244 karmaJoined Nov 2022


To clarify:

  • I never worked with Nonlinear.
  • I haven't specified whether I heard my info from the employees/interns themselves. (My language was "Based on things I've heard from various people around Nonlinear.")
  • I never used the word "outflux," but rather "group." That said, I believe that Kat is right about it being only two people (I had thought I remembered three, but I now think that was wrong).
  • I think it's plausible but not >50% likely that this is based on the exaggerated report of an ordinary disgruntled employee. [EDIT: actually, considering other negative gossip I've heard about Nonlinear, I'd be extremely surprised if this was all downstream of an exaggerated report from a single person.] I'm pretty unsure whether it was a good idea to post this. Sorry if I made the wrong call.

[EDIT: I'd like to clarify that, strictly speaking, the comment below is gossip without hard substantiating evidence. Gossip can have an important community function - at the very least, from this comment you can conclude that things happened at Nonlinear which induced people (in fact, many people) to negatively gossip about the organization - but should also be treated as different from hard accusations, especially those backed by publicly available evidence. In the wake of the FTX fiasco, I think it's likely that people are more inclined to treat gossip of the sort I share below as decisive.

That said, I do think that the gossip below paints a basically accurate picture. I also have other reasons to distrust Nonlinear that I don't feel comfortable sharing (more gossip!). I know this is hard epistemic territory to work in, and I'm sorry. I would feel best about this situation if someone from, e.g., CEA would talk to some of the people involved, but I'm sure anyone who could deal with this is swamped right now. In the meantime, I think it's fine for this gossip to make you unsure about Nonlinear, but still e.g. consider applying to them for emergency funding. I personally wouldn't, but I have different information from you, and a community which overindexes on gossip will have problems.]

Considering recent events, I feel that I ought to share the following:

Based on things I've heard from various people around Nonlinear, Kat and Emerson have a recent track record of conducting Nonlinear in a way inconsistent with EA values. More specifically, they have a history of mistreating their employees and interns, and of not fulfilling obligations to them, including financial obligations and mentorship they promised to provide. I have general sense that they had a pattern of taking on young, idealistic interns with poor ability to stand up for themselves and exploiting them to a standard many would consider unacceptable (e.g. manipulating them into accepting unreasonably little pay, and sometimes not following through on payment when they thought they could get away with it).

As I understand things, in July 2022 a group of Nonlinear employees and interns quit because they were unhappy with either their own treatment or the treatment of their coworkers.

I've also heard that Emerson can be retributive, and that some people around Nonlinear were scared about Emerson finding out they'd spoken badly about him. (Generally speaking, to the extent that things were bad at Nonlinear, I have the general sense that Emerson, and not Kat, was the main source of bad behavior.)

I feel quite conflicted about posting this because:

  • The people I've spoken to also think that Nonlinear has done a lot of good, despite their mistreatment of employees and interns. But I've recently become quite weary of this "ends justify the means"-type reasoning.
  • I can't share any specifics because anything specific was told to me in confidence; I also have no way of knowing whether the things I've heard were exaggerated. Additionally, a lot of what I was told I remember only vaguely.
  • Given that none of the people wronged spoke up, it's not clear that I should (due to concerns about the reliability of secondhand knowledge, for example).
  • The EA community certainly doesn't need any more drama right now.

But I decided to post anyway because I like to think that I've learned the hazards of waiting until after misbehavior is publicly revealed to write about the evidence that I had all along. Sorry for any unfortunate consequences of this comment.

If someone trusted would like to verify my identity and that I could plausibly have knowledge about this, I'd be willing to share my identity in a direct message.