtually all of Torres’s critical mentions focus on a single passage from Beckstead’s unpublished doctoral dissertation.  Here is the passage in question:

 

Torres has summarized this passage as “claim[ing that] we should actually care more about people in rich countries than in poor countries”; as noting that “‘giving to the rich’ is the obvious conclusion”; and as “literally arguing that, given the longtermist framework, we should value the lives of people in rich countries more than the lives of people in poor countries.” And Torres has, based on these summaries, drawn the conclusion that Beckstead’s views are “overtly white-supremacist3 and in “the spirit of eugenics.”

It would be surprising if this characterization of Beckstead were true, given that he has a long track record of working to support global health and development. According to this Wiki article, Beckstead founded the first US chapter of Giving What We Can and pledged to donate 50% of his lifetime income to organizations fighting global poverty in developing countries, such as the Against Malaria Foundation.

And in fact, as we will now see, Torres’s summaries and characterizations of Beckstead’s views are grossly inaccurate.

Beckstead is not arguing here that “we should actually care more about people in rich countries” or that “we should value the lives of people in rich countries more than the lives of people in poor countries.”  As an effective altruist, Beckstead believes that we should care about all lives equally.  In the passage cited, Beckstead discusses only what effects saving lives in different countries will have on the future.  Put differently, Beckstead is making an empirical claim about the long-run consequences of different actions, rather than a normative claim about the intrinsic value of different lives.

Similarly, Beckstead never once indicates that there should be global transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich, and in fact believes the opposite (and his track record of donations reflects this belief). The wellbeing of the poor should be prioritized precisely because they are poor, and therefore don’t have access to even the most basic medical care. Even if, all other things being equal, saving a rich person’s life causes greater economic flow-on effects that have greater benefits for future generations, one can save hundreds or thousands of times as many lives by focusing on healthcare for the extremely poor than one can by focusing on healthcare for the rich.  

Beckstead explained his views to Torres when Torres first published the criticism, leaving a Facebook comment correcting many of these misrepresentations:

Hayden Wilkinson: "It seems more plausible to me that X" doesn't mean "I'm convinced of X". (Especially when the author themselves confirms that they don't think that, in practice, it is any better to save lives of the rich than lives of the poor.) Again: Nick Beckstead: Phil, you are attributing views to me that I do not hold in the above threads. I do not believe that "since what really matters is shaping the far future, we should give to the rich rather than the poor" or that "since privileged rich people in the Western world (also mostly white) are in a better position to shape the far future, resources ought to be allocated to them rather than towards impoverished, starving people elsewhere." The passage you quoted only says that it is "plausible' that on a per life saved basis, saving lives in rich countries has greater effects on the long-term future (per life saved). Since the cost per life saved in poor countries is much lower, the conclusion that people should prioritize helping rich countries does not follow (and don't hold it). You labeled the above positions an "extension of white supremacist ideology.' I strongly disagree with the equivalence you are drawing, and I don't even hold the beliefs you attribute to me in support of the ascription.

 

Since Torres responded to Beckstead's comment, we know that, when Torres published their critical tweets and articles, they did so fully aware that they distorted Beckstead's views.

Tyler Cowen

 

In the passage containing the quote by Mogensen examined previously, Torres also quotes Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, who is not actually a longtermist:

There are other reasons for worrying about longtermism gaining more clout. For example, consider Tyler Cowen’s observation that utilitarianism seems to "support the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, if we have a deep concern for the distant future."

However, Torres seriously misquotes Cowen.  The ellipsis in the passage quoted separates two clauses that occur 20 lines apart in the original text. By omitting all the content, Torres leaves out context that is critical for a proper understanding of Cowen’s argument.  In the screenshot below, I have highlighted Torres’s omissions:

utilitarianism may support the transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. A talented entrepreneur, for instance, can probably earn a higher rate of return on invested resources than can a disabled great-grandmother. Indeed, a common complaint in the literature on inequality is that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, or at least more or less stay put. If this portrait is to be believed, then the rich earn higher returns on their accumulated wealth, as has been argued by the French economist Thomas Piketty. If we combine the trickle-down effect from the wealth of the wealthy with a zero rate of discount, it is easy to generate scenarios in which utilitarianism would recommend the redistribution of wealth to the wealthy. For instance, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the wealthy earn eight percent on their holdings, annually and on average, while the poor earn one percent. If one-fifth of the gains to the wealthy trickle down to the poor over time, then the poor are better off if the wealthy command more resources. They will receive one-fifth of the eight percent, or 1.6 percent, rather than the one percent they would earn on their own. Usually this trickle won't reach them right away, but over time the rich will build more factories, buy more products, hire more domestic workers, fund more research and development, push for more immigration, and so on. Sooner or later, many among the poor will benefit. If we have a deep concern for the distant future, it matters less if most of these benefits come later.

 

Torres’s truncated quote portrays Cowen as attributing to utilitarianism the view that “the lives of people in rich countries matter more than the lives of people in poor countries.”  But Cowen is not saying this.  His point, instead, is that utilitarians who agree with Piketty (that returns to capital exceed the rate of growth of the economy as a whole) should expect actions that primarily benefit the rich in the present to benefit the poor in the future.  Since utilitarians with a concern for the future will be more concerned about these future poor people, utilitarians who agree with Piketty may favor wealth redistribution from the present poor to the present rich, out of concern for the future poor people whom this wealth transfer will benefit.  In other words, the key contrast here is not “poor vs. rich”, but “present poor vs. future poor.”  One may or may not agree with the argument, but it bears little resemblance to the argument Torres attributes to Cowen.

Olle Häggström

 

As evidence that longtermism has "profoundly harmful real-world consequences", Torres quotes Olle Häggström, a professor of mathematical statistics at the Chalmers University of Technology: 

can have profoundly harmful real-world consequences. For example, consider the following scenario outlined by Olle Häggström in his 2016 book Here Be Dragons. He begins by asking us to recall “Bostrom’s conclusion about how reducing the probability of existential catastrophe by even a minuscule amount can be more important than saving the lives of a million [or more] people.” Häggström writes  that I feel extremely uneasy about the prospect that [this line of reasoning] might become recognized among politicians and decision-makers as a guide to policy worth taking literally. It is simply too reminiscent of the old saying “If you want to make an omelet, you must be willing to break a few eggs,” which has typically been used to explain that a bit of genocide or so might be a good thing, if it can contribute to the goal of creating a future utopia.

 

However, Häggström is not discussing here longtermism, but Nick Bostrom’s views specifically.  The distinction is not pedantic: there are many types of longtermism, of which Bostrom’s version is but one.  In fact, Häggström is sympathetic to longtermism, despite the impression one gets from reading the passage.  

But why does one get this mistaken impression? Because Torres has truncated its first sentence to make it seem as if Häggström disagrees with Bostrom to a much greater degree than he actually doesHere is the sentence in full, with Torres’s omissions highlighted:4

While it is hard to find any flaw in his reasoning leading up to the conclusion, and while if the discussion remains sufficiently abstract I am inclined to accept it as correct, I feel extremely uneasy about the prospect that it might become recognized among politicians and decision-makers as a guide to policy worth taking literally.

That is, Häggström is not rejecting the conclusion as "patently absurd and wrong", as Torres implies.  Indeed, just a page later, Häggström states his position clearly:

Having said all this, let me repeat that I still accept Bostrom's conclusion as an excellent pedagogical device for showing that existential risk prevention is even more important than we naively or spontaneously think, and that even a very small reduction in the probability of an existential catastrophe can be worth a considerable cost. There are other arguments pointing in the same direction.

Back in 2020, Häggström contacted Torres to complain that Torres had misquoted him and that he did not say what Torres had portrayed him as saying.  Torres, however, refused to issue a correction and, in fact, continued to misrepresent Häggström’s views in other articles, even including the exact same mutilated quote in a piece published as recently as October 2021.  This, despite professing to “really care about getting the facts right”:

Phil Torres: I just also really care about getting the facts right, and hence have always tried to be quite public about factual errors. (I did this with my space colonization paper, too, which contained two wrong statements: that pathogens tend to be species-specific (not true), and that the universe is probably in a false-vacuum state (too strong).) Phil Torres: I don't mind getting the reputation, "That guy sometimes gets the facts wrong, but when he does he always goes out of his way to set the record straight!"

 

Eventually, Häggstrom became so frustrated with Torres’s misrepresentations that he made several public statements to correct the record.  In those statements, Häggstrom characterizes Torres’s attempt to connect longtermism with white supremacy as “far-fetched, mean-spirited and weakly argued”; notes that “this is far from the first time that [Émile] Torres references my work in a way that is set up to give the misleading impression that I share his anti-longtermism view”; and denounces Torres’s “misrepresentation of and attacks on longtermist ideas along with his disingenuous cherrypicking of writings by Beckstead, Bostrom, myself and others.”

Olle Häggström: My comment on Phil Torres latest attack on longtermism in Current Affairs. I phrase the comment so calmly that no one can tell I am annoyed. Olle Häggström: Yet another vehement attack on EA and longtermism by Phil Torres. He mostly repeats himself, but I still have a couple of comments this time. 1. His case builds mostly on his mathematical illiteracy. Phil juggles with lots of numbers in the article, despite not understanding them: to him, all small numbers seem equally small, and all lagre numbers seem equally large. This can be seen by his calling a probability 1% "miniscule" and "teeny-tiny" - which can sometimes be warranted, but not when a lot is at stake: crossing a street when the probability of being hit by a truck and killed is a "miniscule" 1% is so crazy that probably not even Phil would do it, and in the cases discussed here the stakes are much much higher. Another example is where he compares the ratio between 40 million and 10A18 to "a single grain of sand next to Mount Everest", which is way off: a heap of 25 billion grains of sand is many orders of magnitude smaller than Mount Everest - which however doesn't matter to someone for whom all large numbers are basically the same. This is also why Phil thinks he can get away with saying that we "ought to care equally about people no matter when they exist, whether today, next year, or in a couple billion years henceforth" without explaining why this doesn't land him in all the usual longtermist conclusions, because if multiplication of large numbers means nothing to you, there is nothing here in need of explaining. 2. The article is illustrated by a collage of portraits of the five main villains in his text: Toby Ord, Nick Bostrom, Jaan Tallinn, Hilary Greaves and Will MacAskill. I know all five of them, am friendly with them, and share most of their views on the long-term future of humanity. So why am I not part of the collage? The obvious answer is of course that I am a less significant figure in the EA/longtermist community than those five. But besides that, there is another answer, namely that in his article, Phil repeats the ploy of cherrypicking some of my nuanced writings on longtermism so as to make it look as if I share his anti-longtermist view, He pretends I'm on his side. I am not, and he knows I am not.

 

Olle Häggström: I strongly endorse this piece by Avital Balwit about longtermism and in response to xriskology's misrepresentation of and attacks on longtermist ideas along with his disingenuous cherrypicking of writings by Beckstead, Bostrom, myself and others.

 

Olle Häggström: I am flattered, Phil, that you quote me at such length. Still, I feel the need to make some clarifications, as your readers might otherwise infer in me a more sympathetic view towards your anti-longtermism than I actually have. Two things: 1. The quote from my book is from a section where I discuss longtermism from various perspectives but all in all land mostly favorably towards the idea (as opposed to the impression one might get from the quote taken in isolation). 2. Your piece has a sentence which contains both my name and an explicit attempt to connect longtermism with white supremacy. A cursory reader might conclude that I share your view that a clear such connection exists. However, I do not share that view. On the contrary, I find it far-fetched, mean-spirited and weakly argued.

 

Sockpuppetry

 

As documented previously, Torres is known to have created multiple Twitter accounts to evade blocks and continue harassing their targets. But this isn’t the only instance in which Torres was caught posting under a false identity.

“Alex Williams”

 

In August 2022, Torres made the careless error of responding to a critic on the Effective Altruism Forum from the account of one "Alex Williams."   This "Alex" replies in a thread about and involving "philosophytorres", Torres's Effective Altruism Forum username.  It is evident that “Alex” is no other than Torres themself, using the wrong account.  That is, Alex Williams is a sockpuppet of Émile P.  Torres (a “sockpuppet” is a false online identity used for the purposes of deception).

Alex Williams: "Torres says he was an author on a penultimate draft, so we can make a guess that it didn't change much before it was published after Torres was taken off the draft." Very frustrating how you're taking my comments out of context. What I meant was that, to the best of my memory, we had indeed nearly completed a draft of the paper. But then I left the collaboration. What happened afterwards I don't know, but I do know that what Cremer and Kemp published was different in crucial respects from the draft that the three of us produced. Does that help to clarify the situation? We'd worked on the paper; we produced a draft that I thought was close to being completed; I withdrew; Cremer and Kemp worked on the paper, created a whole new draft, sent it out to reviewers (I have no idea who, I wasn't kept in the loop at this point, which was of course fine); then Cremer posted her thoughts on the EA Forum, which were as much news to me as anyone else. EA Forum moderators, can we please get some moderating here? Thanks.

 

Minutes after posting their first comment, Torres left a second reply, also from Alex’s account.  Ironically, the comment complains that one of Torres’s critics had failed to disclose their true identity:

Alex Williams: "There's also the question of online harassment. People I trust say that Torres has engaged in menacing online behavior against EAs. I have not seen evidence of this." Would love to see evidence, too. As it happens, the anonymous person who just joined the EA Forum also just created, so far as I can tell, two anonymous Twitter accounts to harass me. I had to block both (not because I wanted to, actually, but because multiple people told me I should -- my policy is never to block people). So, the harasser is this anomymous "throwaway" account. Anyone know who this person is? Two anonymous Twitter accounts created in September, and this EA Forum account also created in September, both spreading falsehoods about and uncontextualized screenshots relating to me. Surely this isn't acceptable?

 

In a further ironic twist, moments later, in a comment posted under their real account, Torres addressed the EA community and asked whether its members were okay with people creating anonymous Forum accounts to discredit others:

philosophytorres: EA Forum moderators take note: I believe the individual above is the same who created these two Twitter accounts just a few days ago, both of which were used to harass me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/xriskology/status/1569401706999595009. I have screenshots of many of our exchanges if you'd like. Harassment on social media should warrant being banned from this website, especially when the harasser continues to conceal their identity. Please act.     (EDIT: Please note also that this "throwaway" account was created just this month. Are you, as a community, okay with people creating anonymous Twitter accounts and anonymous EA Forum accounts to share misleading and out-of-context screenshots about someone? If so, I'll make a note of it.)

 

Upon discovering their mistake, “Alex” (i.e., Émile) proceeded to delete the comments, attempting to quickly conceal evidence of their deception.

In creating this fake account, Torres was deliberately circumventing a ban that had been imposed on them for “[c]alling someone a jerk and swearing at them” (see above), still in effect on the date the account was created:

Aaron Gertler: As the Forum’s lead moderator, I’m posting this message, but it was written collaboratively by several moderators after a long discussion.  As a result of several comments on this post, as well as a pattern of antagonistic behavior, Phil Torres has been banned from the EA Forum for one year.  Our rules say that we discourage, and may delete, "unnecessary rudeness or offensiveness" and "behavior that interferes with good discourse". Calling someone a jerk and swearing at them is unnecessarily rude, and interferes with good discourse.

 

Torres then used the Alex Williams fake account, among other things, to ask a seemingly innocent question about Bostrom’s simulation argument.  In fact, this was all disingenuous.  By this point, Torres had already concluded that Bostrom's argument was flawed and wanted to find ways to discredit him.  

In response to a user who had provided an answer to Torres’s question, Torres leaves two comments expressing “surpris[e]” that people took Bostrom’s argument seriously and that Bostrom’s paper made it through peer review:

Alex Williams: Ok, thank you very much. But why then do so many people take the argument seriously?

 Alex Williams: Like, I am surprised the article made it through the peer-review process without someone noting that problem.

After this user further responds to Torres’s insistent questions, Torres again is puzzled that “people take the argument seriously” and that “the peer review process didn’t pick up this problem”:

Alex Williams: Ok, thank you very much. But why then do so many people take the argument seriously? Is it surprising that the peer reviewed process didn't pick up this problem?

That this was part of an effort to discredit Bostrom is confirmed by a tweet Torres posted under Torres’s real account just some hours before they posted the EA Forum comments under the fake account:

Émile P. Torres: We know that Bostrom has influenced Musk, e.g., Musk seems to accept Bostrom's flawed argument that we almost certainly live in a computer simulation (Musk's conclusion, btw, not Bostrom's). Longtermism is genuinely dangerous, so, if this isn't puerile trolling, I'm concerned.

 

In sum, Torres insulted and called someone a liar for telling the truth; was banned for this uncivil behavior; created a fake account to evade this ban; and used that account to discredit another person, abusing the trust of the EA community.

Conclusion

 

At the beginning of this post, I announced that I would show

How Torres repeatedly made demonstrably false claims.

How Torres grossly distorted the views of several people.

How Torres created multiple fake accounts to harass their targets, evade bans, and discredit their opponents.

How Torres harassed and stalked multiple people, and made racist comments about at least one person.

I have now presented the evidence supporting all those allegations.  As a result of these findings, I believe any claims Émile Torres makes should be viewed with extreme skepticism.

I noted at the beginning that the above represents only about 40% of the evidence I have collected.  Given that Torres deleted all tweets between 2017-2019 and was known to be harassing people during this time, I suspect there are many more issues that I don't know about. Indeed, we only know about the Boghossian and Pluckrose incidents because someone took the time to save some of the relevant tweets to an online archive.

The purpose of this post was only to document some examples of Torres’s misbehavior.  For a more detailed examination of Torres’s criticisms of effective altruism and longtermism, you can check out this piece by Avital Balwit.  Torres wrote a reply, which you may want to read as well.


Added November 23rd, 2022:

In a disturbing tweet, Émile P. Torres claims that I have been "stalking, harassing, lying about, impersonating, and threatening [them] with physical violence."

This is an complete fabrication.

To repeat what I wrote above, I have never messaged Torres, let alone done any of the things they accuse me of.

Émile P. Torres: Just a reminder that this is the account that has been stalking, harassing, lying about, impersonating, and threatening me with physical violence. Do not believe anything they say. I'll have an article on this person up shortly.

 

Since I am not behind these attacks and Torres cannot conceivably have come to this conclusion, it seems fairly clear that Torres is knowingly lying about me.


Added February 15th, 2023:

Andreas Kirsch, a DPhil student at Oxford University unaffiliated with the EA movement, recently decided to fact-check this piece after Torres claimed it was "defamatory and false". His conclusion was that Torres's claims were unfounded and that the article was substantially true. You can read Andreas's thread here.

Twitter avatar for @BlackHC

Andreas Kirsch @BlackHC

(CW: not an ML thread) A while ago, I retweeted a link about @xriskology, which they said was defamatory and false. I deleted my retweet and said I'd follow up. Now I've checked & the link is not defamatory bc it's substantially true. Thus, here it is:

markfuentes1.substack.comÉmile P. Torres’s history of dishonesty and harassmentAn incomplete summary

10:38 AM ∙ Feb 2, 2023


87Likes7Retweets


References

 

Beckstead, N. (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. PhD Thesis.

Boghossian, P.  (2020, September 28).  “We adopted our daughter from China as a waiting child when she was almost 3.” Twitter.  

Cowen, T.  (2018).  Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.  San Francisco: Stripe Press.  p.  89-90.  

Cremer, C.  Z.  (2022, September 14).  “The post in which I speak about EAs being uncomfortable about us publishing the article only talks about interactions with people who did not have any information about initial drafting with Torres.” EA Forum.  

Gertler, A.  (2021, March 8).  “As the Forum’s lead moderator, I’m posting this message, but it was written collaboratively by several moderators after a long discussion.”  EA Forum.  

Häggström, O.  (2016).  Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of HumanityOxford: OUP.  p .  240-1.

Häggström, O.  (2021, July 13).  “My comment on [Émile] Torres latest attack on longtermism in Current Affairs.” Twitter.

Häggström, O.  (2021, August 6).  “Many thanks for this, Rohin.” EA Forum.

Häggström, O.  (2021, December 16).  “I strongly endorse this piece by @avitalbalwit about longtermism and in response to @xriskology’s misrepresentation of and attacks on longtermist ideas along with his disingenuous cherrypicking of writings by Beckstead, Bostrom, myself and others.” Twitter.

Karnofsky, H.  (2017, February 16).  Radical Empathy.  Open Philanthropy.  

Long, Robert.  (2022, October 11).  “There’s (much) more to launching an org than having the idea and a website.”  Twitter.

Magnabosco, A.  (2018, March 3).  “This fascination with PB seems to only be escalating since we had to boot you from off-topic posting (about PB) in one of the study groups few months back.” Twitter.

Matis (2022, September 15).  “To recall, what you tweeted was this.” EA Forum.

Ó hÉigeartaigh.  (2021, Mach 8).  “A quick point of clarification that [Émile] Torres was never staff at CSER.” EA Forum.  

Pluckrose, H.  (2018, March 2).  “I don't think your stalking behaviour is really a suitable subject for ongoing medium discussion.” Twitter.

Pluckrose, H. (2018, March 2).  “I have given the evidence in the form of your own posts.” Twitter.

Pummer, T.  (2020, April 19).  Hilary Greaves talks longtermism.

Torres, É.  P.  (2016, September 16).  “My @TIME magazine article about atheism, co-authored with two brilliant scholars.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 1).  “Hahaha.  I actually emailed Peter about being in Portland soon and wanting to sit in on his class.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 1).  “Lol.  I actually wrote to the PSU police.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 2).  “Please don't mute me.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 2).  “You're not getting it.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 2).  “I have repeatedly asked you to stop pestering me.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 2).  “Well, why does she keep making false claims?” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 3).  “I try to ignore these guys, then something pops into my feed.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 6).  “Just for the record, I had asked her to stop harassing me for almost an entire day.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2018, March 6).  “Peter is easily triggered.” Twitter.

Torres, É. P. (2021). Is Existential Risk a Useless Category? Could the Concept Be Dangerous?

Torres, É.  P.  (2021).  Were the great tragedies of history “mere ripples”? The case against longtermism.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, Abril 27).  “Haydn, Michael Plant, etc.  etc.” EA Forum.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, Abril 27).  “He has unfortunately misrepresented himself as working at CSER on various media (unclear if deliberate or not).” EA Forum.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, Abril 27).  “I am trying to stay calm, but I am honestly pretty f*cking upset that you repeatedly lie in your comments above, Sean.” EA Forum.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, Abril 27).  “That I didn't  know about, Sean, nor did you mention it.” EA Forum.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, July 28).  The dangerous ideas of “longtermism” and “existential risk.”  Current Affairs.

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, October 19).  Why Longtermism Is the World’s Most Dangerous Secular Credo.  Aeon.  

Torres, É.  P.  (2021, December 16).  “Also, someone in the comments quotes Helen Pluckrose.” Twitter

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, May 19).  “I would *highly recommend* people read actual publications by longtermists.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, May 24).  “We know that Bostrom has influenced Musk, e.g., Musk seems to accept Bostrom’s flawed argument that we almost certainly live in a computer simulation (Musk’s conclusion, btw, not Bostrom’s).” Twitter.  

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, August 20).  Understanding ‘longtermism.’ Salon.

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, September 9).  “No, they wouldn't.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, September 15).  “EA Forum moderators take note.” EA Forum

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, September 15).  “Thank you for correcting the record, Zoe, and my apologies if I'd misremembered some of this.” EA Forum.

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, October 11).  “Yet if you search givingwhatwecan.org on Wayback Machine, you’ll find (surprise!) that the website for this organization was first posted online in 2007, *a whole two years* before MacAskill had even met Ord.” Twitter.

Torres, É.  P.  (2022, October 11).  “It's not an accusation, it's a question.” Twitter.

Wiblin, R.  (2022, September 8).  Andreas Mogensen on whether effective altruism is just for consequentialists.  80,000 Hours.  

Wilkinson, H.  (2022, September 8) “Another out-of-context quote from someone who disagrees with the view expressed when it's taken in isolation?” Twitter.

Wilkinson, H.  (2022, September 8) “"It seems more plausible to me that X" doesn't mean "I'm convinced of X".” Twitter

Wilkinson, H.  (2022, September 8) “Just a reminder that, regardless of whatever actions you speculate that other particular longtermists *would* endorse or *should* endorse, it’s still a lie that greaves has *in fact* advocated for poor-to-rich wealth transfer.” Twitter.

Williams, A. [Torres, É. P.] (2022). Comments on the EA Forum. EA Forum.

1

Please note that ‘Mark Fuentes’ is a pseudonym I am using to protect my safety, since I fear that, were I to post under my real name, I would become Torres’s next harassment target. As I hope readers who have read this article will agree, these fears are not unwarranted.

2

Indeed, in the concluding section of his paper, Mogensen makes it clear that, because utilitarianism has these implications, he is inclined to the view that it is a less plausible moral theory overall.

3

Revealingly, in another version of this article, Torres calls Beckstead’s views “unambiguously white-supremacist.”

4

Häggström, Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity.  Oxford: OUP.  2016.  p .  240.

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Broadly I think that both Torres and Gebru engage in bullying. They have big accounts and lots of time and will quote tweet anyone who disagrees with them, making the other person seem bad to their huge followings. 

I worry that, due to their high levels of openness and conscientiousness, EAs have an overly high "burden of proof" bar to consider someone a malicious actor. Taking one look at this Émile person's online content says to me he shouldn't be taken seriously. I can't tell if EAs lack a "gut instinct" OR they have one but ignore it to a harmful degree!

If someone semi-regularly gets quoted in major publications, it is impractical to simply write them off as not to be taken seriously.

(Torres uses they/them pronouns, by the way)

7
yanni kyriacos
Hi Jason! Thanks for the reply. Would mind laying out why you believe it is impractical to ignore Émile? I think this is a crux.

I think the main thing is their astonishing success. Like, whatever else anyone wants to say to Émile, they are damn hard working and driven. It's just in their case they are driven by fear and pure hatred of EA.

Approximately ~every major news media piece critical of EA (or covering EA with a critical lens, which are basically the same thing over the last year and a half) seems to link to/quote Émile at some point as a reputable and credible report on EA.

Sure, those more familiar with EA might be able to see the hyperbole, but it's not imo out there to imagine that Émile's immensely negative presentation of EA being picked out by major outlets has contributed to the fall of EA's reputation over the last couple of years.

Like, I was wish we could "collectively agree to make Émile irrelevant", but EA can't do that unilaterally given the influence their[1] ideas and arguments have had. Those are going to have to be challenged or confronted sooner or later.

  1. ^

    That is, Émile's

I basically agree with @JWS' response. Generally, one should respond to poor-quality criticism when there is a risk that it will actually interfere with mission accomplishment. (This is in contrast to quality criticism, engagement with which will hopefully make EA better).

In general, the default rule for dealing with bad-faith, delusional, wildly inaccurate, etc. criticism on X and in similar places should be to ignore it. Consider the flat-earther movement. Many people have viewed debunkings of the flat-earther beliefs, which were doubtless produced merely for entertainment value because lots of people think it's fun to sneer at people with such beliefs. The problem is that now many, many more people know there is a flat-earther movement. The debunkers have given their ideas reach and may have even given them a smidgen of legitimacy by implying they are worth debunking. 

If Émile were a random person on X, this would likely be the correct approach. However, their ideas have reach and perceived legitimacy due to all the quotations in major media sources. Repeated appearances in such sources (that are not as a target of the piece) is a strong signal to most people that the indiv... (read more)

4
Ben Millwood
I guess it depends what you mean by taking seriously. I would say Émile is (correctly) not being taken seriously in the sense of expecting their criticisms to have merit?
2
Jason
Yeah -- based on the use of "consider someone a malicious actor" in the previous sentence, I read it as ~ "dismiss the person as a bad-faith actor who is trolling and ignore them"

Do you see EAs taking Émile seriously? Émile is banned from the forum, and I would guess most people who know the name at all know it as the name of someone who has been persistently unreasonable in their criticisms.

(btw though, your comment says "he didn't be taken seriously", but Émile is a they, not a he)

Hi Ben! I suppose it depends on what each of us means by "taken seriously". I would prefer a post like this didn't get 185 karma, because I want us to collectively agree to make Émile irrelevant. 

Unfortunately, that's not a viable strategy. Emile is often the source for articles on EA in the media. Here are three examples from the guardian.

6
Remmelt
I actually think EAs have been rather quick to dismiss outside folks when those folks have different views on the world (that can’t be easily translated into EA speak). I would be much more careful about opening up to insiders that are widely praised as leading figures in the community (like SBF) than to outsiders whose views are commonly perceived to be in conflict with the community’s aims.

When I first read this article I assumed it was written in good faith (and found it quite helpful). However, at this point I think it’s correct to assume that “Mark Fuentes” (an admitted pseudonym which has only been used to write about Torres) is misrepresenting their identity, and in particular likely has some substantial history of involvement with the EA community, and perhaps history of beef with Torres, rather than having come to this topic as a disinterested party.

This view is based on:

  • Torres’s claims about patterns they’ve seen in criticism (part 3 of this; evidence I take as suggestive but by no means conclusive)
  • Mark refusing to consider any steps to verify their identity, and instead inviting people to disregard the content in the section called “my story”
  • Some impressions I can’t fully unpack about the tone and focus of Mark’s comments on this post (and their private message to me) seeming better explained by them not having been a disinterested party than by them having been one
  • A view that we’re not supposed to give fully anonymous accounts the benefit of the doubt:
    •  … in order not to be open to abuse by people claiming whatever identity most supports their points;
... (read more)

Naaah this seems about right. I have always felt a bit this way about this post which is why I rarely share it. That said, smoke is predictive of fire, and I think that these stories can be written is a bad sign.

Also Émile does harass people a bit. I know people who agree with them more than I do who are scared to interact, they use their big reach to bother people, they stay focused on perceived slights for a long time. I would understand why someone would do this semi-anonymously, but refusing to suggests what you say.

9
Jason
I'd add that Mark's rationale -- "disclosure always carries some risk" -- seems underspecified. I'm sure Mark, as a lawyer, can cobble together an NDA that sharply limits the verifier(s), and requires them to clear any reference to his name or identifying info from their computer after verification. Probably we'd be looking at flashing an ID, and providing a bar number / state of licensure. That would probably be enough, since AFAIK no major EA works as a public defender in NY.
4
Owen Cotton-Barratt
(If anyone disagreeing wants to get into explaining why, I'm interested. Honestly it would be more comforting to be wrong about this.)
5
Owen Cotton-Barratt
OK actually there's been a funny voting pattern on my top-level comment here, where I mostly got a bunch of upvotes and agree-votes, and then a whole lot of downvotes and disagree-votes in one cluster, and then mostly upvotes and agree-votes since then. Given the context, I feel like I should be more open than usual to a "shenanigans" hypothesis, which feels like it would be modest supporting evidence for the original conclusion. Anyone with genuine disagreement -- sorry if I'm rounding you into that group unfairly, and I'm still interested in hearing about it.
9
DavidNash
Could also be the Bay Area/UK voting dynamic.
5
Owen Cotton-Barratt
Maybe? It seems a bit extreme for that; I think 5/6 of the "disagree" votes came in over a period of an hour or two mid-evening UK time. But it could certainly just be coincidence, or a group of people happening to discuss it and all disagree, or something.
2
DavidNash
Yeah, I don't know if that dynamic exists but it would be interesting if we could see what the forum looks like if you just count votes from different locations.
2
Nathan Young
Or indeed other kinds of clustering.

I am personally pretty fond of Émile, but I see nothing here which seems untrue.

Émile makes huge claims against people even when they have done similar things. They wrote about 20 tweets about Will MacAskill having an old place of work on his academic page even though Émile has done ~ the same thing. It seems like both were accidents but I don't get why Will should be hounded but Émile can say it was a small error.

I know at least 1 person critical of EA who doesn't interact with Émile for fear that Émile will attack them on twitter.

I have never seen them admit fault or retract a statement, even when they say they will or the statement is obviously false. If I recall correctly, they wrote a set of tweets implying Hanania was an EA based on a blog subtitled "why I am not an EA". 

I tried to find errors in this article and wasn't able. Though I didn't try that hard. 

I am not sure I want to tweet it, since it seems very adversarially selected. But of similar magnitude is the issue that people quote torres as if they are a reasonable source when they aren't.

I wish someone would write a more balanced article. I don't think torres was being racist to boghossian's kid, for instance. I think they were harassing boghossian though, and making light of jokes about the kid. And that's bad enough. 

I find it hard to know what one should do over the long term about a badly behaved actor criticized by other badly behaved actors.

Executive summary: The post presents evidence that Émile P. Torres has engaged in a pattern of dishonesty, harassment, stalking, and sockpuppetry in their interactions with the effective altruism community and others.

Key points:

  1. Torres harassed and stalked Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, including making racist comments about Boghossian's daughter.
  2. Torres made demonstrably false claims, such as being "forcibly removed" from a paper collaboration and misrepresenting their affiliation with the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER).
  3. Torres grossly distorted the views of several people, including Hilary Greaves, Andreas Mogensen, Nick Beckstead, Tyler Cowen, and Olle Häggström, to portray them and the longtermist philosophy as "white supremacist".
  4. Torres created fake accounts, including the "Alex Williams" sockpuppet, to evade bans, harass targets, and discredit opponents.
  5. When confronted with their misrepresentations, Torres either refused to issue corrections or briefly acknowledged mistakes before continuing the same behavior.

 

 

This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

0
Nathan Young
@Lizka, the post doesn't say that Torres made racist comments about Boghossian's daughter it says they made light of making comments about Boghossian's daughter. 
0
BrownHairedEevee
I think it's pretty bad for the AI to write allegations of criminal or objectionable behavior ("Torres harassed and stalked Peter Boghossian..." etc.) in its own voice, as that exposes the AI's developers to liability for libel if the claims are false. Claims like this should be hedged using phrases like "allegedly" or "the author claims that...".

Not the bot's lawyer, but I might be more worried about universes in which the bot normally does that but doesn't in a particular case, and the summarized post in that case ends up libelous. In that case, one could argue that the non-use of the typical disclaimers communicated something to the reader.

In contrast, the language here sounds "in its own voice," but it's also pretty clear from context that the bot is merely summarizing the original post.

It is possible that many complaints about Torres are true and also that Torres raises important concerns. I would not like to see personal criticism of Torres become a substitute for engagement with criticism by Torres.

I sometimes worry that concern about Torres has made the community less receptive to any criticism of racism, whether or not raised by Torres. That strikes me as an outcome that should definitely be avoided.

Again, a fan of you and your approach David, but I think you underestimate just how hostile/toxic Émile has been toward all of EA. I think it's very fair to substitute one for the other, and it's the kind of thing we do all the time in real, social settings. In a way, you seem to be emulating a hardcore 'decoupling' mindset here.

Like, at risk of being inflammatory, an intuition pump from your perspective might be:

It is possible that many complaints about Trump are true and also that Trump raises important concerns. I would not like to see personal criticism of Trump become a substitute for engagement with criticism by Trump.

I think many EAs view 'engagement with criticism by Torres' in the same way that you'd see 'engagement with criticism by Trump', that the critic is just so toxic/bad-faith that nothing good can come of engagement.

As a tangent, I think EAs should avoid using partisan political examples as intuition pumps for situations like this. 

Liberals might think that 'engagement with criticism by Trump' would be worthless. But conservative crypto investors might think 'engagement with criticism by Elizabeth Warren' would be equally worthless.

Let's try to set aside the reflexive Trump-bashing.

Is there any level of bad behavior that you think merits totally ignoring someone? Where is that line for you?

As far as not interacting with someone, there are lots of people I ignore on the basis of bad behavior. As far as not taking the types of concerns they raise seriously, I'd like to think that it's possible to separate the person from the concerns.

For example, in my discipline (philosophy) there is a truly excellent ranking of philosophy departments. It's also run by a terrible human being. Most of us still use the ranking, just with the warning not to engage with this individual, which we repeat to our students. 

Have you seen people dismiss concerns because Torres shares them (as opposed to dismissing Torres as a source)? I haven't, but I'm sure it's happening somewhere. I agree that would be bad epistemics.

6
Jason
Fully agree on paragraph two. On paragraph one, I do think certain past conduct could justify dismissal of a critic without engagement on the merits, such as a bad enough history of unfair and arguably dishonest quotations/citations. Once you can't trust the other dialogue partner not to do that, the conversation is over. And I dont think anyone should feel an obligation to cite-check bad work. If one has reached that point -- I express no opinion as one who has generally kept a distance from Torres drama -- it would be reasonable to respond only to work that had been vetted by reputable publications, or that had other legible indicia of trustworthiness.
6
Nathan Young
What specific criticisms of racism do you mean?

I'm starting to think that I need to write these up. I thought you folks knew. I don't think the EA community will react very well if I do write these up, so I have tended to hold off.

I think that would be helpful -- Torres is just not the right messenger for this message in my opinion. The community has made up its mind on them, and there have been enough allegations of harassment on both sides that many voices in the middle would probably nope out of a Torres - EA Orthodoxy dialogue/debate.

Pleasantly surprised by this (ditto for David Mathers' comment). Maybe I will try this? I care a great deal about this issue, but not (yet) enough to burn my ability to speak with EAs.

I'd be very surprised if this burnt your ability to speak with EAs. 

You should absolutely do it, and I would agree that you probably would not receive material backlash.

But I would be careful to assume that your success means that any plain old person can critique EA and receive a warm reception.

You've spent a long time building amicable relationships with EAs (I suspect by walking on eggshells, self-censoring - hope I am not being presumptuous here David).

2
David Thorstad
<3

I feel a bit worried that everyone would like to believe that EAs will receive criticism in good faith, so they will be excited to tell you this is true, even if they can't really be that confident. I hope they're right, but worry they're really saying "I, personally, would receive this in good faith, and I think others ought to, and I don't see why they wouldn't" or something like that.

I would guess from things like the Bostrom email controversy that you'll get at least a couple of frustrating comments, and perhaps a small handful people who will be reflexively and unfairly judgemental. I would hope and guess that these experiences will be outweighed by people being grateful for you raising your concerns, including from people who ultimately disagree with the concerns. But obviously it's hard to be sure (even harder given that I don't know what the concerns are).

I'm a bit worried this comment raises the barrier to commentary, so let me try to lower it by saying you can feel free to DM me if you think talking to me privately about your post will help you get it published :)

You are a polite and careful critic, I think you will not get a mega-hostile reaction from most people. (If the worry is just that you won't persuade, then, well, you're not making things worse.)

As someone who is broadly on Torre's side of the fence, I find Torre's antics such as described here to be extremely annoying and unhelpful. I despise Boghossian's et als politics but the behavior here was clearly unjustified, and a lot of the other things here looks like either deliberate dishonesty or a severe lack of reading comprehension. I think this sort of behavior just makes things harder for people who genuinely want to criticize the real flaws and harms in EA thinking.

In fairness, you should probably link Torres response to the article (from part... (read more)

What do you mean by being on their side of the fence? It is quite hard for me to discern the underlying disagreement here. I feel like I am one of the most engaged EAs in my local community, but the beliefs Torres ascribes to EA are so far removed from my own that it is difficult to determine whether there is any actual substantial disagreement underlying all this nastiness in the first place.

7
Guy Raveh
This might have to do with "how local" your local community is. It seems to me that the weirder sides of EA (which I usually consider bad, but others here might not) are common in the EA hubs (Bay Area, Oxbridge, London, and the cluster of large groups in Europe) but not as common in other places (like here in Israel).

But even then, a nuanced engagement with that would require making distinctions, not just going "all EA evil". Both Torres and Gebru these days are very invested in pushing this label of "TESCREAL" to bundle together completely different groups, from EAs who spend 10% of their income in malaria nets to rationalists who worry about AI x-risk to e/accs who openly claim that ASI is the next step in evolution. I think here there are two problems:

  1. abstract moral philosophy can't  be for the faint of heart, you're engaging with the fundamental meaning of good or evil, you must be able to realize when a set of assumptions leads to a seemingly outrageous conclusion and then decide what to make of that. But if a moral philosopher writes "if we assume A and B, that leads us to concluding that it would be moral to eat babies", the reaction can't be "PHILOSOPHER ENDORSES EATING BABIES!!!!", because that's both a misunderstanding of their work and if universalized will have a chilling effect leading to worse moral philosophy overall. Sometimes entertaining weird scenarios is important, if only to realise the contradictions in our assumptions;
  2. for good or bad, left-wing thought and discourse
... (read more)

I think the trend you describe is mostly an issue with "progressives", i.e. "leftists" rather than an issue for all those left of center. And the rationalists don't actually lean right in my experience. They average more like anti-woke and centrist. The distribution in the 2024 ACX survey below has perhaps a bit more centre-left and a bit less centre and centre-right than the rationalists at large but not by much, in my estimation.

1
dr_s
Fair! I think it's hard to fully slot rationalists politically because, well, the mix of high decoupling and generally esoteric interests make for some unique combinations that don't fit neatly in the standard spectrum. I'd definitely qualify myself as centre-left, with some more leftist-y views on some aspects of economics, but definitely bothered by the current progressive vibe that I hesitate to define "woke" since that term is abused to hell but am also not sure how to call since they obstinately refuse to give themselves a political label or even recognise that they constitute a noteworthy distinct political phenomenon at all. How was this survey done, by the way? Self ID or some kind of scored test? 
3
RyanCarey
This was just a "where do you rate yourself from 1-10" type question, but you can see more of the questions and data here.
1
dr_s
So the thing with self-identification is that I think it might suffer from a certain skew. I think there's fundamentally a bit of a stigma on identifying as right wing, and especially extreme right wing. Lots of middle class, educated people who perceive themselves as rational, empathetic and science-minded are more likely to want to perceive themselves as left wing, because that's what left wing identity used to prominently be until a bit over 15 years ago (which is when most of us probably had their formative youth political experiences). So someone might resist the label even if in practice they are on the right half of the Overton window. Must be noted though that in some cases this might just be the result of the Overton window moving around them - and I definitely have the feeling that we now have a more polarized distribution anyway.


Do we actually have hard statistical evidence that rationalists as a group "lean right"? I am highly unsympathetic to right rationalism, as you can see here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/kgBBzwdtGd4PHmRfs/an-instance-of-white-supremacist-and-nazi-ideology-creeping?commentId=tNHd9C8ZbazepnDqs  And it certainly feels true emotionally to me that "rationalism is right-wing". (Which is one reason I consider myself an EA but not a rationalist, although that is mostly just because I entered EA through academic philosophy not rationalism and other than reading a lot of SSC/ACX over the years, have only ever interacted with rationalists in the context of doing EA stuff.) Certain high profile individual rationalist seem to hold a lot of taboo/far-right beliefs (i.e. Scott Alexander on race and IQ here: https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/book-review-the-origins-of-woke). Roko and Hannania are of course even more right-wing (and frankly pretty gross in my view), though hopefully they are outliers. 

BUT

Over the years, I have observed a general pattern with, what we can call "rationalist-like" groups: i.e. lots of men, mostly straight and white, lots of autism broadly constru... (read more)

You have some good hypothesis. One other: a lot of left wing activist types (who are disproportionately noisy) have very strong ideological purity preferences, so a person with mainly left wing views but some right wing views can be condemned for the latter, and likewise a movement with mainly left wing people but a few right wing people can be condemned. Any sufficiently public person or movement, unless they are very homogeneous or very PR-conscious, will eventually reveal they have some diversity of views and hence be subject to potential censure.

In my view, what's going on is largely these two things:

[rationalists etc] are well to the left of the median citizens, but they are to the right of [typical journalists and academics]

Of course. And:

biodeterminism... these groups are very, very right-wing on... eugenics, biological race and gender differences etc.-but on everything else they are centre-left. 

Yes, ACX readers do believe that genes influence a lot of life outcomes, and favour reproductive technologies like embryo selection, which are right-coded views. These views are actually not restricted to the far-right, however. Most people will choose to have an abortion when they know their child will have a disability, for example.

Various of your other hypotheses don't ring true to me. I think:

  • People aren't self-deceiving about their own politics very much. They know which politicians and intellectuals they support, and who they vote for. 
  • Rationalist leadership is not very politically different from the rationalist membership. 
  • Sexual misbehaviour doesn't change perceived political alignment very much.
  • The high % of male rationalist is at most a minor factor in the difference between perceived and actual politics.
6
David Mathers
The race stuff is much more right-coded than some of the other genetic/disability stuff. 
3
dr_s
  The problem is that this is really a short step away from "certain races have lower IQ and it's kinda all there is to it to explain their socio-economic status", and I've seen many people take that step. Roko and Hanania which I mentioned explicitly absolutely do so publicly and repeatedly.

It sounds like you would prefer the rationalist community prevent its members from taking taboo views on social issues? But in my view, an important characteristic of the rationalist community, perhaps its most fundamental, is that it's a place where people can re-evaluate the common wisdom, with a measure of independence from societal pressure. If you want the rationalist community (or any community) to maintain that character, you need to support the right of people to express views that you regard as repulsive, not just the views that you like. This could be different if the views were an incitement to violence, but proposing a hypothesis for socio-economic differences isn't that.

Well, it's complicated. I think in theory these things should be open to discussion (see my point on moral philosophy). But now suppose that hypothetically there was incontrovertible scientific evidence that Group A is less moral or capable than Group B. We should still absolutely champion the view that wanting to ship Group A into camps and exterminate them is barbaric and vile, and that instead the humane and ethical thing to do is help Group A compensate for their issues and flourish at the best of their capabilities (after all, we generally hold this view for groups with various disabilities that absolutely DO hamper their ability to take part in society in various ways). But to know that at all can be also construed as an infohazard: just the fact itself creates the condition for a Molochian trap in which Group A gets screwed by nothing other than economic incentives and everyone else acting in their full rights and self-interest. So yeah, in some way these ideas are dangerous to explore, in the sense that they may be a case where truth-finding has net negative utility. That said, it's pretty clear that people are way too invested in them either way to just let sleeping dogs lie.

2
David Mathers
Scott seems not unsympathetic to something like* that step here**, though he stops short of clear endorsement: https://www.astralcodexten.com/p/book-review-the-origins-of-woke I think this is a dangerous path to go down.  *"Something like"= if you substitute "all there is" with "a major cause, which makes some standard albeit controversial ways of targeting racial inequality fail a cost/benefit test that they might otherwise pass.  **Full quote:  'Everyone is so circumspect when talking about race that I can never figure out what anyone actually knows or believes. Still, I think most people would at least be aware of the following counterargument: suppose you’re the math department at a college. You might like to have the same percent black as the general population (13%). But far fewer than 13% (let’s say 2%) of good math PhDs are black. So it’s impossible for every math department to hire 13% black math professors unless they lower their standards or take some other drastic measure. Okay, says our hypothetical opponent. Then that means math grad programs are discriminating against blacks. Fine, they’re the ones we should be investigating for civil rights violations. No, say the math grad programs, fewer than 13% of our applicants are black too. Fine, then the undergrad programs are the racists. Or if they can prove they’re not, then the high schools are racist and we should do busing. The point is, somebody somewhere along the line has to be racist, right? I know of four common, non-exclusive answers to this question. Yes, the high schools (or whatever) are racist. And if you can present a study proving that high schools aren’t racist, then it’s the elementary schools. And if you have a study there too, it’s the obstetricians, giving black mothers worse pregnancy care. If you have a study disproving that too, why are you collecting all these studies? Hey, maybe you’re the racist! Maybe institutions aren’t too racist today, but there’s a lot of legacy of pa
3
dr_s
I think you are onto something - and I think there is a distinction here between "elites" and "rank and file", so to speak. Not too surprisingly since these are people from very distinct backgrounds often anyway! I kind of shudder when I see high profile rationalists casually discussing betting or offering prizes of tens of thousands of dollars over small internet arguments, because it's fairly obvious these people live in a completely different world than mine (where my wife would rightfully have my head if I spaffed half of my year's salary for internet points). And having different material interests is fairly likely to skew your politics. One more thing is that often the groups that you describe are most attracted to being libertarian - which is kind of a separate thing, but more right than left coded usually (though it's the "laissez fair capitalism" kind of right, not the "round up the ethnic minorities and put them in camps" one).  This is kind of a key point because there's also two dimensions to this. One is, "which statements about biodeterminism are true, if any?", and the other is "what should we do about that?". The first is a scientific question, the latter a political and moral one. But the truth is that because the right wing has offered some very awful answers to the latter, it has become an important tenet on the left to completely deny that any such statements could be true, which kind of cuts the problem at its roots. This is probably correct anyway for vastly disproved and discredited theses like "black people have lower IQ", but it gets to the point of denying that IQ is inheritable or correlates at all with anything worth calling "intelligence", which to me feels a bit too hard to believe (and even if it was - ok, so what is a better measure of intelligence? There has to exist one!). And well, a community of high decoupling, high intelligence, science minded autists is probably the one that's most likely to take issue with that. Though agai

rationalist community kind of leans right wing on average

Seems false. It leans right compared to the extreme left wing, but right compared to the general population? No. Its too libertarian for that. I bet rightists would also say it leans left, and centrists would say its too extreme. Overall, I think its just classically libertarian.

5
Manuel Del Río Rodríguez
Mostly agree and have found your post insightful, but am not too sure about the 'confront this a bit' part. I feel both most EAs and most Rationalists are very solidly on the left (not the radical, SJW fringe, but very clearly left of center, Democratic-leaning). I vaguely remember having read somewhere Tyler Cowen describing EA as 'what SJW should be like'. Still, I feel that political partisanship and accepting labels is such a generally toxic and counterproductive affair that it is best avoided. And I think there's probably some inevitable tension inside EA between people who prioritize the search for veracity and effectiveness, and a high degree of respect for the freedom to explore unconventional and inconvenient truth, and others who might lean more towards prioritizing more left-coded practices and beliefs.
1
dr_s
So I am actually perhaps less familiar with the distribution of political beliefs in EAs specifically and I'm thinking about rationalist-adjacent communities more at large, and there's definitely some people more comfortable around some pretty racist stuff than you'd find elsewhere (as someone else quoted - ACX just published a review of Hanania's book "The origins of woke", and the book is apparently a big screed against civil rights law. And knowing Hanania, it's not hard to guess what he's driving at). So at least there's a certain tendency in which open-mindedness and willingness to always try to work everything out from first principles can let in some relatively questionable ideas. I do agree about the problem with political labels. I do worry about whether that position will be tenable if the label of "TESCREAL" takes off in any meaningful way. Labels or not, if the rationalist community writ large gets under sustained political attack from one side of the aisle, natural alliances will be formed and polarization will almost certainly occur. 
9
David_Moss
  The results of the ACX survey just came out and allow us to examine political affiliation and alignment both across the whole sample and based on LW / EA ID. First, the overall sample.  This is a left-right scale: nearly 70% were on the left side of the spectrum. Political affiliation: mostly liberal, social democratic and libertarian (in that order). Now looking at LW ID to assess rationalist communities: Quite similar, but LW ID'd people lean a bit more to the left than the general readership. In terms of political affiliation, LWers are substantially less conservative, less neo-reactionary, less alt-right and much more both liberal and libertarian. Now looking at EA ID (though I would not expect EA ID's ACX respondents to reflect the EA community as a whole: they should be expected to be more ACX and rationalist leaning): EAs are more left, 16.4% are on the right end of the spectrum, though 9.7% are in the category immediately right of centre and 13.5% in one of the two most centre-right categories, only 2.9% are more right-leaning than that. (That's still more right-leaning that the general EA Survey sample, which I would expect to be less skewed, which found 2.2% center-right, 0.7% right. In terms of political affiliation, EAs are overwhelmingly liberal (almost 50% of the sample) followed by social democratic (another 30.5%), with 15.3% libertarians. There are 4% Conservatives and <1% for each of alt-right or neo-reactionary (for context, 3 and 5 respondents respectively), so definitely into lizardman territory.
2
dr_s
Thanks, that's useful! I guess the surprising thing is maybe just that there still are some fairly prominent names in the rationalist space that express obviously very right wing views and that they are generally almost not seen as such (for example Scott Alexander just wrote a review of Hanania's new book in which I'd say he almost ends up sounding naive by how much he doesn't simply acknowledge "well, clearly Hanania is barely stopping shy of saying black people are just stupider", something that Hanania has said openly elsewhere anyway, so it's barely a mystery that he believes it). 
4
Elizabeth
Could you provide links to those statements by Hanania? Not a gotcha, I just have barely heard of this guy and from what you say I expect all discourse around him to be a cesspool. 
3
dr_s
I would need to dig up specific stuff, but in general I'd suggest to just check out his Twitter/X account https://twitter.com/RichardHanania and see what he says. These days it's completely dominated by discourse on the Palestine protests so it's hard to dig out anything on race. Mind you, he's not one to hold a fully stereotypical GOP-aligned package of ideas - he has a few deviations and is secular (so for example pro-choice on abortion; also he's definitely not antisemitic, in fact he explicitly called himself prosemitic, as he believes Jews to be smarter). But on race I'm fairly convinced he 100% believes in scientific racism from any time he's talked about it. I don't want to link any of the opinion pieces around that argue for this (but there's a fair deal if you want to check them out and try to separate fact from fiction - many point out that he's sort of switched to some more defensive "bailey" arguments lately, which he seems to do and explicitly advocate for as a strategy in his latest book "The Origins of Woke" too, again see the ACX review). But for some primary evidence, for example, here's a tweet about how crime can only be resolved by more incarceration and surveillance of black people: https://twitter.com/RichardHanania/status/1657541010745081857?lang=en-GB His RationalWiki article has obviously opinions about him, but also a bunch of links to primary sources in the bibliography: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Richard_Hanania He used to write more explicitly racist stuff under the pseudonym Richard Hoste until a few years ago. He openly admitted this and wrote an apology blog post in which he basically says that he was young and went a bit too far. Now whether this corresponds to a genuine moderation (from extremely right wing to merely strongly socially conservative and anti-woke) is questionable, because it could just as well be a calculated retreat from a motte to a bailey. It's not wild to consider this possibility given that, again, he expl

I posted a reply, but it was automatically marked as spam, likely due to the newness of my account.

My reply copied a screenshot of Emile Torres, whose claims of having received harassment and threats of violence you said you had found "plausible", falsely accusing me of "stalking, harassing, lying about, impersonating, and threatening [them] with physical violence".

6
Jason
I don't think @titotal was specifically commenting on any allegation that you harassed Torres. It's almost impossible for third parties to rule the more general allegations against unnamed anonymous persons in or out.
4
titotal
I was referring to the account that told torres to be careful or "someone will break your kneeecaps", the person obsessively tweeting attacks, the people impersonating Torres, tagging his ex-wife, etc. I can't rule out Torres faking some of this, but I think it's more plausible that the attacks are by real people who dislike Torres.  I would guess you are not behind those, and that Torres is wrongly attributing them to you (they seem different in character to the post here). However since you seem to be a pseudonymous/throwaway account person who has only ever discussed this one topic, I have no way to be sure.  I am fairly annoyed at the lack of good faith being given here, given the subject matter. 

The point I was trying to make is that you probably would not take their claims as seriously as you seem to be, if you had properly assimilated the fact that these claims are being made by the same person who falsely accused someone of "stalking, harassing, lying about, impersonating, and threatening [them] with physical violence".

You then say that you "have no way to be sure" if those accusations are indeed false because I am writing pseudonymously. Why do you say this? What does my pseudonymity have to do with my credibility in this context? The reason you should believe me is that if those accusations were true, and Torres knew this to be the case, they would be in a position to share this evidence publicly. But they haven’t done so, because they do not have this evidence.

9
DPiepgrass
I didn't see a message about kneecaps, or those other things you mentioned. Could you clarify? However, given Torres' history of wanton dishonesty ― I mean, prior to reading this article I had already seen Torres lying about EA ― and their history of posting under multiple accounts to the same platform (including sock puppets), if I see an account harassing Torres like that, I would (1) report the offensive remark and (2) wonder if Torres themself controls that account.

Torres account of receiving harassment and threats of violence seem plausible to me

 

Here is one of Emile P. Torres’s tweets about me:

As I note in my post, this is a complete fabrication.

Hi Mark,

I wonder if you'd be willing to do something along the lines of privately verifying that your identity is roughly as described in your post? I think this could be pretty straightforward, and might help a bunch in making things clear and low-drama. (At present you're stating that the claims about your identify are a fabrication, but there's no way for external parties to verify this.)

I think from something like a game-theoretic perspective (i.e. to avoid creating incentives for certain types of escalation if someone is willing to engage in bad faith), absent some verification it will be reasonable for observers to assume that Torres is correct that the anonymous account "Mark Fuentes" is misrepresenting itself as a disinterested party. (Which would be relevant information for readers in interpreting the post, even if much of the content remained valid.)

I sent Owen a private response yesterday as I prefer to avoid writing publicly about this topic, but seeing that there is some confusion about the importance of my pseudonymity I'm sharing an adapted version of it below.

--

No, I am not comfortable disclosing my identity to a trusted party because I want to minimize the chances that Torres succeeds in doxxing me, and any disclosure involves risks. More fundamentally, I fail to see how my identity affects the credibility of what I said. I merely pointed out that Torres had accused me of “stalking, harassing, lying about, impersonating, and threatening [them] with physical violence”, and that this was a complete fabrication. If these accusations were True, Torres should be able to provide solid evidence. But Torres can provide this evidence regardless of whether my identity is known, or who it is known to.

The only scenario in which I can see Torres being unable to publicly back up their allegations is if (1) they are in a position to show that a specific individual did all of those things, (2) they know that I am this individual, but (3) they are unwilling to reveal the identity between that person and myself out of respect for my priv... (read more)

7
Linch
I'm happy to be one of the intermediaries, if Torres etc are willing to trust me (no particular reason to think they would)
5
Nathan Young
I have a pretty good relationship with Émile and would likewise be happy to.

Is there any way for us to validate that your EA Forum account and the substack are controlled by the same person?

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