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Concerns with Intentional Insights

Note: I am socially peripheral to EA-the-community and philosophically distant from EA-the-intellectual-movement; salt according to taste.

While I understand the motivation behind it, and applaud this sort of approach in general, I think this post and much of the public discussion I've seen around Gleb are charitable and systematic in excess of reasonable caution.

My first introduction to Gleb was Jeff's August post, read before there were any comments up, and it seemed very clear that he was acting in bad faith and trying to use community norms of particular communication styles, owning up to mistakes, openness to feedback, etc. to disarm those engaging honestly and enable the con to go on longer. I don't think I'm an especially untrusting person (quite the opposite, really), but even if that's the case nearly every subsequent revealed detail and interaction confirmed this. Gleb responds to criticism he can't successfully evade by addressing it in only the most literal and superficial manner, and continues on as before. It is to the point that if I were Gleb, and had somehow honestly stumbled this many times and fell into this pattern over and over, I would feel I had to withdraw on the grounds that no one external to my own thought processes could possibly reasonably take me seriously and that I clearly had a lot of self-improvement to do before engaging in a community like this in the future.

The responses to this behavior that I've seen are overwhelmingly of the form of taking Gleb seriously, giving him the benefit of the doubt where none should exist, providing feedback in good faith, and responding positively to the superficial signs Gleb gives of understanding. This is true even for people who I know have engaged with him before. I'm not completely confident of this, but the pattern looks like people are applying the standards of charity and forgiveness that would be appropriate for any one of these incidences in isolation, not taking into account that the overall pattern of behavior makes such charitable interpretations increasingly implausible. On top of that, some seem to have formed clear final opinions that Gleb is not acting in good faith, yet still use very cautious language and are hesitant to take a single step beyond what they can incontrovertibly demonstrate to third parties.

A few examples from this post, not trying to be comprehensive:

  • Using the word "concerns" in the title and introductory matter
  • noting that Gleb doesn't "appear" to have altered his practices around name-dropping
  • Saying "Tsipursky either genuinely believed posts like the above do not ask for upvotes, or he believed statements that are misleading on common-sense interpretation are acceptable providing they are arguably 'true' on some tendentious reading." without bringing up the possibility of him knowing exactly what he's doing and just lying
  • Calling Gleb's self-proclaimed bestselling author status only "potentially" misleading.

Moreover, the fully comprehensive nature of the post and the painstaking lengths it goes to separate out definitely valid issues from potentially invalid ones seems to be part of the same pattern. No one, not even Gleb, is claiming that these instances didn't happen or that he is being set up, yet this post seems to be taking on a standard appropriate for an adversarial court of law.

And this is a problem, because in addition to wasting people's time it causes people less aware of these issues to take Gleb more seriously, encourages him to continue behaving as he has been, and I suspect in some cases inclines even the more knowledgeable people involved to trust Gleb too much in the future, despite whatever private opinions they may have of his reliability. At some point there needs to be a way for people to say "no, this is enough, we are done with you" in the face of bad behavior; in this case if that is happening at all it is being communicated behind-the-scenes or by people silently failing to engage. That makes it much harder for the community as a whole to respond appropriately.