Catherine Low

Community Liaison, Community Health and Special Projects Team @ Centre for Effective Altruism
3529 karmaJoined Jun 2015Working (15+ years)Oxford, UK

Bio

I'm one of the Community Liaisons for the EA community (alongside Julia Wise and Charlotte Darnell).

I'm a contact for community health support for EA groups, and I also works on assessing and mitigating risks to the EA community. 

I initially studied a lot of physics, then was a high school teacher for 11 years before moving full time into EA community building. I ran local and national EA groups and worked on EA outreach projects,  before joining CEA’s Groups Team in early 2020 to support EA groups worldwide. I started working for the Community Health team mid 2021. 

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

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


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

Thanks for sharing all this information Kat. It seems like this situation has been very difficult for everyone involved. Members of the community health team will look through the post, comments and appendix and work out what our next steps (if any) will be. 

Congrats on the new job, and a warm welcome to our community! 

I encourage you to reach out to Kathryn from Magnify Mentoring (I'm one of the board members). We support and connect women, non-binary and trans people interested in having a large impact. We have dozens of great mentors, many of whom are young women in leadership positions at orgs funded by EA motivated donors. (You also might be a good fit for becoming a mentor in the future once you have your bearings!)
Good luck!

Catherine from Community Health here. I was aware of this grant application. After discussion with my colleagues in Community Health who were also aware of the same concerns about Nonlinear mentioned in this post, I decided not to advise EAIF to decline this application. Some of the reasons for that were:

  • The funding was for a project run by three other people (not Nonlinear staff), and I had no concerns about those people working on this project
  • The three people were not going to be living with Kat and Emerson, which made risks to them lower
  • At that stage, I had heard some but not all of the complaints listed in this post, so I didn't have the same picture as I do now. The complaints were confidential, which constrained the possible moves I could make – I wasn’t able to get more information, and I couldn’t share information with the EAIF team that might lead to someone identifying the complainant or Nonlinear guessing that someone complaining had affected their grant decision.  
  • I could and did put some risk mitigation measures in place, in particular, by requiring the grant to be made on the condition that they set up an incubation contract to formalise the roles, reducing the risk that the incubatees and Nonlinear would have different expectation of access to funds and ownership of the project (which was one of the problems Alice reported).
  • I didn’t request that EAIF send the money directly to the three people involved in the project, rather than Nonlinear, but I was pleased that it happened

Looking back, given the information and constraints I had at the time, I think this was a reasonable decision.

The situation with person L was deeply tragic. This comment explains some of the actions taken by CEA’s Community Health team as a result of their reports.

The situation with person L was deeply tragic. This comment explains some of the actions taken by CEA’s Community Health team as a result of their reports.

Hi Mandelbrot, 

Thanks for sharing. The stories of individual women from Silicon Valley are very harrowing. 

This point in struck me:

> The men who victimized us are shaping the world. We are canaries for their disregard for human dignity.

It is a deeply sad thing about the world that those who wield power are often unethical or ignorant of the plight of those who they affect. With the improvement in AI technology, I’m expecting rapid changes in who (or what) wields power, so I’m feeling very anxious about this getting worse. 

 

I encourage victims of sexual misconduct to reach out to others for support, and to seriously consider reporting the incident.

People you can report to or seek support from: 

  • If the incident relates to someone involved in the EA community in some way, you can contact the Community Liaisons (Julia Wise, Charlotte Darnell and me), anonymously if you wish. 
  • University authorities if the misconduct involved university staff or students, or a university affiliated group
  • Police
  • Human resources staff or managers, if the misconduct was associated with a workplace
  • The organiser of the event, if the incident happened at an event.
  • A lawyer - one option with an advice line is Bay Area Legal Aid, or this guidance from Women’s Law on finding a lawyer
  • And friends and family


Many countries have free sexual misconduct advice available. Some people find it helpful to talk to one of these support services to learn more about what is likely to happen if you report to the police. Here are some resources that may be useful for the US, UK and Australia. We don’t have experience working with these organisations. 


We also encourage victims to seek mental health support. EA Mental Health Navigator can help people in our community access support.

In case you missed it, and you're interested. I've put some updates relating to the the Community Health and Special Projects Team thinking and actions about concerns about Nonlinear on Ben's initial post

Some confidentiality constraints have been lifted in the last few days, so I’m now able to share more information from the Community Health and Special Projects team to give people a sense of how this case went from our perspective, and how we think about these things. 
 

Previous updates:

To give a picture of how things happened over time:

  • Starting mid last year, our team heard about many of the concerns mentioned in this post.
  • At the time of our initial conversations with former staff/associates of Nonlinear, they were understandably reluctant for us to do anything that would let on to Nonlinear that they were raising complaints. This limited our ability to hear Nonlinear’s side of the story, though members of our team did have some conversations with Kat that touched on some of these topics. It also meant that the former staff/associates did not give permission at that time for us to take some steps that we suggested. They also suggested some steps that we didn’t see as feasible for us. 
  • At one point we discussed the possibility of the ex-staff writing a public post of some kind, but at that time they were understandably unwilling to do this. Our impression is that the impetus for that eventually coming together was Ben being willing to put in a lot of work.
  • Over time, confidentiality became less of a constraint. The people raising the concerns became more willing to have information shared, and some people made public comments, meaning we were able to take some more actions without compromising confidentiality. We were then able to take some steps including what we describe here, and pointing various people to the publicly available claims, to reduce the risk of other people ending up in bad situations.
  • We had been considering taking more steps when we heard Ben was working with theformer staff/associates on a public post. We felt that this public post might make some of those steps less necessary. We kept collecting information about Nonlinear, but did not do as much as we might have done had Ben not been working on this.
  • We continued to track Nonlinear and were ready to prioritise the case more highly if it seemed that the risk to others in the community was rising. 

Catherine from CEA’s Community Health and Special Projects Team here.  I have a different perspective on the situation than Jaime does and appreciate that he noted that “these stories have a lot of nuance to them and are in each case the result of the CHT making what they thought were the best decisions they could make with the tools they had.” 

I believe Jaime’s points 1, 2 and 3 refer to the same conflict between two people. In that situation, I have deep empathy for the several people that have suffered during the conflict. It was (and still is) a complex and very upsetting situation.

Typically CEA’s Groups team is the team at CEA that interfaces most closely with EA groups. The conflict mentioned here was an unusual situation which led the Community Health team to have more contact with that group than usual. From the information we gathered after talking to several individuals affected, this was an interpersonal conflict. We made a judgement call about what was best given the information, which Jaime disagrees with. To be clear, based on the information we had, there were no threats of violence, sexual harassment, or other forms of seriously harmful behavior that would warrant us to take the steps that Jaime suggests.

Ultimately, I think both Jaime and I had the same goals of increasing the chances that the group thrives and continues to do its important work over the long term, but we had a different perspective on how to move towards that goal in this situation.

I don’t recognise the situation in 4. I’m not sure if that is because I’m unaware, or if I have a different understanding of the situation. If anyone reading knows and wants to share information or give us feedback I’d be very grateful. There are ways you can contact our community liaisons or managers Chana and Nicole anonymously. 

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