CFAR investigated Brent and stood by him until there was public outcry!
This says very bad things about the leadership of CFAR, and probably other CFAR staff (to the extent that they either agreed with leadership or failed to push back hard enough, though the latter can be hard to do).
It seems to say good things about the public that did the outcry, which at the time felt to me like "almost everyone outside of CFAR". Everyone* yelled at a venerable and respected org until they stopped doing bad stuff. Is this a negative update against EA/rationality, or a positive one?
*It's entirely possible that there were private whisper networks supporting Brett/attacking his accusers, or even public posts defending him that I missed. But it felt to me like the overwhelming community sentiment was "get Brent the hell out of here".
I should clarify that "particularly bad" should be "unusually bad", and by "unusually" I mean "unusual by the standards of human behavior in other professional/intellectual communities".
If someone writes an article about the murder epidemic in New York City, and someone else points out that the NYC murder rate is not at all unusual by U.S. standards, and that murder tends to be common throughout human society, is that a trivializing thing to say?
You can believe a lot of things at once:
I'm in the position of believing many things at once, and I remain unconvinced that EA and rationality are unusually bad communities to be in, if a person seeks community. But I am reading comments and trying to learn, and I think there are plenty of things EA and rationality could do better on this front.
That is very concerning; I've now read several separate accounts of his behavior toward others (friends, devotees, partners, strangers), and together they painted a terrible picture.
I plan on sending a concerned letter to SFF, though I'm not sure I expect it to do much. Others should consider doing the same.
Thanks for this context!
My understanding is that SFF regranting is pretty separate from the CEA/Open Phil network, since that I don't hear much about them on the Forum or in other EA spaces. But this is still a useful update about SFF* and a corrective to something I said that could have been misleading.
*I don't know anything about Jacy outside that post, and I should acknowledge that it's possible he's apologized and reformed to whatever degree was appropriate and should at some point make his way back to good standing in EA — but I haven't seen positive evidence of that either, so he seemed like a fair example to use.
Thank you for sharing this. I'm angry that you've had these experiences, and I'm grateful you were open to talking about them, even in response to a comment that some found unfriendly.
A lot of the frustration in my initial comment comes from not knowing how to react to things like the Bloomberg article as a mostly-lurker in the community. I don't know whether I'm going to end up chatting or collaborating with someone who makes sexist comments or sends cruel messages to accusers; I wish I knew whose work I could safely share, promote, etc., without contributing to the influence of people who make the community worse.
While a comment like yours doesn't name names, it at least helps me get a better handle on how much energy I want to put into engaging with these communities.*
*This is a process that takes the form of thousands of small adjustments; no one comment is decisive, but they all help me figure things out.
Following CatGoddess, I'm going to share more detail on parts of the article that seemed misleading, or left out important context.
Caveat: I'm not an active member of the in-person EA community or the Bay scene. If there's hot gossip circulating, it probably didn't circulate to me. But I read a lot.
This is a long comment, and my last comment was a long comment, because I've been driving myself crazy trying to figure this stuff out. If the community I (digitally) hang out in is full of bad people and their enablers, I want to find a different community!
But the level of evidence presented in Bloomberg and TIME makes it hard to understand what's actually going on. I'm bothered enough by the weirdness of the epistemic environment that it drove me to stop lurking :-/
I name Michael Vassar here, even though his name wasn't mentioned in the article. Someone asked me to remove that name the last time I did this, and I complied. But now that I'm seeing the same things repeated in multiple places and used to make misleading points, I no longer think it makes sense to hide info about serial abusers who have been kicked out of the movement, especially when that info is easy to find on other places. I prefer the Thing of Things approach.
Summary of my comments + my conclusions:
A brief note before we go all TL;DR:
On the subject of whether alleged perpetrators have been fired or defunded: CEA and Open Philanthropy both have anonymous forms you can use to report allegations of sexual misconduct.
As far as I can tell, both orgs take these seriously, though the ambiguous and worrisome Owen Cotton-Barratt case left me more confident in Open Philanthropy than CEA. For example, it seems like a long time since I've heard of Jacy Reese getting EA funding.
If you've been abused by someone in the EA/rationalist orbit, please consider reporting it!
Per David's comment, I recommend removing this name and the linked spreadsheet.
That's a fair point — I've removed the name and Twitter link.
I've removed the name of the alleged person and the Twitter link as a result of David's comment. I'd recommend you do the same here.
From the article:
Another woman, who dated the same man several years earlier in a polyamorous relationship, alleges that he had once attempted to put his penis in her mouth while she was sleeping.
This rang a bell for me, and I was able to find an old Twitter thread (link removed on David's request) naming the man in question. At least, all the details seem to match.
I'm pretty sure that the man in question (name removed on David's request) has been banned from official EA events for many years. I remember an anecdote about him showing up without a ticket at EAG in the past and being asked to leave. As far as I know, the ban is because he has a long history of harassment with at least some assault mixed in.
I don't know who introduced him to Sonia Joseph, but if she'd mentioned him to the people I know in EA, I think the average reaction would have been "oh god, don't". I guess there are still bubbles I'm not a part of where he's seen as a "prominent man in the field", though I haven't heard anything about actual work from him in many years.
Anyway, while it sounds like many people mentioned in this article behaved very badly, it also seems possible that the incidents CEA knew about led to reasonable action from CEA.
I don't remember a single mention in the article of someone being banned from official events, even though CEA has presumably done this for quite a few people (given that Wise "fielded roughly 20 complaints per year" for seven years). It's surprising to me that the author wouldn't have discovered this practice after talking to Wise.
Anyway, it sounds like many people mentioned in this article did terrible things. I really hope that whatever "influential figure" had an interviewee stay at his home is no longer in a position of responsibility — or that, if the incident was never reported, they can be found and disciplined. And I hope that Aurora Quinn-Elmore, if this depiction of her is accurate, sees her mediation work dry up.
But I sympathize with CEA if the best tools they have, a central database of accusations and control over who gets to attend official events, were left out of the article despite getting regular use.
I've hung around EA for many years, I'm not very active in any in-person EA social scene, but my impression is that the environment has a lot of similarities to the college I attended:
My college didn't handle every situation well, and a few were handled quite badly.* But it would seem weird to describe the college as having a "toxic culture of sexual harassment and abuse". In the end, it was a space like other spaces, trying to manage bad actors despite limited power to punish them or to manage the surrounding social dynamics (people will gossip and take sides anywhere you go).
I wouldn't tell someone to stay away from my college because of the bad actors there, and I wouldn't tell someone to avoid EA. There's a huge amount of good in both places.
* The comparison falters here. I can't say for sure that CEA handled any specific situation badly, because I know less about EA stuff than I did the stuff at my college.