For anyone that isn’t aware, I’m the founder and Executive Director of Leverage Research and as such wanted to reply to your comment.
First, I want to challenge the frame of this message. Messages like these, however moderately they are intended or executed, pull up a larger political context of attacks. People start asking the question “who should we burn” and then everyone scrambles to disavow everyone else so that they themselves don’t get burned.
I’m against disavowal and burning, at least in this case. My reaction if I found out that Jonah was “officially racist” by whatever measures would be to try to talk to him personally and convince him that the ideas were wrong. If I thought he was going to do something horrible, I’d oppose him and try to stop him. I think that disavowal and burning is a really bad way to fight racism because it pushes it underground without addressing it, and I’m not interested in getting public applause or doing short-sighted PR mitigation by doing something that is superficially good and actually harmful.
In terms of Jonah’s views, Jonah is a public figure and as such should speak for himself. He wrote a reply to the Splinter piece here: https://medium.com/@jonahbennett/statement-on-emails-83c5ebbad731 . As for myself, I know Jonah personally. If he were a hijacked racist shithead, I wouldn’t want to talk to him or be his friend, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have employed him. In all of my conversations with him I have found him to be deeply committed to making the world better for everyone, not just a select subset of people. And he’s willing to explore, take on personal risk, and speak what he believes more than most. I’m happy to count him as a friend.
As to other questions relating to Leverage, EA, funding- and attention-worthiness, etc., I’ve addressed some concerns in previous comments and I intend to address a broader range of questions later. I don’t however endorse attack posts as a discussion format, and so intend to keep my responses here brief. The issues you raise are important to a lot of people and should be addressed, so please feel free to contact me or my staff via email if it would be helpful to discuss more.
Hi Anonymoose, glad you’re interested in following us. Sorry, I checked my messages and couldn’t find anything from you - feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sure, happy to try to clarify. I run both Leverage and Paradigm. Leverage is a non-profit and focuses on research. Paradigm is a for-profit and focuses on training and project incubation. The people in both organizations closely coordinate. My current expectation is that I will eventually hand Leverage off while working to keep the people on both projects working together.
I think this means we’re similar to MIRI/CFAR. They started with a single organization which led to the creation of a new organization. Over time, their organizations came to be under distinct leadership, while still closely coordinating.
To understand Leverage and Paradigm, it’s also important to note that we are much more decentralized than most organizations. We grant members of our teams substantial autonomy in both determining their day-to-day work and with regard to starting new projects.
On residence, new hires typically live at our main building for a few months to give them a place to land and then move out. Currently less than 1/3 of the total staff live on-site.
(1) founded THINK, the first EA student group network
(2) ran the EA Summit 2013, the first large EA conference (video)
(3) ran the EA Summit 2014
(4) ran the EA Retreat 2014, the first weeklong retreat for EA leaders
(5) handed off the EA Summit series to CEA; CEA renamed it EA Global
(6) helped out operationally with EA Global 2015.
I'd like to start off by apologizing. I realize that it has been hard to understand what Leverage has been doing, and I think that that's my fault. Last month Kerry Vaughan convinced me that I needed a new approach to PR and public engagement, and so I've been thinking about what to write and say about this. My plan, apart from the post here, was to post something over the next month. So I'll give a brief response to the points here and then make a longer main post early next week [UPDATE: see 2nd edit below].
(1) I'm sorry for the lack of transparency and public engagement. We did a lot more of this in 2011-2012, but did not really succeed in getting people to understand us. After that, I decided we should just focus on our research. I think people expect more public engagement, even very early in the research process, and that I did not understand this.
(2) We do not consider ourselves an EA organization. We do not solicit funds from individual EAs. Instead, we are EA-friendly, in that (a) we employ many EAs, (b) we let people run EA projects, and (c) we contribute to EA causes, especially EA movement building. As noted in the post, we ran the EA Summit 2013 and EA Summit 2014. These were the precursors to the EA Global conferences. For a sense of what these were like, see the EA Summit 2013 video. We also ran the EA Retreat 2014 and helped out operationally with EA Global 2015. We also founded THINK, the first EA movement group network.
(3) We are probably not the correct donation choice for most EAs. We care about reason, evidence, and impact, but we are much higher variance than most EAs would like. We believe there is evidence that we are more effective than regular charities due to our contributions to movement building. These can be thought of as "impact offsets". (See (6) for more on the EV calculation.)
(4) We are also probably not the correct employment choice for most EAs. We are looking for people with particular skills and characteristics (e.g., ambition, dedication to reason and evidence, self-improvement). These make CFAR our largest EA competitor for talent, though in actual fact we have not ended up competing substantially with them. In general if people are excited about CEA or 80k or Charity Science or GiveWell or OPP, then we typically also expect that they are better served by working there.
(5) Despite (3) and (4), we are of course very interested in meeting EAs who would be good potential donors or recruits. We definitely recruit at EA events, though again we think that most EAs would be better served by working elsewhere.
(6) To do a full EV calculation on Leverage, it is important to take into account the counterfactual cost of employees who would work on other EA projects. We think that taking this into account, counting our research as 0 value, and using the movement building impact estimates from LEAN, we come out well on EV compared to an average charity. This is because of our contribution to EA movement building and because EA movement building is so valuable. (Rather than give a specific Fermi estimate, I will let readers make their own calculations.) Of course, under these assumptions donating to movement building alone is higher EV than donating to Leverage. Donors should only consider us if they assign greater than 0 value to our research.
I hope that that clarifies to some degree Leverage's relation to the EA movement. I'll respond to the specific points above later today.
As for the EA Summit 2018, we agree that everyone should talk with people they know before attending. This is true of any multi-day event. Time is valuable, and it's a good idea to get evidence of the value prior to attending.
(Leverage will not be officially presenting any content at the EA Summit 2018, so people who would like to learn more should contact us here. My own talk will be about how to plan ambitious projects.)
EDIT: I said in my earlier comment that I would write again this evening. I’ll just add a few things to my original post.
— Many of the things listed in the original post are simply good practice. Workshops should track participants to ensure the quality of their experience and that they are receiving value. CFAR also does this. Organizations engaged in recruitment should seek to proactively identify qualified candidates. I’ve spoken to the leaders of multiple organizations who do this.
— Part of what we do is help people to understand themselves better via introspection and psychological frameworks. Many people find this both interesting and useful. All of the mind mapping we did was with the full knowledge and consent of the person, at their request, typically with them watching and error-checking as we went. (I say “did” because we stopped making full mind maps in 2015.) This is just a normal part of showing people what we do. It makes sense for prospective recruits and donors to seek an in-depth look at our tools prior to becoming more involved. We also have strict privacy rules and do not share personal information from charting sessions without explicit permission from the person. This is true for everyone we work with, including prospective recruits and donors.
EDIT: I’ve changed my plans here. People who are interested in learning more, etc., can contact me or my staff via email. (cf my above comment)