E

Elizabeth

4018 karmaJoined May 2015

Comments
346

those posts all go out of their way to say they're new to EA. I feel pretty differently about someone with an existing cause discovering EA and trying to fundraise vs someone who integrated EA principles[1] and found a new cause they think is important. 

  1. ^

    I don't love the phrase "EA principles", EA gets some stuff critically wrong and other subcultures get some stuff right. But it will do for these purposes. 

I did some math here, but now think that I was terribly optimistic and I took people's self-reports about helpfulness too seriously. Maybe it's still useful as an upper bound.  

SBF was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends. It's pretty notable to me that there weren't many comments like Jonas's for SBF, while there are for Owen.

 

I think these cases are too different for that comparison to hold. 

One big difference is that SBF committed fraud, not sexual harassment. There's a long history of people minimizing sexual harassment, especially when it's as ambiguous. There's also a long history of ignoring fraud when you're benefiting from it, but by the time anyone had a chance to comment on SBF he had already incontrovertibly failed, in public, at an epic scale.

Additionally, even in the most generous interpretation of the overall situation, Owen seems extremely bad at assessing how his advances are received. Jonas's comment doesn't mention any source of information other than Owen himself, who even if he's not actively lying, is not a reliable source of information. Maybe I'm wrong and Jonas has more sources, in which case I would love for him to give more details on that. 

Owen very much doesn't seem to me like that either

 

Part of me wants to ask what you're basing that on. And on one hand, I do think specifics are better than general assessments (which I explain in more detail here). On the other, I think trying to relitigate this on the forum is likely to go poorly, and isn't worth it given that EV has laid down a reasonable plan. 

Surely there are a lot of other hypotheses as well, and Jonas's evidence is relevant to updating on those?

 

There are of course infinite hypotheses. But I don't think Jonas's statement adds much to my estimates of how much harm Owen is likely to do in the future, and expect the same should be true for most people reading this.

To be clear I'm not saying I estimate more harm is likely- taking himself off the market seems likely to work, and this has been public enough I expect it to be easy for future victims to complain if something does happen. I'm only saying that I think large updates based on Jonas's statement are a mistake for people who already know Owen was an EA leader in good standing for many years and had many highly placed friends. 

If I was completely unfamiliar with EA and Jonas's comment was the first piece of information I got, that would probably shift my probability weights for what happened. Although it's still consistent with a lot of harm being done by accident, and with harm done being difficult to estimate.

But for anyone who knows Owen's place in EA,  Jonas's comment is a high level assessment that is only useful insofar as you trust his judgment. I contend that that kind of trust should only come from observing someone in detail over a prolonged period, and few people are likely to have that about Jonas. Not because of anything specific to him, it just takes a lot of time and intimacy to develop that kind of justified trust. There are a handful of people I'd defer to in this situation and I've had high-information engagement with them for years. 

In contrast, lyra's comment contains a lot of details I can use to inform my own reasoning. She was also in a better position to notice Owen's harms, and to hear about them second hand. Hher comment has half the karma of Jonas's (and had 1/3 when I wrote my original comment), which I think indicates systemic bad judgment and probably excess deference to professional reputation, even accounting for the fact that lyra's comment is anonymous. 

This looks great, thanks for doing it

It's important to point out how this case is atypical

 

I want to distinguish between "he is not the kind of deliberate predator you typically think of when you hear about sexual harassment" and "he is different than most people who sexually harass others".

I think that "well-meaning person does damage through neglect rather than malice or deliberate disregard" is a fairly typical case; maybe more common than deliberate predation. You can do a lot of damage through neglect alone, especially when you underestimate your power in a situation.  So while I think it is very good to push back against the assumption that harm came from deliberate malice, and provide evidence for a given situation, this is almost orthogonal to expectations of future harm. 

Those all seem like good changes, but they also feel like what Nate Soares described as "I wish I had bet on 23" errors. What could have been done to help the team notice things needed to be handled differently, before such a costly failure? 

I think what Jonas has written is reasonable, and I appreciate all the work he did to put in proper caveats. I also don’t want to pick on Owen in particular here; I don’t know anything besides what has been publicly said, and some positive interactions I had with him years ago. That said: I think the fact that this comment is so highly upvoted indicates a systemic error, and I want to talk about that.

The evidence Jonas provides is equally consistent with “Owen has a flaw he has healed” and “Owen is a skilled manipulator who charms men, and harasses women”. And if women (such as myself) report he never harassed them, that’s still consistent with him being a serial predator who’s good at picking targets. I’m not arguing the latter is true- I’m arguing that Jonas’s comment is not evidence either way, and its 100+ karma count has me worried people think it is.  There was a similar problem with the supportive comments around Nonlinear from people who had not been in subservient positions while living with the founders, although those were not very highly upvoted.

“If every compliment is equally strong evidence for innocence and skill at manipulation, doesn’t that leave people with no way to prove innocence, or in this case improvement?” Yes, it is very hard to prove a negative, or that you’ve genuinely improved instead of merely hiding things better. I don’t know what the right way to handle that is, although I can point to a few things I think would have made Jonas’s comment more valuable.

As written, this comment contains only Jonas’s interpretations (and appropriate caveats- still really appreciate those). Those are valuable to the extent people have informed trust in Jonas in particular. But if he had shared specifics, people have a chance to evaluate themselves. This could include things Owen had said or done, or what Jonas hopes to gain from Owen’s return. I also think providing unrelated positives is good for contextualizing people; it has to be done carefully to avoid presenting it as a counterargument, but I think Jonas could pull it off. 

A relevant question here is "what would I give up to get that feedback?". This is very sensitive to the quality of feedback and I don't know exactly what's on offer, but... I think I'd give up at least 5% of my grants in exchange for a Triplebyte-style short email outlining why the grant was accepted, what their hopes are, and potential concerns. 

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