121 karmaJoined Sep 2021


strong upvoted, I think it's good to encourage non-EAs to give more effectively and I think it's good to broaden what we think of as "evidence" and consider its pros and cons.

I work with a community in my city that gives primarily locally (leaving aside my judgment on that), and I find that many people think that they're not giving based on any idea of effectiveness: e.g. they'll say they're giving based on community need, or trust in a relationship they have, or values-alignment. But usually there's an implicit sense of "what is effective" underneath that, and it's helpful to push people to make that explicit: if you're giving because you trust the relationship you have with this organization, how good of a signal is that about the organization's work? Is it a better signal than other evidence you have access to?

(Aside: Quite often with small grassroots organizations, I think a strong relationship with the right people honestly is one of the best available signals! In particular, I find that the organizations that community leaders consider important/tractable/neglected - though not using those words - are not always the ones that gain a lot of media attention, external funding, etc.)

Answer by ethaiJan 10, 20233-2

I've thought a fair amount about this (Shell recruited pretty heavily at my college). I agree with previous answers and think those are probably the primary considerations. Some other thoughts, both for you personally and on the moral value of the work:

  • Being thoughtful (as you are doing) is half the battle, and it's key to make sure that your own values and motivations aren't led astray by the environment you will be in - it's easy to have value drift when your job is on the line. 
    • I wouldn't underestimate the subtle ways in which being owned by a FF can change the way a company does business (and therefore what you are able to do and what you are rewarded for). An imperfect analogue is the way SBF's funding shaped what EA orgs did over the past few years, and the resulting fallout and instability now.
      • There's some research that even if you have idealistic motivations about doing good, the environment around you can shift your preferences towards whatever is externally rewarded, e.g. here re law school. 
      • It is hard to be motivated and do your best work (and therefore get promotions, transition into a better job in the future, etc) when you don't feel affirmed and aligned with your work.
  • There is utilitarian value in socially stigmatizing fossil fuel companies. If FFs (& the companies they own) can't find talent, that's yet another signal that they should be seriously re-evaluating their business model. I do think this consideration is less clear when it comes to acquisitions like sonnen.

I wouldn't do it myself in your situation, especially since there are probably plenty of non-FF-owned clean tech companies hiring SWEs. But it's not clear to me whether it would be net good or bad, for the world or for you.

Yeah, strong agree with this. [I used to work in VC and frequently diligenced ARPA-E grantees.] I don't think the cited study supports the claim that all externalities are priced in in the US, let alone globally. 

I would also guess that the valuation of the 26 exited companies is an underestimation of overall impact for other reasons - top of mind: impact of non-exited companies, learning benefit to the field of a company that "fails" and exits at a very low valuation.

@charrin thanks for writing this, as a below commenter said it's nice to see an EA-style investigation of a potentially impactful career path outside the community! 

Thank you for sharing that!

For what it's worth, I think "discussions of DEI end up becoming discussions about women" is pretty common - not to say it's excusable, but I don't think that's unique to EA.

Thanks, I realize this is a tricky thing to talk about publicly (certainly trickier for you, as someone whose name people actually know, than for me, who can say whatever I want!). I'm coming in with a stronger prior from "the outside world", where I've seen multiple friends ignored/disbelieved/attacked for telling their stories of sexual violence, so maybe I need to better calibrate for intra-EA-community response. I agree/hope that our goals shouldn't be at odds, and that's what I was trying to say that maybe did not come across: I didn't want people to come away from your comment thinking "ah, Maya's wrong and people shouldn't criticize EA culture." I wanted them to come away both knowing the truth about this specific situation AND thinking more broadly about EA culture, because I think this post makes a lot of other very good points that don't rely on the Kathy claims. (And thinking more broadly could include updating positively like I did, although I didn't expect that would be the case when I made that comment!)

You're probably right that it's not worth giving much more of a response, but I appreciate you engaging with this!

Thank you, this is clarifying for me and I hope for others.

Responses to me, including yours, have helped me update my thinking on how the EA community handles gendered violence. I wasn't aware of these cases and am glad, and hope that other women seeing this might also feel more supported within EA knowing this. I realize there are obvious reasons why these things aren't very public, but I hope that somehow we can make it clearer to women that Kathy's case, and the community's response, was an outlier.

I would still push back against the gender-reversal false equivalency that you and others have mentioned. EA doesn't exist in a bubble. We live in a world where survivors, and in particular women, are not supported, not believed, and victim-blamed. Therefore I think it is pretty reasonable to have a prior that we should take accusations seriously and respond to them delicately. The Forum, if anywhere on earth, should be a place where we can have the nuanced understanding that (1) the accusations were false AND (2) because we live in a world where true accusations against powerful men are often disbelieved, causing avoidable harm to victims, we need to keep that context in mind while condemning said false accusations.

So to clarify my stance: I don't think it was wrong to mention that the false accusation is false. I think it seems dismissive and insensitive to do so without any acknowledgement of the rest of the post.  I don't think it would have hurt your point to say "yes, EA is a male-dominated culture and we need to take seriously the harms done to women in our community. In this specific instance, the accusations were false, and I don't believe the community's response to these accusations is representative of how we handle harm."

I think the disconnect here is that you are responding / care about this specific claim, which you have close knowledge of. I know nothing about it, and am responding to / care about the larger claim about EA's culture. I believe that Maya's post is not trying to to make truth claims about Kathy's case and is more meant to point out a broad trend in EA culture, and I'm trying to encourage people to read it as such, and not let the wrongness of Kathy's claims undermine Maya's overall point.

(edit: basically I agree with your comment above: 

if I appear to be implicitly criticizing Maya for bringing that up, fewer people will bring things like that up in the future, and even if this particular episode was false, many similar ones will be true, so her bringing it up is positive expected value, so I shouldn't sound critical in any way that discourages future people from doing things like that.)

Thank you, yeah I think I may be overindexing on a few public examples (not being privy to the private examples that you and others in thread have brought up). Glad to hear that there are plenty of examples of the community responding well to protect victims/survivors.

I still also don't think everything's fine, but unsure to what extent EA is worse than the rest of the world, where things are also not fine on this front.

Yeah, this is very fair and I agree that transparency is not always the right call. To clarify, I'll say that my stance here, medium confidence, is: (1) in instances which the victim/survivor has already made their accusations public,  or in instances where it's already necessarily something that isn't interpersonal [e.g. hotness ranking], the process of accountability or repair, or at least the fact that one exists, should be public; (2) it should be transparent what kind of process a victim can expect when harm happens.

There's some literature around procedural justice and trust that indicates that people feel better and trust the outcomes of a process more when it is transparent and invites engagement, regardless of whether the actual outcome favors them or not. 

I am glad to hear that there have been cases where women have felt safe reporting and action has been taken!

(edited to delete a para about CEA community health team's work that I realized was wrong, after seeing this page linked below)

edit: after discussion below & other comments on this post, I feel less strongly about the claim "EA community is bad at addressing harm", but stand by / am clarifying my general point, which is that the veracity of Kathy's claims doesn't detract from any of the other valid points that Maya makes and I don't think people should discount the rest of these points.

A suggestion to people who are approaching this from a "was Kathy lying?" lens: I think it's also important to understand this post in the context of the broader movement around sexual assault and violence. The reason this kind of thing stings to a woman in the community is because it says "this is how this community will react if you speak up about harm; this is not a welcoming place for you if you are a survivor." It's not about whether Kathy, in particular, was falsely accusing others.

The way I read Maya's critique here is "there were major accusations of major harm done, and we collectively brushed it off instead of engaging with how this person felt harmed;" which is distinct from "she was right and the perpetrator should be punished". This is a call for the EA community to be more transparent and fair in how it deals with accusations of wrongdoing, not a callout post of anybody. 

Perhaps I would feel differently if I knew of examples of the EA community publicly holding men accountable for harm to women, but as it stands AFAIK we have a lot of examples like those Maya pointed out and not much transparent accountability for them. :/ Would be very happy to be corrected about that.

(Maya, I know it's probably really hard to see that the first reply on your post is an example of exactly the problem you're describing, so I just want to add in case you see this that I relate to a lot of what you've shared and you have an open offer to DM me if you need someone to hold space for your anger!)

thanks for pointing this out - I think this is a key point AND I think it is inflected by gender. My guess (not being an expert on autism, but being somewhat of an expert on gender) is that women who are autistic are more likely to learn, over time, how to display and react to emotion "like normal people", because women build social capital through relational and emotional actions. Personal experience (I am a woman, to a first degree approximation): as a child I did not  really understand emotion / generally felt aversive when other people expressed it.  Over time I learned how to feel / respond to others' emotions in a socially normative way, through observation and self-reflection and learning.

This is not to say that those of us in EA who are naturally different w.r.t. our emotional processing should feel bad/abnormal, but to say that EA would be a more welcoming community, especially to women, if people in EA learned how to process and respond to "normative" emotional expressions. Someone above said that EAs see debate as an expression of caring, and I (a) am the same way and (b) understand that most people are not! I've learned to ask "are you looking for discussion and finding solutions together, or are you not ready for that yet?" (Similarly, people with more normative emotional expression entering EA should learn to ask/adapt to the person they're talking to.) I've been in spaces that I think are very good at this and have a cultural norm of it.

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