Concerns with ACE's Recent Behavior

post by Hypatia · 2021-04-17T17:00:47.824Z · EA · GW · 153 comments

Contents

  Background
  Overview of Behavior I Find Concerning
    Post on "Black Lives Matter"
    from the 2020 CARE Conference
    Charities Based on Statements from Staff
  These actions are harmful to the movement
    certain social justice norms may lead the movement to allocate resources less effectively
    certain social justice norms may attract bad actors
    certain social justice norms is likely to create a hostile epistemic environment and reduce trust
None
150 comments

Epistemic Status: I feel pretty confident that the core viewpoint expressed in this post is correct, though I'm less confident in some specific claims. I have not shared a draft of this post with ACE, and so it’s possible I’ve missed important context from their perspective.

EDIT: ACE board member Eric Herboso has responded with his personal take on this situation [EA(p) · GW(p)]. He believes some points in this post are wrong or misleading. For example, he disputes my claim that ACE (as an organization) attempted to cancel a conference speaker.

EDIT: Jakub Stencel from Anima International has posted a response [EA(p) · GW(p)]. He clarifies a few points and offers some context regarding the CARE conference situation.

Background

In the past year, there has been some concern in EA surrounding the negative impact of “cancel culture”[1] and worsening discourse norms. Back in October, Larks wrote a post criticizing EA Munich's decision to de-platform Robin Hanson. [EA · GW]The post was generally well-received, and there have been other posts on the forum discussing potential risks from social-justice oriented discourse norms. For example, see The Importance of Truth-Oriented Discussions in EA [EA · GW]and EA considerations regarding increasing political polarization [EA · GW].

I'm writing this post because I think some recent behavior from Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) is a particularly egregious example of harmful epistemic norms in EA. This behavior includes:

Because I'm worried that this post could hurt my future ability to get a job in EAA, I'm choosing to remain anonymous.

My goal here is to:

a) Describe ACE's behavior in order to raise awareness and foster discussion, since this doesn't seem to have attracted much attention, and

b) Give a few reasons why I think ACE's behavior has been harmful, though I’ll be brief since I think similar points have been better made elsewhere

I also want to be clear that I don't think ACE is the only bad actor here, as other areas of the EAA community have also begun to embrace harmful social-justice derived discourse norms[3]. However, I'm focusing my criticism on ACE here because:

And before I get started, I'd also like to make a couple caveats:

Overview of Behavior I Find Concerning

Blog Post on "Black Lives Matter"

Note: ACE seems to have removed the following statement from its blog, and I'm not sure why (maybe ACE realized the post was bad, but I don't want to speculate without evidence). In any case, the original link now redirects to a post from 2017 on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while I link to an archived version of the original post below.

I think one recent example of bad behavior from ACE is its June 2020 statement on Black Lives Matter. I don't see much wrong with this statement's basic message: I think it can be fine for organizations to make public statements on issues outside of their core focus, and I don't think we should demand that all blog posts be super rigorous. But I think this post was quite bad for a few reasons:

For example, here is a section from the post:

In Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, decolonial theorists Aph and Syl Ko eloquently argue that the oppression of nonhuman animals is inextricably linked to the oppression of human animals in that they have the same root causes of white supremacy and patriarchy.

If the root causes of racism and speciesism are the same, then we may be able to make even more positive impact by addressing both issues simultaneously.

Taken at face value, these claims seem pretty absurd. For example,"inextricably linked" implies that societies without white supremacy and/or patriarchy wouldn't oppress animals.

Maybe a more reasonable interpretation, suggested in the second paragraph, is something like "white supremacy, patriarchy, and the oppression of animals share some of the same causes, and so addressing some of those root causes may reduce both animal suffering and racism." Unfortunately, the writing style makes the precise claim unclear and so it’s difficult to evaluate.

Another issue with the post is that some of the linked resources are quite bad. For example, it suggested that readers consider committing to Black VegFest's 7 points of allyship (Note: Black VegFest has also received funding from ACE[4])

The pledge contains statements such as:

There is no such thing as an equal playing field under white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. In the current system, white people have the power to usurp anything Black lives create simply by being white.

and

White vegans/ARs will respect the sanctity of Black space and will not enter unless their presence is necessary. Black space is for the growth and betterment of Black people. Allyship and being accomplices begins with white people learning to respect Black space.

I don't want to come across as mean or snarky, and the main point of this post isn't to critique social justice ideology. But even as a progressive-leaning, educated person raised in a Western country, those quotes sound like nonsense to me. And to my eyes the pledge itself is closer to a faith statement than a serious plan for combating racism. So I think it’s pretty concerning that at least one person at ACE thought that pledge was worth recommending.

I think a major EA-aligned research organization should have much higher standards for content they put out, even if it’s only a blog post. Still, I'm glad that ACE removed the post and replaced it with a link to a post that appears better written and more nuanced.

Withdrawal from the 2020 CARE Conference

Last August, ACE made a Facebook post announcing its withdrawal from the 2020 Conference on Animal Rights in Europe (CARE). Those who are interested can read the full post, but I quote a few key paragraphs below:

ACE began reconsideration of our participation a few weeks ago when an ACE supporter informed us that a person who had recently made inflammatory comments related to race in a Facebook forum was publicized on the CARE website as speaking on the topic of Black Lives Matter. The ACE supporter, a white male ally, had independently written to the CARE organizers to address his concerns about this contradiction.

ACE also shared this concern, especially because two of the three speakers we had planned to send to CARE are women of the global majority (of color). We wanted to avoid placing them in a situation where they had to share a platform with a person whose statements made them feel unwelcome and unsafe.

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Naturally, we want to abide by our own policy and support our staff in feeling comfortable in all of their workspaces, including the online sphere of virtual conferences and Facebook forums.

ACE doesn't mention exactly which statements it considers harmful, but the person who was scheduled to speak made a few comments[5] that questioned the effectiveness of dedicating EAA resources to anti-racism and questioned some views commonly held by progressive activists.

Edit: In addition to posting comments, he also 'liked' a comment that described Encompass, an organization that promotes racial diversity in the animal advocacy movement, as a "hate group". I think this was inappropriate, but upon reflection I wouldn't put that much weight on him 'liking' that FB comment. This doesn't change much in my overall assessment of ACE's behavior.

From my perspective, these so-called "inflammatory" and "harmful" comments were generally respectful in tone and expressed pretty reasonable views -- certainly nothing that should be considered outside of the overton window of EAA discussion.

ACE then goes on to say:

ACE decided to withdraw from the conference reaching out to its organizers and failing to find a compromise: we ultimately decided on Monday to withdraw our ACE representatives because we did not feel the conference environment would be truly receptive to our staff members who are Black and of the global majority, and because the sheer emotional labor that has gone into this process has taken a significant toll on all of our speakers.

One could reasonably disagree with some of the comments that the planned speaker posted, but his comments seemed far from anything that would reasonably make people feel unsafe at a conference, and very far from something that would justify barring him from speaking. So I'm very concerned that ACE is implying that the CARE organizers made a mistake in letting this person (who ultimately withdrew from his scheduled talk) speak at the conference.

Edit: I think that his behavior could understandably make someone with strong pro-racial justice views feel unwelcome or unsafe at the conference. But I don't think that comes close to a justification for barring someone from speaking.

Norms of free and open discussion are critical to our ability to engage in truth seeking. And discussions about cause prioritization and cost-effectiveness are cornerstone to EA. So ACE's behavior here seems antithetical to core EA values.

ACE's comments are made worse given its powerful position in the EAA movement as a grant maker and charity evaluator. Conference organizers may now reasonably worry about being denied funding or having their organizations receive unfavorable reviews from ACE if they host any speakers deemed remotely controversial. It may also cause animal advocates to self-censor views deemed controversial for fear of being denied speaking and career opportunities.

Penalizing Charities Based on Statements from Staff

Another concerning behavior from ACE is that it appeared to have heavily punished Anima International (the employer of the planned CARE speaker reference above) in its 2020 charity review.

Edit: I should note the speaker holds a country-level Executive Director position at Anima. In addition, there another country-level ED who posted some critical comments in the same Facebook thread.

In its 2019 review of Anima International, ACE rated Anima's "Leadership and Strategic Vision" (criterion 6) as being "strong" with a high degree of confidence. ACE also gave Anima a "strong" rating with a high degree of confidence in criterion 7 (having a healthy culture and sustainable structure), which includes diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

But in its 2020 review of Anima, published in November, ACE downgraded Anima from a "top" to "standout", a change which will likely result in substantially reduced funding to Anima through ACE. ACE also now gives Anima a "weak" rating for “Leadership and Culture” While I can't know for sure whether this decision was appropriate, or the extent to the downgrade was due to Anima staff's views on DEI, some statements in the 2020 review are quite concerning:

Our impression, however, is that the racial homogeneity at the organization has resulted in a limited understanding of racial issues, which has presented itself in some of the public and private communications we’ve witnessed from Anima International’s staff in the last year

In particular, we think leadership staff publicly engaging in conversations about the relevance of racial equity to the animal advocacy movement may have had a negative impact on the progress of racial equity in the movement

Additionally, in ACE’s summary of the review, it notes

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums.

as a weakness of the organization.

The poor rating on “Leadership and Culture” is despite Anima staff reporting higher than average levels of satisfaction and staff overwhelmingly agreeing that Anima has an inclusive culture, diverse staff members, and protects staff from discrimination and harassment. Indeed, ACE's assessment of Anima's performance on this criterion seems quite positive, with the exception of some comments from leadership regarding racial equity.

It’s hard to directly compare the reviews from 2019 and 2020, as ACE’s evaluation criteria changed somewhat. Nevertheless, given the overall positive assessment, it's strange that Anima was awarded a "weak" rating in this category, and I think it's likely that Anima is being heavily punished for the public comments made by staff members.

Of course, since much of the dialogue between ACE and Anima has been private, it's possible that some Anima staff made private comments that are much worse than what is public (Edit: It's worth noting Anima apparently requested its private correspondence with ACE be made public, see Jakub Stencel's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)]). But I find it unlikely that any of the private statements would have been bad enough to reasonably justify penalization in the review. And due to ACE’s previous statements, I have little confidence in its opinion on whether a given statement related to racial equity is harmful.

I'm worried that ACE will continue to put pressure on charities to censor the views of their staff. Leadership from charities seeking an ACE evaluation could be incentivized to self-censor in order to secure a favorable review. It may also put pressure on charities to adopt policies or take costly actions to signal their commitment to DEI, which could reduce their effectiveness. Collectively, this may contribute to a toxic culture of fear, deceit, and wasteful signalling.

On a related note, I’m also concerned that in a recent blog post, ACE explicitly states that it is unable to fund “groups or projects that do not support ACE’s views on diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) for its Movement Grants Program.

This could plausibly be used to deny funding to good project ideas from those who disagree with ACE on issues related to DEI. And conversely, ACE could be more likely to fund bad project ideas from people who align with ACE’s views, given the priority it seems to assign to DEI.

These actions are harmful to the movement

Edit: By "social justice norms" I'm referring to a set of discussion norms and epistemic norms that are common in many social justice communities. These include, for example, placing great emphasis on standpoint epistemology, displaying great intolerance and hostility toward dissenting views, and a general skepticism of empirical evidence. But I don't mean to imply that all social justice norms are bad, and I don't view social justice and EA as incompatible. There are definitely people who embrace norms of openness and free inquiry and who also identify as social justice advocates.

Embracing certain social justice norms may lead the movement to allocate resources less effectively

I believe that the adoption of these norms will cause ACE and other EAA groups to spend more time supporting social-justice related causes, and less time on effective animal advocacy. I don't think anti-racist and or pro-DEI work is necessary bad, but I think we need to be able to openly discuss whether it's really worth funding “intersectional” or social-justice aligned work from groups like, and whether those resources wouldn't better be served funding organizations that are purely focused on helping animals. At the very least, a rigorous case should be presented before funding intersectional or anti-racist organizations, and those who disagree with decisions to support that work shouldn't be branded as racist or ignorant.

Embracing certain social justice norms may attract bad actors

Embracing social justice norms may cause us to attract more people from social justice communities who care little about the principles of EA or even animal advocacy, but will be drawn to the movement if it seems they can gain support and funding. This seems quite bad for the long-term effectiveness of the movement.

Embracing certain social justice norms is likely to create a hostile epistemic environment and reduce trust

There are countless examples of toxic discourse norms in social justice heavy fields, such as parts of academia and journalism. In these communities, people who question progressive orthodoxy or make innocuous statements deemed "offensive" are often bullied, harassed, threatened, forced to write presumably fake apologies (and then often bullied for writing an insufficiently sincere apology), and sometimes even fired from their jobs. For some specific examples of social-justice driven cancel culture, see this list compiled by Larks [EA(p) · GW(p)].

If EA (or EAA specifically) adopts these toxic norms, community members will be incentivized to hide their beliefs in order to gain funding, employment, and social approval[6]. I'd like people in the EAA community to be able to argue in good faith and express disagreement with each other, and be unafraid of criticizing views held by powerful organizations or people within the movement. In keeping with the good faith principle, I won't be asking ACE to write an apology, as I don't believe it should issue one unless it truly thinks it acted wrongly.

I’d like to close with an excerpt that resonated with me from a popular comment from Anna Salamon [EA(p) · GW(p)] on a previous post:

It seems to me that the EA community's strength, goodness, and power lie almost entirely in our ability to reason well (so as to be actually be "effective", rather than merely tribal/random). It lies in our ability to trust in the integrity of one anothers' speech and reasoning, and to talk together to figure out what's true.

Finding the real leverage points in the world is probably worth orders of magnitude in our impact. Our ability to think honestly and speak accurately and openly with each other seems to me to be a key part of how we access those "orders of magnitude of impact."

In contrast, our ability to have more money/followers/etc. (via not ending up on the wrong side of a cultural revolution, etc.) seems to me to be worth... something, in expectation, but not as much as our ability to think and speak together is worth


  1. I feel this term has become overly-politicized and has become less useful. For example, some have described Trump’s impeachment or some of Dr. Seuss’ work going out of print as examples of “cancel culture.” Nevertheless, I’m using it here because it’s a well established and widely recognized term. ↩︎

  2. See the recent blog post "Apply for funding from ACE movement grants" [EA · GW]. Note that movement grants are small grants to organizations/individuals and are separate from ACE's standard charity evaluation process. ↩︎

  3. For some examples, see many of the comments on this post in the EAA Facebook group. ↩︎

  4. See ACE's post Announcing Our Fall 2020 ACE Movement Grants ↩︎

  5. See comments made by Connor Jackson here ↩︎

  6. This is anecdotal, but I’ve heard several people privately criticize the emphasis on racial justice in EAA, but who were afraid to say anything publicly for fear of being bullied or denied job/funding opportunities (I would count myself among this group). ↩︎

153 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Jakub Stencel · 2021-04-21T19:23:06.751Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m part of Anima International’s leadership as Director of Global Development (so please note that Animal Charity Evaluators’ negative view of the leadership quality is, among others, about me).

As the author noted, this topic is politically charged and additionally, as Anima International, we consider ourselves ‘a side’, so our judgment here may be heavily biased. This is why, even though we read this thread, we are quite hesitant to comment.

Nevertheless, I can offer a few factual points here that will clear some of the author’s confusion or that people got wrong in the comments.

We asked ACE for their thoughts on these points to make sure we are not misconstruing what happened due to a biased perspective. After a short conversation with Anima International, ACE preferred not to comment. They declined to correct what they feel is factually incorrect and instead let us know that they will post a reply to my post to avoid confusion, which we welcome.

1.

The author wrote: “it's possible that some Anima staff made private comments that are much worse than what is public”

While I don’t want to comment or judge whether comments are better or worse, we specifically asked ACE to publish all of this material for the sake of transparency, which they declined to do. They also stated that they would not give Anima International permission to share the correspondence for the same reasons of confidentiality. We are happy that ACE noted our request in a footnote, but we still believe it can be very damaging to the reputation of the organization to mention private conversations in the context of racial equity without explicitly publishing them or paraphrasing them for the review’s readers to judge. We are afraid this may make the reader consider a lot of scenarios in their mind and some of them can make them anxious to support our work, admit publicly that they support our work, participate in our recruitments or engage with us. For example, some of the worries we have are that readers may think that in Anima International we express or tolerate discriminatory actions or views; are against or don’t work on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; or that we consider the linked Facebook discussion as a conversation norm that we support.

2.

Ben West wrote [EA(p) · GW(p)] in the comment that he suspects that our rating about poor leadership and culture was based on removal of our CEO due to misconduct rather than other causes. According to our knowledge this is not true. In our exchanges with Animal Charity Evaluators which took place after the removal of our CEO and after the Facebook thread with mentioned comments had taken place as well as during the review process, there was nothing that would indicate that this was a factor. Our view was and still is that Animal Charity Evaluators supported Anima International in its leadership transition and congratulated us on our practices in protecting staff and organizational culture.

3.

I concluded that it’s worth clarifying that Anima International is the owner of the CARE conference and hosts change occasionally, as we share our conference with other organizations in the animal advocacy movement. The host in 2020 was an organization called Humánny Pokrok.

4.

Anonymous00 wrote [EA(p) · GW(p)] that they assume that “The CARE Conference schedule came out, and said ED was speaking on a panel about Black Lives Matter and diversity in the movement.” - I would like to clarify this is not true. The talk at CARE was about effective campaigning tactics using Black Lives Matter as an example. The topic was not about diversity or any topic related to similar issues. While in principle there is nothing wrong with discussing DEI issues at CARE and people could still be negatively affected by it, the difference can matter in the context of this post.

5.

Larks wrote [EA(p) · GW(p)] that they don’t believe ACE offered Anima International the opportunity to see their statement about withdrawing from CARE in advance. I would like to clarify that ACE did send their statement regarding the withdrawal of their speakers from the CARE conference to Anima International’s leadership in advance of posting it in the interest of transparency, which we were grateful for. We let ACE know that we didn’t agree with their statement and the following day we informed ACE that if their team strongly supported the statement they should go ahead and post it, as on principle Anima International didn’t want to interfere with other groups’ actions and their public statements.

6.

I agree with Eric Herboso [EA(p) · GW(p)] that there doesn’t need to be a dichotomy between welcoming, inclusive communities and the ability to openly discuss ideas and evidence. I also agree that communities have an obligation to level the playing field for disadvantaged groups and in their work control for their biases.

I also agree with the statement in EricHerboso’s “Withdrawal from 2020 CARE Conference” post section that what happened is much more nuanced than Hypatia makes. I feel that EricHerboso misses a lot of details that he most likely doesn’t possess, this in consequence may give the wrong impression of either Anima International or of our staff member who was to give the talk, or in general obscure the facts.

EricHerboso writes that ”ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker” which is in some sense right. But while there was no official request from Animal Charity Evaluators towards the organisers of the conference, the first email Anima International received about issues with CARE was information that ACE had chosen to freeze Anima International’s funds from the Recommended Charity Fund with the stated reasons being what they believed to be racist behaviour of our staff members and the lack of appropriate response to this from Anima International's leadership. ACE based these opinions on the example that our team continued to allow Connor Jackson to represent Anima International on the topic of BLM at the CARE conference the following month. As one can imagine the unannounced information of freezing funds and, what is more, potential damage to organizational reputation is an enormous concern. Furthermore, morally, the accusation of racist behavior is an incredibly serious one that should warrant further investigation.

We hadn’t been informed that ACE had any concerns with CARE before these actions. If we had been contacted, ACE would have learned that the person who posted these comments - Connor Jackson, had already decided to change his talk at CARE to avoid unnecessary controversy or hurt towards others, even though the original talk wasn’t connected to any DEI issues, but campaigning.

The communication that followed when we pointed out to ACE that Connor had already agreed to change the subject of his talk and that an accusation of racism should be thoroughly investigated was quite demanding and complicated and it’s probably not the place to discuss it without Animal Charity Evaluators’ participation as it may be too one-sided.

I decided to mention these facts as I believe that EricHerboso's account of events could simplify the events to the detriment of factuality, as they may give the impression that ACE was passive, which wasn’t what we encountered.

Final remarks

It is worth stating explicitly that while we have some deep disagreements with ACE regarding this and other topics, we strongly support their mission and enjoy working with their team to improve the animal advocacy movement’s effectiveness.

I want to repeat that I feel a bit conflicted about commenting here. Transparency in public discourse is on the one hand important, but seeing that ACE downgraded Anima International it can be treated as “scoring points” at the expense of Animal Charity Evaluators’ reputation or some kind of revenge. Please let me know if some of my clarifications seem disingenuous and I will try to improve clarity. I can also not promise I will reply here quickly, because I would prefer to, if they are willing or have time, get comments from ACE on drafts of my comments to avoid unnecessary damage for both organizations.

Replies from: Larks, Ben_West, willbradshaw, Max_Daniel, AnimalCharityEvaluators
comment by Larks · 2021-04-21T19:33:00.396Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks very much for this comment, and for correcting my mistaken assumption.

comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-22T02:42:47.651Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for correcting my mistaken impression Jakub! I've updated my comment to link to yours.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-22T08:31:02.859Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, Jakub. Good to get the perspective of someone more closely involved in this.

[T]he first email Anima International received about issues with CARE was information that ACE had chosen to freeze Anima International’s funds from the Recommended Charity Fund with the stated reasons being what they believed to be racist behaviour of our staff members and the lack of appropriate response to this from Anima International's leadership.

Are you able to give an indication of how long Anima's funding was frozen? Are we talking hours? Days? Weeks?

Replies from: Jakub Stencel
comment by Jakub Stencel · 2021-04-28T14:57:33.357Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey Will.

In the first email that I mentioned, we were informed that the funds will be frozen until the current round of evaluations is done by December, so for about 4 months. The reasoning was that ACE wanted to reevaluate Anima International effectiveness with the possibility that they will not release these funds. We were also informed this information will be announced on the ACE website and in their newsletter. The decision was based on the events they observed in regards to CARE that ACE was worried about - Animal Charity Evaluators wanted to investigate these concerns further. Around December, after evaluations were done, we were contacted to let us know that the funds were unfrozen.

Please note that the amount was not substantial and we, in Anima International, don’t necessarily claim here that this behavior displayed by ACE was either proper or improper. I can see reasons to do it for ACE and it was explained to us that this is consistent with the actions Animal Charity Evaluators has taken in the past. The reasons I mentioned it in my original comment is that this was the first communication from ACE that we received concerning the CARE conference, which contradicts what some commenters in this thread implied, and to provide our perspective of how concerning it was.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-21T21:27:19.826Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, I thought this was a very thoughtful and helpful comment.

I added some thoughts to my previous comments here [EA(p) · GW(p)]and here [EA(p) · GW(p)] based on this.

(I also agree with the sentiment that, as you alluded to, in such situations it can be quite delicate to decide which information to make vs. not make public. FWIW my sense is that, given that substantial public discussion had already started, you navigated this well in this comment, but I'm also aware that this is something that is incredibly hard to assess "from the outside", and so I don't feel like I could reasonably be very confident about my assessment.)

comment by Animal Charity Evaluators (AnimalCharityEvaluators) · 2021-04-21T19:56:12.830Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As Jakub has mentioned above, we have reviewed the points in his comment and fully support Anima International’s wish to share their perspective in this thread. However, Anima’s description of the events above does not align with our understanding of the events that took place, primarily within points 1,5, and 6. We have declined to include our perspective here. The most time-consuming part of our commitment to Representation, Equity, and Inclusion has been responding to hostile communications in the EA community about the topic, such as this one. We prefer to use our time and generously donated funds towards our core programs. Therefore, we will not be engaging any further in this thread.

Replies from: David_Kristoffersson, evhub
comment by David_Kristoffersson · 2021-04-22T14:49:34.192Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Would you really call Jakub's response "hostile"?

comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T01:38:34.042Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Why was this response downvoted so heavily? (This is not a rhetorical question—I'm genuinely curious what the specific reasons were.)

As Jakub has mentioned above, we have reviewed the points in his comment and fully support Anima International’s wish to share their perspective in this thread. However, Anima’s description of the events above does not align with our understanding of the events that took place, primarily within points 1,5, and 6.

This is relevant, useful information.

The most time-consuming part of our commitment to Representation, Equity, and Inclusion has been responding to hostile communications in the EA community about the topic, such as this one.

Perhaps the objection is to ACE's description of the OP as “hostile”? I certainly didn't think the OP was hostile, so if that's the concern, I would agree, but...

We prefer to use our time and generously donated funds towards our core programs. Therefore, we will not be engaging any further in this thread.

I think this is an extremely reasonable position, and I don't think any person or group should be downvoted or otherwise shamed for not wanting to engage in any sort of online discussion. Online discussions are very often terrible and I think it's a problem if we have a norm that requires people or organizations to publicly engage with any online discussion that mentions them.

Replies from: Owen_Cotton-Barratt, Habryka
comment by Owen_Cotton-Barratt · 2021-04-22T09:36:25.629Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I didn't downvote (because as you say it's providing relevant information), but I did have a negative reaction to the comment. I think the generator of that negative reaction is roughly: the vibe of the comment seems more like a political attempt to close down the conversation than an attempt to cooperatively engage. I'm reminded of "missing moods";  it seems like there's a legitimate position of "it would be great to have time to hash this out but unfortunately we find it super time consuming so we're not going to", but it would naturally come with a mood of sadness that there wasn't time to get into things, whereas the mood here feels more like "why do we have to put up with you morons posting inaccurate critiques?". And perhaps that's a reasonable position, but it at least leaves a kind of bad taste.

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T19:08:49.071Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That's a great point; I agree with that.

comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T03:29:58.558Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted because it called the communication hostile without any justification for that claim. The comment it is replying to doesn't seem at all hostile to me, and asserting it is, feels like it's violating some pretty important norms about not escalating conflict and engaging with people charitably.

I also think I disagree that orgs should never be punished for not wanting to engage in any sort of online discussion. We have shared resources to coordinate, and as a social network without clear boundaries, it is unclear how to make progress on many of the disputes over those resources without any kind of public discussion. I do think we should be really careful to not end up in a state where you have to constantly monitor all online activity related to your org, but if the accusations are substantial enough, and the stakes high enough, I think it's pretty important for people to make themselves available for communication. 

Importantly, the above also doesn't highlight any non-public communication channels that people who are worried about the negative effects of ACE can use instead. The above is not saying "we are worried about this conversation being difficult to have in public, please reach out to us via these other channels if you think we are causing harm". Instead it just declares a broad swath of communication "hostile" and doesn't provide any path forward for concerns to be addressed. That strikes me as quite misguided given the really substantial stakes of shared reputational, financial, and talent-related resources that ACE is sharing with the rest of the EA community.

I mean, it's fine if ACE doesn't want to coordinate with the rest of the EA community, but I do think that currently, unless something very substantial changes, ACE and the rest of EA are drawing from shared resource pools and need to coordinate somehow if we want to avoid tragedies of the commons.

Replies from: Max_Daniel, evhub
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-22T14:14:00.098Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The comment it is replying to doesn't seem at all hostile to me

(I mostly agree with your comment, but note that from the wording of ACE's comment it isn't clear to me if (a) they think that Jakub's comment is hostile or (b) that Hypatia's OP is hostile, or (c) that the whole discussion is hostile or whatever. To be clear, I think that kind of ambiguity is also a strike against that comment.)

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T17:54:20.585Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh, yeah, that's fair. I had interpreted it as referring to Jakub's comment. I think there is a slightly stronger case to call Hypatia's post hostile than Jakub's comment, but in either case the statement feels pretty out of place. 

comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T03:58:59.346Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I downvoted because it called the communication hostile without any justification for that claim. The comment it is replying to doesn't seem at all hostile to me, and asserting it is, feels like it's violating some pretty important norms about not escalating conflict and engaging with people charitably.

Yeah—I mostly agree with this.

I think it's pretty important for people to make themselves available for communication.

Are you sure that they're not available for communication? I know approximately nothing about ACE, but I'd surprised if they wouldn't be willing to talk to you after e.g. sending them an email.

Importantly, the above also doesn't highlight any non-public communication channels that people who are worried about the negative effects of ACE can use instead. The above is not saying "we are worried about this conversation being difficult to have in public, please reach out to us via these other channels if you think we are causing harm". Instead it just declares a broad swath of potential communication "hostile" and doesn't provide any path forward for concerns to be addressed. That strikes me as quite misguided given the really substantial stakes of shared reputational, financial, and talent-related resources that ACE is sharing with the rest of the EA community.

I'm a bit skeptical of this sort of “well, if they'd also said X then it would be okay” argument. I think we should generally try to be charitable in interpreting unspecified context rather than assume the worst. I also think there's a strong tendency for goalpost-moving with this sort of objection—are you sure that, if they had said more things along those lines, you wouldn't still have objected?

I mean, it's fine if ACE doesn't want to coordinate with the rest of the EA community, but I do think that currently, unless something very substantial changes, ACE and the rest of EA are drawing from shared resource pools and need to coordinate somehow if we want to avoid tragedies of the commons.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with this post existing—I think it's perfectly reasonable for Hypatia to present their concerns regarding ACE in a public forum so that the EA community can discuss and coordinate around what to do regarding those concerns. What I have a problem with is the notion that we should punish ACE for not responding to those accusations—I don't think they should have an obligation to respond, and I don't think we should assume the worst about them from their refusal to do so (nor should we always assume the best, I think the correct response is to be charitable but uncertain).

Replies from: Habryka, Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T06:20:26.081Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I also think there's a strong tendency for goalpost-moving with this sort of objection—are you sure that, if they had said more things along those lines, you wouldn't still have objected?

I do think I would have still found it pretty sad for them to not respond, because I do really care about our public discourse and this issue feels important to me, but I do think I would feel substantially less bad about it, and probably would only have mild-downvoted the comment instead of strong-downvoted it. 

What I have a problem with is the notion that we should punish ACE for not responding to those accusations—I don't think they should have an obligation to respond

I mean, I do think they have a bit of an obligation to respond? Like, I don't know what you mean by obligation, like, I don't think they are necessarily morally bad people, but I do think that it sure costs me and others a bunch for them to not respond and makes overall coordinating harder. 

As an example, I sometimes have to decide which organizations to invite to events that I am organizing that help people in the EA community coordinate (historically things like the EA Leaders Retreat or EA Global, now it's more informal retreats and one-off things). The things discussed here feel like decent arguments to reduce those invites some amount, since I do think it's evidence that ACE's culture isn't a good fit for events like that. I would have liked ACE to respond to these accusations, and additionally, I would have liked ACE to respond to them publicly so I don't have to justify my invite to other attendees who don't know what their response was, even if I had reached out in private. 

In a hypothetical world where we had great private communication channels and I could just ask ACE a question in some smaller higher-trust circle of people who would go to the EA Leaders forum, or tend to attend whatever retreats and events I am running, then sure, that might be fine. But we don't have those channels, and the only way I know to establish common-knowledge in basically any group larger than 20 people within the EA community is to have it be posted publicly. And that means having private communication makes a lot of stuff like this really hard.

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T06:33:46.554Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To be clear, I think it's perfectly reasonable for you to want ACE to respond if you expect that information to be valuable. The question is what you do when they don't respond. The response in that situation that I'm advocating for is something like “they chose not to respond, so I'll stick with my previous best guess” rather than “they chose not to respond, therefore that says bad things about them, so I'll update negatively.” I think that the latter response is not only corrosive in terms of pushing all discussion into the public sphere even when that makes it much worse, but it also hurts people's ability to feel comfortably holding onto non-public information.

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T06:41:11.984Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

“they chose not to respond, therefore that says bad things about them, so I'll update negatively.” I think that the latter response is not only corrosive in terms of pushing all discussion into the public sphere even when that makes it much worse, but it also hurts people's ability to feel comfortably holding onto non-public information.

This feels wrong from two perspectives: 

  1. It clearly is actual, boring, normal, bayesian evidence that they don't have a good response. It's not overwhelming evidence, but someone declining to respond sure is screening off the worlds where they had a great low-inferential distance reply that was cheap to shoot off that addressed all the concerns. Of course I am going to update on that.
  2. I do just actually think there is a tragedy of the commons scenario with public information, and for proper information flow you need some incentives to publicize information. You and me have longstanding disagreements on the right architecture here, but from my perspective of course you want to reward organization for being transparent and punish organizations if they are being exceptionally non-transparent. I definitely prefer to join social groups that have norms of information sharing among its members, and where its members invest substantial resources to share important information with others, and where you don't get to participate in the commons if you don't invest an adequate amount of resources into sharing important information and responding to important arguments.
Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T06:48:27.791Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It clearly is actual, boring, normal, bayesian evidence that they don't have a good response. It's not overwhelming evidence, but someone declining to respond sure is screening off the worlds where they had a great low-inferential distance reply that was cheap to shoot off that addressed all the concerns. Of course I am going to update on that.

I think that you need to be quite careful with this sort of naive-CDT-style reasoning. Pre-commitments/norms against updating on certain types of evidence can be quite valuable—it is just not the case that you should always update on all evidence available to you.[1]


  1. To be clear, I don't think you need UDT or anything to handle this sort of situation, you just need CDT + the ability to make pre-commitments. ↩︎

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T07:00:02.025Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree the calculation isn't super straightforward, and there is a problem of disincentivizing glomarization here, but I do think overall, all things considered, after having thought about situations pretty similar to this for a few dozen hours, I am pretty confident it's still decent bayesian evidence, and I endorse treating it as bayesian evidence (though I do think the pre-commitment consideration dampen the degree to which I am going to act on that information a bit, though not anywhere close to fully). 

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-22T07:07:50.944Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I disagree, obviously, though I suspect that little will be gained by hashing it out in more here. To be clear, I have certainly thought about this sort of issue in great detail as well.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-24T09:23:10.062Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would be curious to read more about your approach, perhaps in another venue. Some questions I have:

  1. Do you propose to apply this (not updating when an organization refuses to engage with public criticism) universally? For example would you really not have thought worse of MIRI (Singularity Institute at the time) if it had labeled Holden Karnofsky's public criticism [LW · GW] "hostile" and refused to respond to it, citing that its time could be better spent elsewhere? If not, how do you decide when to apply this policy? If yes, how do you prevent bad actors from taking advantage of the norm to become immune to public criticism?
  2. Would you update in a positive direction if an organization does effectively respond to public criticism? If not that seems extremely strange/counterintuitive, but if yes I suspect that might lead to dynamic inconsistencies in one's decision making (although I haven't thought about this deeply).
  3. Do you update on the existence of the criticism itself, before knowing whether or how the organization has chosen to respond?

I guess in general I'm pretty confused about what your proposed policy or norm is, and would appreciate some kind of thought-out exposition.

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-24T19:38:20.680Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

For example would you really not have thought worse of MIRI (Singularity Institute at the time) if it had labeled Holden Karnofsky's public criticism "hostile" and refused to respond to it, citing that its time could be better spent elsewhere?

To be clear, I think that ACE calling the OP “hostile” is a pretty reasonable thing to judge them for. My objection is only to judging them for the part where they don't want to respond any further. So as for the example, I definitely would have thought worse of MIRI if they had labeled Holden's criticisms as “hostile”—but not just for not responding. Perhaps a better example here would be MIRI still not having responded to Paul's arguments for slow takeoff—imo, I think Paul's arguments should update you, but MIRI not having responded shouldn't.

Would you update in a positive direction if an organization does effectively respond to public criticism?

I think you should update on all the object-level information that you have, but not update on the meta-level information coming from an inference like “because they chose not to say something here, that implies they don't have anything good to say.”

Do you update on the existence of the criticism itself, before knowing whether or how the organization has chosen to respond?

Yes.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-24T20:42:40.823Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Still pretty unclear about your policy. Why is ACE calling the OP "hostile" not considered "meta-level" and hence not updateable (according to your policy)? What if the org in question gave a more reasonable explanation of why they're not responding, but doesn't address the object-level criticism? Would you count that in their favor, compared to total silence, or compared to an unreasonable explanation? Are you making any subjective judgments here as to what to update on and what not to, or is there a mechanical policy you can write down (that anyone can follow and achieve the same results)?

Also, overall, is you policy intended to satisfy Conservation of Expected Evidence [? · GW], or not?

ETA: It looks like MIRI did give [LW · GW] at least a short object-level reply to Paul's takeoff speed argument along with a meta-level explanation of why they haven't given a longer object-level reply. Would you agree to a norm that said that organizations have at least an obligation to give a reasonable meta-level explanation of why they're not responding to criticism on the object level, and silence or an unreasonable explanation on that level could be held against them?

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-24T21:17:24.446Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think you're imagining that I'm doing something much more exotic here than I am. I'm basically just advocating for cooperating on what I see as a prisoner's-dilemma-style game (I'm sure you can also cast it as a stag hunt or make some really complex game-theoretic model to capture all the nuances—I'm not trying to do that there; my point here is just to explain the sort of thing that I'm doing).

Consider:

A and B can each choose:

  • public) publicly argue against the other
  • private) privately discuss the right thing to do

And they each have utility functions such that

  • A = public; B = private:
    • u_A = 3
    • u_B = 0
    • Why: A is able to argue publicly that A is better than B and therefore gets a bunch of resources, but this costs resources and overall some of their shared values are destroyed due to public argument not directing resources very effectively.
  • A = private; B = public:
    • u_A = 0
    • u_B = 3
    • Why: ditto except the reverse.
  • A = public; B = public:
    • u_A = 1
    • u_B = 1
    • Why: Both A and B argue publicly that they're better than each other, which consumes a bunch of resources and leads to a suboptimal allocation.
  • A = private; B = private:
    • u_A = 2
    • u_B = 2
    • Why: Neither A nor B argue publicly that they're better than each other, not consuming as many resources and allowing for a better overall resource allocation.

Then, I'm saying that in this sort of situation you should play (private) rather than (public)—and that therefore we shouldn't punish people for playing (private), since punishing people for playing (private) has the effect of forcing us to Nash and ensuring that people always play (public), destroying overall welfare.

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-24T23:19:09.240Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(It seems that you're switching the topic from what your policy is exactly, which I'm still unclear on, to the model/motivation underlying your policy, which perhaps makes sense, as if I understood your model/motivation better perhaps I could regenerate the policy myself.)

I think I may just outright disagree with your model here, since it seems that you're not taking into account the significant positive externalities that a public argument can generate for the audience (in the form of more accurate beliefs, about the organizations involved and EA topics in general, similar to the motivation behind the DEBATE proposal for AI alignment).

Another crux may be your statement "Online discussions are very often terrible" in your original comment, which has not been my experience if we're talking about online discussions made in good faith in the rationalist/EA communities (and it seems like most people agree that the OP was written in good faith). I would be interested to hear what experiences led to your differing opinion.

But even when online discussions are "terrible", that can still generate valuable information for the audience, about the competence (e.g., reasoning abilities, PR skills) or lack thereof of the parties to the discussion, perhaps causing a downgrade of opinions about both parties.

Finally, even if your model is a good one in general, it's not clear that it's applicable to this specific situation. It doesn't seem like ACE is trying to "play private" as they have given no indication that they would be or would have been willing to discuss this issue in private with any critic. Instead it seems like they view time spent on engaging such critics as having very low value because they're extremely confident that their own conclusions are the right ones (or at least that's the public reason they're giving).

Replies from: evhub
comment by evhub · 2021-04-24T23:45:35.777Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To be clear, I agree with a lot of the points that you're making—the point of sketching out that model was just to show the sort of thing I'm doing; I wasn't actually trying to argue for a specific conclusion. The actual correct strategy for figuring out the right policy here, in my opinion, is to carefully weigh all the different considerations like the ones you're mentioning, which—at the risk of crossing object and meta levels—I suspect to be difficult to do in a low-bandwidth online setting like this.

Maybe it'll still be helpful to just give my take using this conversation as an example. In this situation, I expect that:

  • My models here are complicated enough that I don't expect to be able to convey them here to a point where you'd understand them without a lot of effort.
  • I expect I could properly convey them in a more high-bandwidth conversation (e.g. offline, not text) with you, which I'd be willing to have with you if you wanted.
  • To the extent that we try to do so online, I think there are systematic biases in the format which will lead to beliefs (of at least the readers) being systematically pushed in incorrect directions—as an example, I expect arguments/positions that use simple, universalizing arguments (e.g. Bayesian reasoning says we should do this, therefore we should do it) to lose out to arguments that involve summing up a bunch of pros and cons and then concluding that the result is above or below some threshold (which in my opinion is what most actual true arguments look like).
Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-26T04:37:40.979Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If there are lots of considerations that have to be weighed against each other, then it seems easily the case that we should decide things on a case by case basis, as sometimes the considerations might weigh in favor of downvoting someone for refusing to engage with criticism, and other times they weigh in the other direction. But this seems inconsistent with your original blanket statement, "I don’t think any person or group should be downvoted or otherwise shamed for not wanting to engage in any sort of online discussion"

About online versus offline, I'm confused why you think you'd be able to convey your model offline but not online, as the bandwidth difference between the two don't seem large enough that you could do one but not the other. Maybe it's not just the bandwidth but other differences between the two mediums, but I'm skeptical that offline/audio conversations are overall less biased than online/text conversations. If they each have their own biases, then it's not clear what it would mean if you could convince someone of some idea over one medium but not the other.

If the stakes were higher or I had a bunch of free time, I might try an offline/audio conversation with you anyway to see what happens, but it doesn't seem like a great use of our time at this point. (From your perspective, you might spend hours but at most convince one person, which would hardly make a dent if the goal is to change the Forum's norms. I feel like your best bet is still to write a post to make your case to a wider audience, perhaps putting in extra effort to overcome the bias against it if there really is one.)

I'm still pretty curious what experiences led you to think that online discussions are often terrible, if you want to just answer that. Also are there other ideas that you think are good but can't be spread through a text medium because of its inherent bias?

comment by Habryka · 2021-04-22T06:24:40.208Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure that they're not available for communication? I know approximately nothing about ACE, but I'd surprised if they wouldn't be willing to talk to you after e.g. sending them an email.

Yeah, I am really not sure. I will consider sending them an email. My guess is they are not interested in talking to me in a way that would later on allow me to write up what they said publicly, which would reduce the value of their response quite drastically to me. If they are happy to chat and allow me to write things up, then I might be able to make the time, but it does sound like a 5+ hour time-commitment and I am not sure whether I am up for that. Though I would be happy to pay $200 to anyone else who does that.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T14:44:17.908Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Turning to the object level: I feel pretty torn here.

On the one hand, I agree the business with CARE was quite bad and share all the standard concerns about SJ discourse norms and cancel culture.

On the other hand, we've had quite a bit of anti-cancel-culture stuff on the Forum lately. There's been much more of that than of pro-SJ/pro-DEI content, and it's generally got much higher karma. I think the message that the subset of EA that is highly active on the Forum generally disapproves of cancel culture has been made pretty clearly.

I'm sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to alienate them and promote a split in the movement, while also exposing EA to substantial PR risk. I think a lot of more SJ-sympathetic EAs already feel that the Forum is not a space for them – simply affirming that doesn't seem to me to be terribly useful. Not giving ACE prior warning before publishing the post further cements an adversarial us-and-them dynamic I'm not very happy about.

I don't really know how that cashes out as far as this post and posts like it are concerned. Biting one's tongue about what does seem like problematic behaviour would hardly be ideal. But as I've said several times in the past, I do wish we could be having this discussion in a more productive and conciliatory way, which has less of a chance of ending in an acrimonious split.

Replies from: Buck, casebash, Ben_West, Wei_Dai, Holly_Elmore, michaelchen
comment by Buck · 2021-04-18T01:43:52.260Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with the content of your comment, Will, but feel a bit unhappy with it anyway. Apologies for the unpleasantly political metaphor,  but as an intuition pump imagine the following comment.

"On the one hand, I agree that it seems bad that this org apparently has a sexual harassment problem.  On the other hand, there have been a bunch of posts about sexual misconduct at various orgs recently, and these have drawn controversy, and I'm worried about the second-order effects of talking about this misconduct."

I guess my concern is that it seems like our top priority should be saying true and important things, and we should err on the side of not criticising people for doing so.

More generally I am opposed to "Criticising people for doing bad-seeming thing X would put off people who are enthusiastic about thing X."

Another take here is that if a group of people are sad that their views aren't sufficiently represented on the EA forum, they should consider making better arguments for them. I don't think we should try to ensure that the EA forum has proportionate amounts of pro-X and anti-X content for all X. (I think we should strive to evaluate content fairly; this involves not being more or less enthusiastic about content about views based on its popularity (except for instrumental reasons like "it's more interesting to hear arguments you haven't heard before).)

EDIT: Also, I think your comment is much better described as meta level than object level, despite its first sentence.

Replies from: tamgent, Khorton
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-18T12:03:40.831Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Whilst I agree with you that there is some risk in the pattern of not criticising bad thing X because of concerns about second-order effects, I think you chose a really bad substitution for 'X' here, and as a result can totally understand where Khorton's response is coming from (although I think 'campaigning against racism' is also a mischaracterisation of X here).

Where X is the bad thing ACE did, the situation is clearly far more nuanced as to how bad it is than something like sexual misconduct, which, by the time we have decided something deserves that label, is unequivocally bad.

Why is it important to not throw out nuance here? Because of Will's original comment: there are downsides to being very critical, especially publicly, where we might cause more split or  be unwelcoming. I agree with you that we shouldn't be trying to appeal to everyone or take a balanced position on every issue, but I don't think we should ignore the importance of creating a culture that is welcoming to all either. These things do not in principle need to be traded-off against each other, we can have both (if we are skillful).

Despite you saying that you agree with the content of Will's comment, I think you didn't fully grok Will's initial concern, because when you say:

"if a group of people are sad that their views aren't sufficiently represented on the EA forum, they should consider making better arguments for them"

you are doing the thing (being unwelcoming)

Replies from: Buck, Pablo_Stafforini, Buck
comment by Buck · 2021-04-18T15:36:32.511Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

More generally, I think our disagreement here probably comes down to something like this:

There's a tradeoff between having a culture where true and important things are easy to say, and a culture where group X feels maximally welcome.  As you say, if we're skillful we can do both of these, by being careful about our language and always sounding charitable and not repeatedly making similar posts.

But this comes at a cost. I personally feel much less excited about writing about certain topics because I'd have to be super careful about them. And most of the EAs I know, especially those who have some amount of authority among EAs, feel much more restricted than I do. I think that this makes EA noticeably worse, because it means that it's much harder for these EAs to explain their thoughts on things.

And so I think it's noticeably costly to criticise people for not being more careful and tactful. It's worth it in some cases, but we should remember that it's costly when we're considering pushing people to be more careful and tactful.

I  personally think that "you shouldn't write criticisms of  an org for doing X, even when the criticisms are accurate and X is bad, because of criticising X has cultural connotations" is too far in the "restrict people's ability to say true things, for the sake of making people feel welcome".

(Some context here is that I wrote a Facebook post about ACE with similar content to this post last September.)

Replies from: tamgent, tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-18T18:03:18.399Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't disagree with any of that. I acknowledge there is real cost in trying to make people feel welcome on top of the community service of speaking up about bad practice (leaving aside the issue of how bad what happened is exactly).

I just think there is also some cost, that you are undervaluing and not acknowledging here, in the other side of that trade-off. Maybe we disagree on the exchange rate between these (welcomingness and unfiltered/candid communication)?

I think that becoming more skillful at doing both well is an important skill for a community like ours to have more of. That's ok if it's not your personal priority right now, but I would like community norms to reward learning that skill more. My view is that Will's comment was doing just that, and I upvoted it as a result. (Not saying you disagree with the content of his comment, you said you agreed with it in fact, but in my view, demonstrated you didn't fully grok it nevertheless).

Replies from: Buck
comment by Buck · 2021-04-19T02:50:59.951Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am not sure whether I think it's a net cost that some people will be put off from EA by posts like this, because I think that people who would bounce off EA because of posts like this aren't obviously net-positive to have in EA. (My main model here is that the behavior described in this post is pretty obviously bad, and the kind of SJ-sympathetic EAs who I expect to be net sources of value probably agree that this behavior is bad. Secondarily, I think that people who are really enthusiastic about EA are pretty likely to stick around even when they're infuriated by things EAs are saying. For example, when I was fairly new to the EA community in 2014, I felt really mad about the many EAs who dismissed the moral patienthood of animals for reasons I thought were bad, but EAs were so obviously my people that I stuck around nevertheless. If you know someone (eg yourself) who you think is a counterargument to this claim of mine, feel free to message me.)

But I think that there are some analogous topics where it is indeed costly to alienate people. For example, I think it's pretty worthwhile for me as a longtermist to be nice to people who prioritize animal welfare and global poverty, because I think that many people who prioritize those causes make EA much stronger. For different reasons, I think it's worth putting some effort into not mocking religions or political views.

In cases like these, I mostly agree with "you need to figure out the exchange rate between welcomingness and unfiltered conversations".

I think that becoming more skillful at doing both well is an important skill for a community like ours to have more of. That's ok if it's not your personal priority right now, but I would like community norms to reward learning that skill more. My view is that Will's comment was doing just that, and I upvoted it as a result. 

I guess I expect the net result of Will's comment was more to punish Hypatia than to push community norms in a healthy direction. If he wanted to just push norms without trying to harm someone who was basically just saying true and important things, I think he should have made a different top level post, and he also shouldn't have made his other top level comment.

(Not saying you disagree with the content of his comment, you said you agreed with it in fact, but in my view, demonstrated you didn't fully grok it nevertheless).

There's a difference between understanding a consideration and thinking that it's the dominant consideration in a particular situation :) 

Replies from: irving, Max_Daniel, tamgent
comment by irving · 2021-04-19T08:24:58.970Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I bounce off posts like this.  Not sure if you'd consider me net positive or not. :)

Replies from: None, Buck
comment by [deleted] · 2021-04-19T15:31:57.606Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I do too, FWIW. I read this post and its comments because I'm considering donating to/through ACE, and I wanted to understand exactly what ACE did and what the context was. Reading through a sprawling, nearly 15k-word discussion mostly about social justice and discourse norms was not conducive to that goal.

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-19T16:33:28.106Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Presumably knowing the basis of ACE's evaluations is one of the most important thing to know about ACE? And knowing to what degree social justice principles are part of that evaluation (and to what degree those principles conflict with evaluating cost-effectiveness) seems like a pretty important part of that.

Replies from: tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-19T18:59:38.920Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Knowing the basis of ACE's evaluations is of course essential to deciding whether to donate to/through them and I'd be surprised if esantorella disagreed. It's just that this post and discussion is not only or even mostly about that. In my view, it would have been a far more valuable/better post if it were focused more tightly on that serious issue and the evidence for and against it, and left out altogether small issues like publishing and taking down bad blog posts, and the general discourse norms discussion was in a separate post labelled appropriately.

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-19T22:53:41.125Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Makes sense. I think the current issues discussed feel like the best evidence we have, and do we feel like pretty substantial evidence on this topic, but it doesn't seem necessary to discuss that fully here.

comment by Buck · 2021-04-19T14:44:13.395Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am glad to have you around, of course.

My claim is just that I doubt you thought that if the rate of posts like this was 50% lower, you would have been substantially more likely to get involved with EA; I'd be very interested to hear I was wrong about that.

Replies from: irving
comment by irving · 2021-04-19T21:45:37.707Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that isn't the right counterfactual since I got into EA circles despite having only minimal (and net negative) impressions of EA-related forums.  So your claim is narrowly true, but if instead the counterfactual was if my first exposure to EA was the EA forum, then I think yes the prominence of this kind of post would have made me substantially less likely to engage.

But fundamentally if we're running either of these counterfactuals I think we're already leaving a bunch of value on the table, as expressed by EricHerboso's post about false dilemmas.

comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-22T20:21:52.362Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that people who are really enthusiastic about EA are pretty likely to stick around even when they're infuriated by things EAs are saying.

[...]

If you know someone (eg yourself) who you think is a counterargument to this claim of mine, feel free to message me.

I would guess it depends quite a bit on these people's total exposure to EA at the time when they encounter something they find infuriating (or even just somewhat off / getting a vibe that this community probably is "not for them").

If we're imagining people who've already had 10 or even 100 hours of total EA exposure, then I'm inclined to agree with your claim and sentiment. (Though I think there would still be exceptions, and I suspect I'm at least a bit more into "try hard to avoid people bouncing for reasons unrelated to actual goal misalignment" than you.) 

I'm less sure for people who are super new to EA as a school of thought or community.

We don't need to look at hypothetical cases to establish this. My memory of events 10 years ago is obviously hazy but I'm fairly sure that I had encountered both GiveWell's website and Overcoming Bias years before I actually got into EA. At that time I didn't understand what they were really about, and from skimming they didn't clear my bar of "this seems worth engaging with". I think Overcoming Bias seemed like some generic libertarian blog to me, and at the time I thought libertarians were deluded and callous; and for GiveWell I had landed on some in-the-weeds page on some specific intervention and I was like "whatever I'm not that interested in malaria [or whatever the page was about]". Just two of the many links you open, glance at for a few seconds, and then never (well, in this case luckily not quite) come back to.

This case is obviously very different from what we're discussing here. But I think it serves to reframe the discussion by illustrating that there are a number of different reasons for why someone might bounce from EA depending on a number of that person's properties, with the amount of prior exposure being a key one. I'm skeptical that any blanket statement of type "it's OK if people bounce for reason X" will do a good job at describing a good strategy for dealing with this issue.

comment by tamgent · 2021-04-25T08:49:31.665Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree it's good for a community to have an immune system that deters people who would hurt its main goals, EA included. But, and I hear you do care about calibrating on this too, we want to avoid false positives. Irving below seems like an example, and he said it better than I could: we're already leaving lots of value on the table. I expect our disagreement is just empirical and about that, so happy to leave it here as it's only tangentially relevant to the OP.

Aside: I don't know about Will's intentions, I just read his comment and your reply, and don't think 'he could have made a different comment' is good evidence of his intentions. I'm going to assume you know much more about the situation/background than I do, but if not I do think it's important to give people benefit of the doubt on the question of intentions.

[Meta: in case not obvious, I want to round off this thread, happy to chat in private sometime]

comment by tamgent · 2021-04-18T18:21:04.021Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I appreciate you trying to find our true disagreement here.

comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2021-04-18T14:28:33.412Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think you and Khorton are misinterpreting the analogy. Buck focused on a practice that is unequivocally bad precisely so that he can establish, to the satisfaction of everyone involved in this discussion, that Will's reasoning applies only up to a point: if a practice is judged to be sufficiently harmful, it seems appropriate to have lots of posts condemning it, even if this has some undesirable side effects. Then the question becomes: how should those who regard "cancel culture" as very harmful indeed respond, given that others do not at all share this assessment, and that continuing to write about this topic risks causing a split in the community to which both groups of people belong?

(I enclose 'cancel culture' in scare quotes because I am hesitant to use a term that some object to as having inappropriate connotations. It would be nice to find an expression for the phenomenon in question which  we are all happy to use.)

Replies from: tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-18T18:20:22.858Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sure, I do appreciate the point that Buck is bringing. I agree with it in fact (as the first part of my first sentence said). I just additionally  found the particular X he substituted not a good one for separate reasons to the main point he was making. I also think the real disagreement with Buck and myself is getting closer to it on a sister branch.

I do think your question is good here, and decomposes the discussion into two disagreements:
1) was this an instance of 'cancel culture', if so how bad is it?
2) what is the risk of writing about this kind of thing (causing splits) vs. the risk of not?

On 1) I feel, like Neel below, that moving charities ratings for an evaluator is a serious thing which requires a high bar of scrutiny, whereas the other two concerns outlined (blogpost and conference) seem far more minor. I think the OP would be far better if only focused on that and evidence for/against.

On 2) I think this is a discussion worth having, and that the answer is not 0 risk for any side.

EDIT to add: sorry I think I didn't respond properly/clearly enough to your main point. I get that Buck is conditioning on 1) above, and saying if we agree it's really bad, then what. I just think that he was not very explicit about that. If Buck had said something like, 'I want to pick up on a minor point, and to do this will need to condition on the world where we come to the conclusion that ACE did something unequivocally bad here...' at the beginning, I don't think the first part of my objections would have applied so much. EDIT to add: Although I still think he should have chosen a different bad thing X.

comment by Buck · 2021-04-18T15:36:15.573Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm writing these comments kind of quickly, sorry for sloppiness.)

With regard to

Where X is the bad thing ACE did, the situation is clearly far more nuanced as to how bad it is than something like sexual misconduct, which, by the time we have decided something deserves that label, is unequivocally bad.

In this particular case, Will seems to agree that X was bad and concerning, which is why my comment felt fair to me.

I would have no meta-level objection to a comment saying "I disagree that X is bad, I think it's actually fine".

Replies from: tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-18T17:49:44.483Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think the meta-level objection you raised (which I understood as: there may be costs of not criticising bad things because of worry about second-order effects) is totally fair and there is indeed some risk in this pattern (said this in the first line of my comment). This is not what I took issue with in your comment. I see you've responded to our main disagreement though, so I'll respond on that branch.

comment by Khorton · 2021-04-18T10:31:11.617Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

No one is enthusiastic about sexual harassment, and actively campaigning against racism has nothing in common with sexual harassment.

Replies from: Habryka, Holly_Elmore
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-18T20:12:41.831Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

and actively campaigning against racism has nothing in common with sexual harassment.

Universal statements like this strike me as almost always wrong. Of course there are many similarities that seem relevant here, and a simple assertion that they are not doesn't seem to help the discussion.

I would really quite strongly prefer to not have comments like this on the forum, so I downvoted it. I would have usually just left it at the downvote, but i think Khorton has in the past expressed a preference for having downvotes explained, so I opted on the side of transparency. 

Replies from: Ben Pace
comment by Ben Pace · 2021-04-18T20:32:56.658Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Universal statements like this strike me as almost always wrong.

I appreciate the self-consistency of this sentence :)

comment by Holly_Elmore · 2021-05-06T22:16:08.564Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Look who's never heard of intersectionality

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-05-07T12:57:42.448Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While I didn't like Khorton's original comment, this comment comes across as spiteful and mean, while contributing little or nothing of value. I strong-downvoted it.

Replies from: Holly_Elmore
comment by Holly_Elmore · 2021-05-19T19:35:58.372Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Seems like others agreed with you. I meant it mostly seriously. 

comment by casebash · 2021-04-17T01:45:55.688Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"On the other hand, we've had quite a bit of anti-cancel-culture stuff on the Forum lately. There's been much more of that than of pro-SJ/pro-DEI content, and it's generally got much higher karma. I think the message that the subset of EA that is highly active on the Forum generally disapproves of cancel culture has been made pretty clearly"

Perhaps. However, this post makes specific claims about ACE. And even though these claims have been discussed somewhat informally on Facebook, this post provides a far more solid writeup. So it does seem to be making a signficantly new contribution to the discussion and not just rewarming leftovers.

It would have been better if Hypatia had emailed the organisation ahead of time. However, I believe ACE staff members might have already commented on some of these issues (correct me if I'm wrong). And it's more of a good practise than something than a strict requirement - I totally understand the urge to just get something out of there.

"I'm sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to alienate them and promote a split in the movement, while also exposing EA to substantial PR risk"

On the contrary, now that this has been written up on the forum it gives people something to link to. So forum posts aren't just read by people who regularly read the forum. In any case, this kind of high quality write-up is unlikely to have a significnat effect on alienating people compared to some of the lower quality discussions on these topics that occur in person or on Facebook. So, from my perspective it doesn't really make any sense to be focusing on this post. If you want to avoid a split in the movement, I'd like to encourage you to join the Effective Altruists for Political Tolerance Facebook group and contribute there.

I would also suggest worrying less about PR risks. People who want to attack EA can already go around shouting about 'techno-capitalists', 'overwhelmingly white straight males', 'AI alarmists', ect. If someone wants to find something negative, they'll find something negative.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-17T14:47:57.812Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps. However, this post makes specific claims about ACE. And even though these claims have been discussed somewhat informally on Facebook, this post provides a far more solid writeup. So it does seem to be making a signficantly new contribution to the discussion and not just rewarming leftovers.

My claim was not that this post didn't contain new information, or that it was badly written – merely that it is part of a pattern that concerns me, and that more effort could be being made to mitigate the bad effects of this pattern.

One could imagine, for example, a post that contains similar content but is written with far more sympathy for what ACE and co. are trying to do here, even if the author disagrees (strongly) with its implementation. I think this post actually does better on this than many past posts on this topic, but taken as a whole we are still a long way from where I would like to be.

On the contrary, now that this has been written up on the forum it gives people something to link to. So forum posts aren't just read by people who regularly read the forum.

I wasn't saying they wouldn't see it, I was saying they wouldn't engage with it – that they will disagree with it silently, feel more alienated from the Forum, and move a little further away from the other side of EA than they were before. I think the anonymous comment below is quite strong evidence that I'm on the right track here.

If you want to avoid a split in the movement, I'd like to encourage you to join the Effective Altruists for Political Tolerance Facebook group and contribute there.

I'm honestly a bit flummoxed here. Why would contributing to a Facebook group explicitly aligned with one side of this dispute help avoid a split?

Replies from: Arepo, casebash, Arepo
comment by Arepo · 2021-04-18T18:36:48.387Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 I'm honestly a bit flummoxed here. Why would contributing to a Facebook group explicitly aligned with one side of this dispute help avoid a split?

I set up the group, and while I have my own views  on which groups are less tolerant/tolerated I'm very keen for the group to do what it suggests in the title: bring people together/encourage cooperation/tolerance in all directions etc. It is absolutely not 'explicitly aligned with one one side' .

(I have strong downvoted your comment for making this claim without giving any basis for it. I'll retract the downvote if you edit/moderate this remark, since otherwise I'm fairly agnostic about the comment content)

Replies from: willbradshaw, willbradshaw, Jeff_Kaufman, Arepo
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-18T20:34:16.743Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm not sure how much the group admins want the group description waved around on the Forum, given that nobody has linked to it so far. I've tried to strike the right balance here but am open to cutting stuff if a group admin tells me they'd prefer something different.)

The group describes itself as a "group for EAs into getting on with conservatives and liberals alike, and who want EA itself to be more welcoming to people of all different political stripes", and links to resources that are clearly in support of open discussion and against censoring true beliefs for the sake of avoiding offence. It even explicitly says controversial topics "are welcome", as long as you "use stricter epistemic standards in proportion to how offensive [your claim] is".

Even though it does not make any angry claims about cancel culture, I defend my claim that this group is clearly oriented towards the free-speech end of EA and away from the censor-opposing-views-to-protect-vulnerable-groups end.

I'm not saying the group is bad! Merely that I think, based on evidence, that my claim is reasonable. I also still don't understand why joining this group would address these problems; I think explaining the model for the last thing might be a more effective way to change my mind, but it also might be too much of a tangent for this comment thread.

Replies from: Arepo
comment by Arepo · 2021-04-19T05:55:30.807Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe your sense of what you're claiming and my sense of what you're claiming are using different meanings of 'cancel culture'. In your previous comment, you wrote 

'On the other hand, we've had quite a bit of anti-cancel-culture stuff on the Forum lately. There's been much more of that than of pro-SJ/pro-DEI content, and it's generally got much higher karma. I think the message that the subset of EA that is highly active on the Forum generally disapproves of cancel culture has been made pretty clearly'

So I've been assuming that you were referring to 'pro-SJ/DEI' and 'anti-cancel-culture' more or less antonymonously. Yes, the group is against deplatforming (at least, without extreme  epistemic/moral caution), no it's not against SJ/DEI.

Inasmuch as they're different concepts, then I don't see you you couldn't think anti-cancel-culture - which is basically 'pro-segregation' - culture wouldn't help prevent a split! The point is then not to exclude any cultural group, but to discourage segregation, hostility, and poor epistemics  when discussing this stuff.

Replies from: Nathan_Barnard
comment by Nathan_Barnard · 2021-04-19T11:16:02.043Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think the relevant split is between people who have different standards and different preferences for enforcing discourse norms. The ideal type position on the SJ side is that a significant number of claims relating to certain protected characteristics are beyond the pale and should be subject to strict social sanctions. The facebook group seems to on the over side of this divide. 

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-18T20:35:45.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

NB: I didn't downvote this comment and would be interested to know why people did.

comment by Jeff_Kaufman · 2021-04-21T22:50:00.504Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

making this claim

 

I'm confused: the bit you're quoting is asking a question, not making a claim.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-22T08:26:11.388Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The embedded claim being objected to is that the group is "explicitly aligned with one side" (of this dispute).

Replies from: Jeff_Kaufman
comment by Jeff_Kaufman · 2021-04-24T00:59:26.768Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I missed that was disputed

comment by Arepo · 2021-04-18T18:40:27.471Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I checked in with the other two admins about our approx political positions, and the answers were:

  • radical centrist
  • centre left-ish
  • centre left-ish

We're trying to find both a social justice and conservative admin to add some balance, but so far no-one's come forward for either.

comment by casebash · 2021-04-18T01:39:12.862Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I'm honestly a bit flummoxed here. Why would contributing to a Facebook group explicitly aligned with one side of this dispute help avoid a split?

The group is still new, so it's still unclear exactly how it'll turn out. But I don't think that's a completely accurate way of characterisating the group. I expect that there are two main strands of thought within the group - some see themselves as fighting against woke tendencies, whilst others are more focused on peace-making and want to avoid taking a side.

comment by Arepo · 2021-04-18T18:35:04.234Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

> I'm honestly a bit flummoxed here. Why would contributing to a Facebook group explicitly aligned with one side of this dispute help avoid a split?

I set up the group, and while I have my own views  on which groups are less tolerant/tolerated I'm very keen for the group to do what it says in the title bring people together/encourage cooperation  etc. It is absolutely not 'explicitly aligned with one one side' .

comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-16T15:49:21.364Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I do wish we could be having this discussion in a more productive and conciliatory way, which has less of a chance of ending in an acrimonious split.

At the risk of stating the obvious: emailing organizations (anonymously, if you want) is a pretty good way of raising concerns with them.

I've emailed a number of EA organizations (including ACE) with question/concerns, and generally find they are responsive.

And I've been on the receiving side of emails as well, and usually am appreciative; I often didn't even consider that there could be some confusion or misinterpretation of what I said, and am appreciative of people who point it out.

Replies from: Buck, willbradshaw, Elizabeth
comment by Buck · 2021-04-18T04:45:28.091Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that this totally misses the point. The point of this post isn't to inform ACE that some of the things they've done seem bad--they are totally aware that some people think this. It's to inform other people that ACE has behaved badly, in order to pressure ACE and other orgs not to behave similarly in future, and so that other people can (if they want) trust ACE less or be less inclined to support them.

Replies from: Ben_West, Neel Nanda
comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-19T19:07:27.504Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I guess I don't know OP's goals but yeah if their goal is to publicly shame ACE then publicly shaming ACE is a good way to accomplish that goal.

My point was a) sending a quick emails to someone about concerns you have with their work often has a very high benefit to cost ratio, and b) despite this, I still regularly talk to people who have concerns about some organization but have not sent them an email.

I think those claims are relatively uncontroversial, but I can say more if you disagree.

comment by Neel Nanda · 2021-04-25T20:06:42.927Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The key part of running feedback by an org isn't to inform the org of the criticism, it's to hear their point of view, and see whether any events have been misrepresented (from their point of view). And, ideally, to give them a heads up to give a response shortly after the criticism goes up

Replies from: Buck
comment by Buck · 2021-04-25T21:20:58.338Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That seems correct, but doesn’t really defend Ben’s point, which is what I was criticizing.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T16:52:41.385Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think private discussions are very important, but I don't feel good about a world where they entirely substitute for this kind of public disagreement. I think past Forum controversies of this kind have often been quite valuable.

Replies from: Ben_West
comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-16T19:42:41.011Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yep, definitely don't want people to swing too far in the opposite direction. Just commenting that "talk to people about your concerns with them" is a surprisingly underutilized approach, in my experience.

comment by Elizabeth · 2021-04-26T04:15:29.289Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I talked to ACE (Jacy Reese/Anthis in particular) in 2015 about ACE dramatically overstating effectiveness of leaflets. Jacy was extremely responsive in the call, and nothing changed until two years later when a dramatically more inflammatory article got wide distribution.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-17T04:52:34.718Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I’m sceptical that further content in this vein will have the desired effect on EA and EA-adjacent groups and individuals who are less active on the Forum, other than to alienate them and promote a split in the movement, while also exposing EA to substantial PR risk.

I've refrained from making certain posts/comments on EAF in part for these reasons. I think in the long run these outcomes will be very hard to avoid, given the vastly different epistemic approaches between the two sides, and e.g., "silence is violence", but it could be that in the short/medium term it's really important for EA to not become a major "public enemy" of the dominant ideology of our times.

ETA: If anyone disagrees with my long-run prediction (and it's not because something happens that makes the issue moot, like AIs take over), I'd be interested to read a story/scenario in which these outcomes are avoided.

Replies from: evelynciara
comment by evelynciara · 2021-04-17T06:17:06.417Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is "social justice" ideology really the dominant ideology in our society now? My impression is that it's only taken seriously among young, highly-educated people.

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe, AllAmericanBreakfast, Wei_Dai
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-04-17T06:41:26.494Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Agreed that it’s not dominant in society at-large, though I think it is dominant in a number of important institutions (esp. higher ed, the liberal nonprofit sphere, and journalism)

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-04-17T16:53:56.901Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Those are the circles many of us exist in. So a more precise rephrasing might be “we want to stay in touch with the political culture of our peers beyond EA.”

This could be important for epistemic reasons. Antagonistic relationships make it hard to gather information when things are wrong internally.

Of course, PR-based deference is also a form of antagonistic relationship. What would a healthy yet independent relationship between EA and the social justice movement look like?

Replies from: tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-05-06T11:12:29.936Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Cullen asked a similar question here [EA · GW] recently. Progressives and social justice movement are definitely not the same, but there's some overlap. 

comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-17T07:26:17.703Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe we're just using the word "dominant" in different ways? I meant it in the sense of "most important, powerful, or influential", and not something like "sincerely believed by the majority of people" which may be what you have in mind? (I don't believe the latter is true yet.)

Replies from: evelynciara
comment by evelynciara · 2021-04-17T07:38:10.943Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think the former is true either (with respect to national politics). 

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-18T13:21:38.723Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It makes sense that what is most important, powerful, or influential in national politics is still highly correlated with what most people in our society sincerely believe, due to secret ballot voting and the national scope, but I think in many other arenas, some arguably more important than current national politics (e.g. because they play an outsized role in the economy or in determining what future generations will believe), local concentrating of true believers and preference falsification have caused a divergence between the two senses of "dominant".

comment by Holly_Elmore · 2021-05-06T22:15:34.445Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this post is pretty damning of ACE. Are you saying OP shouldn't have posted important information about how ACE is evaluting animal charities because there has been too much anti-SJ/DEI stuff on the forum lately?

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-05-07T12:52:48.085Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I feel I have explained myself fairly well on this thread already, see for example here:

One could imagine, for example, a post that contains similar content but is written with far more sympathy for what ACE and co. are trying to do here, even if the author disagrees (strongly) with its implementation. I think this post actually does better on this than many past posts on this topic, but taken as a whole we are still a long way from where I would like to be.

Whatever information you want to convey, there are always a very wide range of ways to convey that information, which will vary substantially in their effects. With very controversial stuff like this, it is especially worth putting thought into how to convey that information in the manner that is best for the world.

I've actually been quite impressed with Hypatia's behaviour on this point since the post went up, in terms of updating the post based on feedback and moderating its tone. I think my version of this post would try even harder to be nice and sympathetic to pro-SJ EAs than this, but I'm not very unhappy with the current version of the OP.

(The ensuing discussion has also brought to light several things that made me update in the direction of ACE's behaviour being even worse than I thought, which makes me more sympathetic to the OP in its original form, though I stand by my original comments.)

Replies from: Holly_Elmore
comment by Holly_Elmore · 2021-05-19T19:24:47.716Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The more substantial point that I'm trying to make is that the political balance of the EA Forum shouldn't be a big factor in someone's decision to publicize important information about a major charity evaluator, or probably even in how they put the criticism. Many people read posts linked from the EA Forum who never read the comments or don't visit the Forum often for other posts, i.e. they are not aware of the overall balance of political sympathies on the Forum. The tenor of the Forum as a whole is something that should be managed (though I wouldn't advocate doing that through self-censorship) to make EA welcoming or for the health of the community, but it's not that important compared to the quality of information accessible through the Forum, imo. 

I'm a little offended at the suggestion that expressing ideas or important critiques of charities should in any way come second to diplomatic concerns about the entire Forum. 

comment by michaelchen · 2021-04-16T20:52:25.174Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I found this post to be quite refreshing compared to the previous one criticizing Effective Altruism Munich for uninviting Robin Hanson to speak. I’m not against “cancel culture” when it’s cancelling speakers for particularly offensive statements they’ve made in the past (e.g., Robin Hanson in my opinion, but let’s not discuss Robin Hanson much further since that’s not the topic of this post). Sometimes though, cancelling happens in response to fairly innocuous statements, and it looks like that’s what ACE has done with the CARE incident.

comment by ClaireZabel · 2021-04-22T19:00:36.881Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

[As is always the default, but perhaps worth repeating in sensitive situations, my views are my own and by default I'm not speaking on behalf of the Open Phil. I don't do professional grantmaking in this area, haven't been following it closely recently, and others at Open Phil might have different opinions.]

I'm disappointed by ACE's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] (I thought Jakub's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] seemed very polite and even-handed, and not hostile, given the context, nor do I agree with characterizing what seems to me to be sincere concern in the OP just as hostile) and by some of the other instances of ACE behavior documented in the OP. I used to be a board member at ACE, but one of the reasons I didn't seek a second term was because I was concerned about ACE drifting away from focusing on just helping animals as effectively as possible, and towards integrating/compromising between that and human-centered social justice concerns, in a way that I wasn't convinced was based on open-minded analysis or strong and rigorous cause-agnostic reasoning. I worry about this dynamic leading to an unpleasant atmosphere for those with different perspectives, and decreasing the extent to which ACE has a truth-seeking culture that would reliably reach good decisions about how to help as many animals as possible. 

I think one can (hopefully obviously) take a very truth-seeking and clear-minded approach that leads to and involves doing more human-centered social justice activism, but I worry that that isn't what's happening at ACE; instead, I worry that other perspectives (which happen to particularly favor social justice issues and adopt some norms from certain SJ communities) are becoming more influential via processes that aren't particularly truth-tracking. 

Charity evaluators have a lot of power over the norms in the spaces they operate in, and so I think that for the health of the ecosystem it's particularly important for them to model openness in response to feedback, and rigorous, non-partisan, analytical approaches to charity evaluation/research in general, and general encouragement of truth-seeking, open-minded discourse norms. But I tentatively don't think that's what's going on here, and if it is, I more confidently worry that charities looking on may not interpret things that way; I think the natural reaction of a charity (that values a current or future possible ACE Top or Standout charity designation) to the situation with Anima is to feel a lot of pressure to adopt norms, focuses, and diversity goals it may not agree it ought to prioritize, and that don't seem intrinsically connected to the task of helping animals as effectively as possible, and for that charity worry that pushback might be met with aggression and reprisal (even if that's not what would in fact happen). 

This makes me really sad. I think ACE has one of the best missions in the world, and what they do is incredibly important. I really hope I'm wrong about the above and they are making the best possible choices, and are on the path to saving as many animals as possible, and helping the rest of the EAA ecosystem do the same.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T07:17:14.646Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This post doesn't seem screamingly urgent. Why didn't you have the chance to share a draft with ACE?

It seems like there are several points here where clarification from ACE would be useful, even if the bulk of your complaints stand.

Replies from: Hypatia, Larks, meerpirat
comment by Hypatia · 2021-04-16T14:22:06.706Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Will, thanks for your comment.

The idea of sending a draft to ACE didn't occur to me until I was nearly finished writing the post. I didn't like the idea of dwelling on the post for much longer, especially given some time commitments I have in the coming weeks.

Though to be honest, I don't think this reason is very good, and upon reflection I suspect I should have send a draft to ACE before posting to clear up any misunderstandings.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T14:27:14.646Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this response, Hypatia. Upvoted.

comment by Larks · 2021-04-16T13:16:10.276Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Having written a similar post in the past, it's worth keeping in mind the amount of time they take to write is huge. Hypatia seems to have done a very good job expressing the facts in a way which communicates why they are so concerning while avoiding hyperbole. While giving organisations a chance to read a draft can be a good practice to reduce the risk of basic factual mistakes (and one I try to follow generally), it's not obligatory. Note that we generally do not afford non-EA organisations this privilege, and indeed I would be surprised if ACE offered Connor the chance to review their public statement which pseudonymously condemned him. Doing so adds significantly to the time commitment and raises anonymity risks[1], especially if one is worried about retaliation from an organisation that has penalized people for political disagreements in the past.

 

[1] As an example, here is something I very nearly messed up and only thought of at the last minute: you need to make a fresh copy of the google doc to share without the comments, or you will reveal the identity of your anonymous reviewers, even if you are personally happy to be known. 

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T14:28:10.213Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like the concept of anonymity risks and agree that is a fair argument against advance sharing.

comment by meerpirat · 2021-04-16T11:49:38.456Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Your question reads a bit like you disapprove of the author posting it without doing this. I agree that people criticizing an org should strongly consider contacting the org before their public criticism. But I think there are reasons to not contact an org before, besides urgency, e.g. lacking time, or predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal. So I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook. What do you, or others think?

Replies from: Max_Daniel, willbradshaw, meerpirat
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-16T13:01:56.698Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

But I think there are reasons to not contact an org before, besides urgency, e.g. lacking time, or predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal. So I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook. What do you, or others think?

I agree with the spirit of "I currently think we should approve if people bring up the energy to voice honest concerns even if they don’t completely follow the ideal playbook".

However, at first glance I don't find the specific "reasons to not contact an org before" that you state convincing:

  • "Lacking time" - I think there are ways that require minimal time commitment. For instance, committing to not (or not substantially) revise the post based on an org's response. I struggle to imagine a situation where someone is able to spend several hours writing a post but then absolutely can't find the 10 minutes required to send an email to the org the post is about.
  • "Predicting that private communication will not be productive enough to spend the little time we have at our disposal" - I think this misunderstands one key reason for running a post about an org/person by that org/person before publishing. In my view, the key reason for this norm is not that private communication can be better but to improve a public conversation that's going to happen anyway by delaying it a bit so each involved party can 'prepare' for it.

Basically, I think in many cases the "ideal" process would be:

  • <author> runs post by <org> saying "fyi I'm going to publish this by <date>. I'm giving you a heads up b/c I think this is good practice and allows you to think about if/how to reply. If there are clear misunderstandings or factual mistakes in my post, let me know and I might be able to correct them. However, I'd prefer substantive discussion to take place publicly."
  • <org> deliberates internally if/how to reply publicly, and sends minor suggestions for corrections to <author>.
  • <author> posts, potentially after correcting some clear mistakes/misunderstandings (I expect this usually takes 5-30 minutes if the post was well done).
  • <org> posts their reply shortly after <author>'s post (if they want to post one).

 

Concretely, as a "public spectator" in such cases it tends to be quite useful to "hear both sides". If I see something by just one side, then unless I see a reason for urgency, my reaction will tend to be "OK I guess I'll wait engaging with this until I can hear both sides".

Replies from: meerpirat
comment by meerpirat · 2021-04-16T13:13:03.357Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes a lot of sense to me, especially the points about how little time this might take and that there is not conflict with prefering the discussion to be public. Thanks! 

I might be a little bit less worried about the time delay of the response. I'd be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won't end up also reading the response from ACE. I'd be more worried if this would be a case where most people would just form a quick negative association and won't follow up later when this all turns out to be more or less benign.

Replies from: Max_Daniel
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-16T14:40:07.198Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won't end up also reading the response from ACE. I'd be more worried if this would be a case where most people would just form a quick negative association and won't follow up later when this all turns out to be more or less benign.

Yeah, I agree with this. I don't think the time delay is that big of a deal by itself, more like something that might be slightly annoying / slightly time-costly to a medium number of people.

Replies from: Chi
comment by Chi · 2021-04-17T23:33:10.008Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I might be a little bit less worried about the time delay of the response. I'd be surprised if fewer than say 80% of the people who would say they find this very concerning won't end up also reading the response from ACE.

FWIW, depending on the definition of 'very concerning', I wouldn't find this surprising. I think people often read things, vaguely update, know that there's another side of the story that they don't know, have the thing they read become a lot less salient,  happen to not see the follow-up because they don't check the forum much,  and end up having an updated opinion (e.g. about ACE in this case) much later without really remembering why.

(e.g. I find myself very often saying things like "oh, there was this EA post that vaguely said X and maybe you should be concerned about Y because of this, although I don't know how exactly this ended in the end" when others talk about some X-or-Y-related topic, esp. when the post is a bit older. My model of others is that they then don't go check, but some of them go on to say "Oh, I think there's a post that vaguely says X, and maybe you be concerned about Y because of this, but I didn't read it, so don't take me too seriously" etc. and this post sounds like something this could happen with.)

Maybe I'm just particularly epistemically unvirtuous and underestimate others. Maybe for the people who don't end up looking it up but just having this knowingly-shifty-somewhat-update the information just isn't very decision-relevant and it doesn't matter much. But I generally think information that I got with lots of epistemic disclaimers and that have lots of disclaimers in my head do influence me quite a bit and writing this makes me think I should just stop saying dubious things.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T12:53:18.883Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In general, I am in favour of public criticism within movements/communities, and think it is usually underproduced. In general, I would prefer public-criticism-without-prior-warning to no criticism, if those are the only choices available. However:

  • I think prior consultation significantly increases the social value of criticism, and that there should be a pretty strong norm of doing so, at least on the Forum (perhaps less so on social media groups). As such, I'm not sympathetic to excuses of the form "I didn't have time to do this" in this context, unless the post is, for some reason, very urgent.
  • Excuses of the form "I didn't think reaching out in advance would be productive", meanwhile, are quite prone to self-serving biases and the horns effect, and should be avoided, with the possible exception of cases where the target of criticism is flagrantly dishonest and manipulative.
  • In this case, there are several important places where criticism either concerns actions that have since been reversed (the blog post) or depends on speculation about the non-public motives of ACE staff (Anima International). These seem like cases where giving ACE the chance to respond would be especially valuable.
  • Being afraid of retaliation is potentially a good reason not to share in advance, but (a) the sharing could still be done anonymously, e.g. from a new Gmail account or via a proxy, and (b) if this was the reason, it's dishonest to say that the author "[has] not had the chance to share a draft of this post with ACE".

In sum, I think there's a decent probability that I do disapprove of the author's posting this without discussing it with ACE in advance – but, until/unless I hear their reasoning, I am not sure.

comment by meerpirat · 2021-04-16T11:55:05.200Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Because I'm worried that this post could hurt my future ability to get a job in EAA, I'm choosing to remain anonymous.

I personally would also find it emotionally draining to criticize possible employers and would understand if one decides against contacting them privately. Not saying this happened here, but another seemingly valid reason I’d want to keep in mind.

Replies from: Max_Daniel
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-16T14:44:01.650Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that's a very fair point. I do think it would be possible to run the post by an org in an anonymous way (create a new email account & send clean copy of doc), but as e.g. Larks points out [EA(p) · GW(p)] it's easy to accidentally break anonymity.

comment by EricHerboso · 2021-04-17T18:24:42.485Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Although I am on the board of Animal Charity Evaluators, everything I say on this thread is my own words only and represents solely my personal opinion of what may have been going on. Any mistakes here are my own and this should not be interpreted as an official statement from ACE.

I believe that the misunderstanding going on here might be a false dilemma. Hypatia is acting as though the two choices are to be part of the social justice movement or to be in favor of free open expression. Hypatia then gives evidence that shows that ACE is doing things like the former, and thus concludes that this is dangerous because the latter is better for EA.

But this is a false dichotomy. ACE is deliberately taking a nuanced position that straddles both sides. ACE is not in danger of becoming an org that just goes around canceling free thought thinkers. But nor is ACE is danger of ignoring the importance of providing safe spaces for black, indigenous, and people of the global majority (BIPGM [EA(p) · GW(p)]) in the EAA community. ACE is doing both, and I think rightly so.

Many who read this likely don't know me, so let me start out by saying that I wholeheartedly endorse the spirit of the quoted comment from Anna Salamon [EA(p) · GW(p)] at the end of Hypatia's post. I strongly believe that the ideals of the enlightenment (open discussion of ideas, free speech, believing ideas based on argumentation and evidence)  are necessary in order to do and achieve better. I have been known, in the past, of arguing even for more open discussion of infohazardous ideas, given appropriate spaces.

But, at the same time, I simultaneously believe that the playing field in which we all live and work together is fundamentally biased against BIPGM. In order to ensure that BIPGM are able to also work in the EAA space, they can't just be ignored; we have to take a positive effort in order to ensure that they are fairly included. As Howard Zinn once noted, you can't stay neutral on a moving train.

(I really don't want EA to fall into the trap that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony did when they threw Frederick Douglass under the bus. We can simultaneously fight for EAA while also providing a space for BIPGM in the EAA community.) 

Hypatia made several points in the original post. I'll reorganize them here, in their own words:

  • Blog Post on BLM
    • Making (in my view) poorly reasoned statements about anti-racism; and
    • encouraging supporters to support or donate to anti-racist causes and organizations of dubious effectiveness.
  • Withdrawal from 2020 CARE Conference
    • Attempting to cancel an animal rights conference speaker because of his (fairly liberal) views on Black Lives Matter;
    • withdrawing from that conference because the speaker's presence allegedly made ACE staff feel unsafe; and
    • issuing a public statement supporting its staff and criticizing the conference organizers.
  • Penalizing Charities Based on Staff Statements
    • Penalizing charities in reviews for having leadership and/or staff who are deemed to be insufficiently progressive on racial equity; and
    • stating ACE will deny funding to projects from those who disagree with its views on diversity, equity and inclusion.

I'd like to respond to some of these points, as I think they are incorrect and/or misleading. I will not be responding to the Blog Post on BLM bullet because I believe that ACE would be better able to clarify that issue.

Withdrawal from 2020 CARE Conference

"Attempting to cancel an animal rights conference speaker because of his (fairly liberal) views on Black Lives Matter, withdrawing from that conference because the speaker's presence allegedly made ACE staff feel unsafe"

My understanding is that ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker in the sense that you mean here.

What happened is much more nuanced than you make it out to be. In another comment on this thread, anonymous00 writes up much more of the context [EA(p) · GW(p)] behind what was going on. In short, ACE had staff that were going to present at the CARE conference. After they learned that the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM, they indicated to ACE leadership that they felt unsafe going to the conference, and they pulled out. There was no capacity to replace them with other speakers. ACE informed CARE that they were withdrawing.

At no point here did ACE as an organization deliberately decide to cancel anyone, even if some people affiliated with ACE did express dissatisfaction with him speaking on this topic at the conference. At no point do I think that ACE had any choice but to withdraw from the conference, given the feelings of ACE's staff that pulled out. You might object that these staff members shouldn't have felt unsafe. I can understand that point of view, because if I were in their position, I wouldn't have felt unsafe, even though I am also a BIPGM. (I'm mixed indigenous, hispanic, and white, with the plurality being indigenous ancestry.) But you and I do not get to choose when others feel unsafe.

Hopefully, anonymous00's writeup may give more context into why they felt unsafe. If not, I could try to explain further, perhaps with an analogy to make it more clear. But I believe this is beside the point. Organizations cannot tell their employees when they have to feel safe. It's up to people to make such determinations, and then organizations have to work around those facts.

"issuing a public statement supporting its staff and criticizing the conference organizers."

I agree that the way that ACE handled the communication surrounding these events was ultimately quite poor. While I believe that ACE took appropriate actions here, I don't think that its communications about those actions were appropriate nor ultimately good.

In particular, ACE's statement erred on the side of taking responsibility as an organization for the actions of its employees. I think this is generally good practice. But it gave an impression that ACE was trying to deplatform someone, when that is not what was going on at all. I think that the communications aspect of this situation could have been much better handled.

Penalizing Charities Based on Staff Statements

"Penalizing charities in reviews for having leadership and/or staff who are deemed to be insufficiently progressive on racial equity"

While your words here are technically correct, putting it like this is very misleading. Without breaking confidentiality, let me state unequivocally that if an organization had employees who had really bad views on DEI, that would be, in itself, insufficient for ACE to downgrade them from top to standout charity status. This doesn't mean it isn't a factor; it is. But the actions discussed in this EA forum thread would be insufficient on their own to cause ACE to make such a downgrade.

"stating ACE will deny funding to projects from those who disagree with its views on diversity, equity and inclusion."

While this is true as stated, it is not as inappropriate as it sounds here. The text you pulled is from ACE Movement Grants, which is completely separate from the evaluations used for top and standout charities. This is relevant because the entire point of ACE Movement Grants is to foster the movement to become bigger and better through increased resiliency, and this includes being inclusive. It is entirely appropriate for ACE Movement Grants to have a clause like this, given what they are trying to do. There are further reasons why ACE has something like ACE Movement Grants in place, and that context might further explain why including a clause like this would be appropriate; but in the interest of brevity, I won't include those reasons here.

Potentially Harmful to the EA Movement

"those who disagree with decisions to support that work shouldn't be branded as racist or ignorant"

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment, and I believe ACE does as well. Please remember that ACE is unusually lenient about others who hold ideals contrary to what ACE does. Unlike global poverty work, there are actual real companies whose business depends entirely on killing and effectively torturing animals. Yet ACE is continually willing to promote organizations who do corporate outreach with these companies. If anything, ACE is extremely strong on allowing cooperation and promotion with individuals and groups who have views that are completely contrary to what ACE believes in.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think the misunderstanding here is a false dilemma. ACE is deliberately taking a nuanced view on the supposed (false dichotomy) axis of free open discussion and the encouragement of safe spaces. At times, ACE might err on one side or the other; hopefully you can understand that organizations like ACE can and will sometimes fail to live up to their own ideals. But the intended position that ACE is taking is one where we try to foster free open discussion while also trying to make the EAA community a place where BIPGM can more fairly live and work.

Replies from: Wei_Dai, Hypatia, Habryka, EricHerboso
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-18T16:01:20.941Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Can you explain more about this part of ACE's public statement about withdrawing from the conference:

We took the initiative to contact CARE’s organizers to discuss our concern, exchanging many thoughtful messages and making significant attempts to find a compromise.

If ACE was not trying to deplatform the speaker in question, what were these messages about and what kind of compromise were you trying to reach with CARE?

Replies from: EricHerboso
comment by EricHerboso · 2021-04-20T03:25:56.487Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In general, organizations should respect confidentiality of communications with other groups. This is especially important for ACE, as they rely on animal advocacy organizations feeling comfortable enough to share their internal data with them. While transparency is one of its primary goals, and ACE is already extremely transparent about its charity evaluation process and the reasoning that led to the selection of each of the recommended charities in its reviews, I hope you can understand why ACE also values the importance of retaining a collaborative relationship with other organizations. As such, ACE retains a strong policy against publicly sharing private communications between ACE and the charities they evaluate.

Replies from: jackmalde
comment by jackmalde · 2021-04-20T05:39:34.272Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The only thing of interest here is what sort of compromise ACE wanted. What CARE said in response is not of immediate interest, and there's certainly no need to actually share the messages themselves.

Perhaps you can understand why one might come away from this conversation thinking that ACE tried to deplatform the speaker? To me at least it feels hard to interpret "find a compromise" any other way.

Replies from: Max_Daniel
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-20T18:36:47.376Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

[Note that I have no idea whatsoever about what actually happened here. This is purely hypothetical.]

FWIW if I was in a position similar to ACE's here are a few potential "compromises" I would have explored. (Of course, which of these would be acceptable to me would depend on exactly why I'm concerned and how strongly, etc.) I think some of them wouldn't typically be considered deplatforming, though I would imagine that people who are against deplatforming would find many if not all of them at least somewhat objectionable (I would also guess that some who are pro maximal deplatforming in this case would find many if not all of these objectionable):

  • Changing the topic of the relevant speaker's talk
  • Adding a talk with a different perspective on BLM etc. to the conference program
  • Replacing the talk with a panel that also includes different perspectives
  • Removing the talk from the 'official' program but explicitly or implicitly allowing it to take part 'informally'
  • Adding some sort of disclaimer to the talk/program saying the conference organizers are aware this is a sensitive topic and they disagree with the speaker

I could probably generate a bunch of other ideas if I spent more time generating them.

Perhaps more fundamentally, in the spirit of the 'Harvard method' for negotiations I wouldn't have sent a list of demands or acceptable outcomes to CARE but would have stated my interests. I.e. roughly which properties of possible outcomes I care about. E.g. these might be things like "my staff members feel comfortable attending", "avoiding a perception by attendees or the public that CARE, or the animal advocacy movement more broadly, are" (or even "sending a signal that CARE/the animal advocacy movement support anti-racism/BLM"), etc.

I would then encourage CARE to state their interests, and then try to make sure they and I consider the full space of possible outcomes (which includes the potential compromises listed above and many more), and work with them to see if there is any outcome in there that is acceptable to both of us.

If this went well (even if there was no deal in the end) I would imagine such a conversation would involve a lot of back-and-forth, hinge on details, and that it would be quite hard to give outsiders an accurate picture of what the parties wanted. Certainly I wouldn't expect that "here is a list of compromises we wanted" would do a good job at this.

There is a separate question of whether even if it was possible it would be a good idea. I'm not sure. I think that on one hand various stakeholders have an interested in understanding at least roughly what interests the parties were pursuing. E.g. if I was a donor to ACE b/c I want ACE to generally maximize the effectiveness of the animal advocacy movement then I would want to know if the interests ACE was pursuing in this and similar negotiation situations were consistent with that mission. However, this may be covered by fairly general statements (e.g. the general goals and strategy of ACE) and accountability/governance mechanisms (e.g. ACE's board holding org leadership accountable to pursuing those goals and not others in all their dealings). On the other hand, too much transparency about specifics of the conversation can easily jeopardize the parties' ability to reach a Pareto-preferred outcome, in particular if outside observers are irrational or prefer to 'punish' the other party. I also think it's generally conducive to a constructive conversation if the parties don't have to worry that in the case of no deal the other party will try  to paint them in a bad light (since such worries increase the expected cost of bargaining); and unfortunately even disclosing just what oneself said might have this effect, or at least create pressure on the other party to reveal more about their bargaining strategy. (E.g. if party A is like "we proposed X but B wouldn't accept", and B seems at first glance reasonable, this will create pressure on party B to explain why they thought X wasn't acceptable, which might rely on confidential or costly-to-disclose information, etc.) It just seems like there are a bunch of tricky principal-agent and other problems to navigate here, and my impression is that certain norms of confidentiality have evolved around negotations that often seem reasonable to me (though I don't feel highly confident, and I also don't have a great picture of how exactly the common norms look like). I'm definitely not convinced that it would be good to create public pressure on organizations that would prevent them from entering confidential conversations with other parties in the future. If I know that you have supporters who will pressure you into disclosing what we talk about, I might prefer to not negotiate with you in the first place, and we might both be worse off as a result.

Again, I have absolutely no idea how close any of my hypotheticals are to what actually went down here.

[ETA: I wasn't trying to comment on the object level, but for the record based on this comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] by Anima International leadership staff it does sound like ACE may in fact not have approached the dispute in the way I outlined here. I'm specifically referring to claims that (1) ACE started the conversation by freezing funds and (2) them to some extent having violated strict confidentiality themselves by having disclosed that some of the 'negotiations' were about racism, attitudes toward DEI, etc. - I think that (2) may actually be a dynamic of the problem I pointed to, i.e., that by disclosing partial information you can create pressures on the involved parties to disclose even more information or otherwise justify their behavior. However, note that ACE may dispute these claims [EA(p) · GW(p)].

To be clear, I also think that accurately assessing such situations "from the outside" is very tricky, and I don't think I can reasonably have a strong view on whether or not any detail such as disclosing the topic of some conversation was or wasn't a mistake. I also think that ACE is in a particularly tricky situation when navigating such matters because it's not some "random" actor who has a dispute with the conference organizers but also by virtue of their mission is committed to evaluating the conference organizer's performance. I think this raises some interesting more general question about good practices for how to navigate disputes between charity evaluators and charities.]

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-20T20:47:48.897Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

FWIW if I was in a position similar to ACE’s here are a few potential “compromises” I would have explored.

Inferring from the list you wrote, you seem to be under the impression that the speaker in question was going to deliver a talk at the conference, but according to Eric Herboso's top-level comment, "the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM". Also, the following sentence from ACE's Facebook post makes it sound like the only way ACE staff members would attend the conference was if the speaker would not be there at all, which I think rules out all of the compromise ideas you generated.

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy.

Replies from: Max_Daniel
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-20T22:06:53.433Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Inferring from the list you wrote, you seem to be under the impression that the speaker in question was going to deliver a talk at the conference, but according to Eric Herboso's top-level comment, "the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM".

Yes, I had been under that impression (based on my vague memory of having heard about this situation when Buck had posted about it on Facebook). Given what Eric wrote, it sounds like you're probably right that the "baseline plan" was a panel rather than a talk, so obviously my list of potential compromises would need to be modified (change topic of the panel, move the person from the panel to a talk on another topic, make the panel "informal" etc.). I don't think this by itself matters much for the key points I was trying to make in my comment.

Separately, I agree that the second quote at least suggests that maybe what in fact happened was that ACE asked CARE to ban this person from even attending the conference. I haven't followed this situation enough to have an object-level view of whether I think that would have been a reasonable/good demand. I also didn't mean to say that the hypothetical compromises I suggested in my earlier comment would have in fact been good for the world overall. 

I still think that (i) negotiation by demanding/suggesting particular outcomes (as opposed to first getting on the same page on both parties' interests) is usually instrumentally bad even for one's own interests [so no matter the content of the demand, if ACE's negotiation strategy had been of that type, I'd think they probably made a mistake], (ii) confidentiality norms for specifics of negotiations are often good, would often be undermined even by disclosing just what one said oneself (i.e. without directly revealing anything the other party did or said) and (iii) while somewhat uncertain I would tentatively push back pretty strongly against outside demands to break confidentiality or outside signals that discourage an org from entering into confidential negotiations in the future

Indeed, (iii) was the main reason why I commented at all. I'm not that interested in what happens in the animal advocacy world, but I tentatively don't want incentives that punish EA-ish orgs for utilizing dispute resolution mechanisms that involve confidentiality because I think eroding the norm that confidentiality is OK in such situations could be pretty bad.

[ETA: I wasn't trying to comment on the object level, but for the record based on this comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] by Anima International leadership staff it does sound like ACE may in fact not have approached the dispute in the way I outlined here. I'm specifically referring to claims that (1) ACE started the conversation by freezing funds and (2) them to some extent having violated strict confidentiality themselves by having disclosed that some of the 'negotiations' were about racism, attitudes toward DEI, etc. - I think that (2) may actually be a dynamic of the problem I pointed to, i.e., that by disclosing partial information you can create pressures on the involved parties to disclose even more information or otherwise justify their behavior. However, note that ACE may be disputing these claims [EA(p) · GW(p)].

To be clear, I also think that accurately assessing such situations "from the outside" is very tricky, and I don't think I can reasonably have a strong view on whether or not any detail such as disclosing the topic of some conversation was or wasn't a mistake. I also think that ACE is in a particularly tricky situation when navigating such matters because it's not some "random" actor who has a dispute with the conference organizers but also by virtue of their mission is committed to evaluating the conference organizer's performance. I think this raises some interesting more general question about good practices for how to navigate disputes between charity evaluators and charities.]

comment by Hypatia · 2021-04-18T17:01:54.039Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Eric. 

I agree that being part of the social justice movement can be compatible with supporting free expression, and I added a note in my post to clarify that. 

Speaking as an insider, I can explicitly say that ACE, as an organization, did not intend in any way to cancel this speaker in the sense that you mean here.

That's a relief to hear, but it also seems hard to reconcile with the public Facebook post. ACE wrote (emphasis mine): 

In fact, asking our staff to participate in an event where a person who had made such harmful statements would be in attendance, let alone presenting, would be a violation of our own anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. Naturally, we want to abide by our own policy and support our staff in feeling comfortable in all of their workspaces, including the online sphere of virtual conferences and Facebook forums.

We took the initiative to contact CARE’s organizers to discuss our concern, exchanging many thoughtful messages and making significant attempts to find a compromise. We view our dialogue as healthy, productive, and collaborative, and we are grateful for CARE’s openness to and participation in our conversation.

Unfortunately, despite our joint efforts—and despite the fact that the presenter in question chose to rescind his own speaking engagement for reasons of which we are not aware—we ultimately decided on Monday to withdraw our ACE representatives

The post really does suggest that ACE didn't want this person speaking at the conference, and contacted CARE seeking some type of concession. 

But this might make sense in light of what you say here: 

In particular, ACE's statement erred on the side of taking responsibility as an organization for the actions of its employees. I think this is generally good practice. But it gave an impression that ACE was trying to deplatform someone, when that is not what was going on at all. I think that the communications aspect of this situation could have been much better handled.

Is the implication here that some ACE staff member(s), but not ACE as an organization, attempted to cancel this speaker's talk? Clarifying this would be helpful. 

After they learned that the facebook commenter in question would be on a panel talking about BLM, they indicated to ACE leadership that they felt unsafe going to the conference, and they pulled out. ACE then had no choice but to allow them to do this. There was no capacity to replace them with other speakers. ACE had to inform CARE that they were withdrawing.

I wouldn't expect an organization to force staff to speak at a conference they're uncomfortable attending. But my main concern here was that ACE contacted CARE organizers to voice concerns (and ask for some type of concession) and wrote a public post that heavily implied the conference organizers did something wrong by inviting this person to speak.

I'm also somewhat concerned that all three ACE employees scheduled to speak withdrew. I think that, combined with some other information available, suggests there's a bit of an intellectual monoculture at ACE surrounding DEI issues. 

Regarding the alleged penalization in charity reviews, you say: 

While your words here are technically correct, putting it like this is very misleading. Without breaking confidentiality, let me state unequivocally that if an organization had employees who had really bad views on DEI, that would be, in itself, insufficient for ACE to downgrade them from top to standout charity status. This doesn't mean it isn't a factor; it is. But the actions discussed in this EA forum thread would be insufficient on their own to cause ACE to make such a downgrade.

I'm a bit confused how to interpret this. 

 Does this mean an organization receiving a "Weak" rating on Leadership and Culture  caused by DEI concerns couldn't be given a lower status compared to the same organization with a "Strong" rating? 

Or would bad views on DEI not be enough by itself to give a charity a "Weak" rating there? 

Or am I misunderstanding something about ACE's charity review process? 

I think it would be helpful for ACE to clarify this. 

Note that I didn't mean to imply that Anima would have received "Top" status if it weren't for comments from leadership on DEI.

Regarding movement grants:

While this is true as stated, it is not as inappropriate as it sounds here. The text you pulled is from ACE Movement Grants, which is completely separate from the evaluations used for top and standout charities. This is relevant because the entire point of ACE Movement Grants is to foster the movement to become bigger and better through increased resiliency, and this includes being inclusive.

Thanks for raising the distinction; I edited the post to make it more clear. This still seems like harmful policy to me. Even if the overall goal of the grants is to make the movement stronger (including by becoming more inclusive), it's plausible that there could be some really promising projects from people/groups who don't fully align with ACE on DEI.

Replies from: EricHerboso
comment by EricHerboso · 2021-04-20T03:27:54.084Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Clarifying [the specifics of the CARE conference decision] would be helpful.

Regarding the CARE conference decision, I want to give a disclaimer that I was not closely involved in this decision, so I’m not clear on what the exact reasoning was. I’ve shared my opinions above on the situation, but as this conference took place eight months ago and isn’t related to the core of ACE’s work, I don’t expect ACE to make any further official statements on the matter.

In my response to Wei Dai [EA(p) · GW(p)], I explain that it’s just not possible for me nor for ACE to share confidential details of this type. I’ve tried to strike the best balance I can of relieving some of the fears that you and others have about ACE’s reasoning in this case, while simultaneously respecting ACE’s policies around how we treat private communication with other charities. I suspect that I have been unsuccessful at this. I’m sorry that I can’t share more on this topic.

Does this mean…? …Or am I misunderstanding something about ACE's charity review process?

It is difficult for me to go into detail here without breaking confidentiality. I’ve tried several times to draft something that I could say generally here, without reference to anything specific. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be possible. All I can do in this case is to refer you to ACE’s Charity Evaluation Criteria, which goes into more detail about Criterion 5: Leadership and Culture.

 [The ACE Movement Grants DEI policy] still seems like harmful policy to me. Even if the overall goal of the grants is to make the movement stronger (including by becoming more inclusive), it's plausible that there could be some really promising projects from people/groups who don't fully align with ACE on DEI.

I agree that projects can be promising, regardless of the ideals of the people running them. But I disagree that ACE Movement Grants should fund such projects. The most important thing that ACE Movement Grants is trying to do is to help direct the shape of the larger movement. This is important because, unlike GiveWell with global poverty (for example), ACE and other EA funders direct at least 25% of the available funding for farmed animal advocacy. Whereas GiveWell can afford to solely advocate for top and standout charities, ACE is in the unique position of being responsible for a significant percentage of the money moved in some of these cause areas.

I’m not averse to all kinds of people doing promising projects. If they succeed, hopefully they can one day be recognized by ACE in its top or standout charity lists, as former AMG grantees Wild Animal Initiative, Vegetarianos Hoy, and Essere Animali are now. But while they are still in the ‘promising’ stage, I don’t think it is needed nor even appropriate for ACE Movement Grants to fund them if their values actively turn away BIPGM.

comment by Habryka · 2021-04-19T05:33:12.891Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While your words here are technically correct, putting it like this is very misleading. Without breaking confidentiality, let me state unequivocally that if an organization had employees who had really bad views on DEI, that would be, in itself, insufficient for ACE to downgrade them from top to standout charity status. This doesn't mean it isn't a factor; it is. But the actions discussed in this EA forum thread would be insufficient on their own to cause ACE to make such a downgrade.

Just to clarify, this currently sounds to me like you are saying "the actions discussed in this forum thread would be insufficient, but would likely move an organization about halfway to being demoted from top to standout charity", which presumably makes this a pretty big factor that explains a lot of the variance in how different organizations score on the total evaluation. This seems very substantial, but I want to give you the space to say it plays a much less substantial role than that.

Replies from: EricHerboso
comment by EricHerboso · 2021-04-20T03:26:41.141Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A lot goes into ACE’s evaluation decisions. ACE’s charity evaluation process is extremely transparent; I welcome you to read ACE’s official description of that process if you want more detail generally on this kind of thing.

Regarding specifics, I’m unfortunately not at liberty to discuss any confidential details of this case beyond what is already explained in our 2020 evaluation of Anima International.

Replies from: Habryka
comment by Habryka · 2021-04-20T05:17:37.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am familiar with ACE's charity evaluation process. The hypothesis I expressed above seems compatible with everything I know about the process. So alas, this didn't really answer my question.

comment by EricHerboso · 2021-04-20T03:28:28.647Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am concerned that although I explained that the views I put forward here are my own, they are being taken as though it is some official response from ACE. This is not the case. To eliminate any potential further misunderstanding on this, I will not be engaging further on this thread.

comment by anonymous00 · 2021-04-17T13:06:04.007Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this post is fairly uncharitable to ACE, and misrepresents the situations it is describing. My overall take is basically along the lines of "ACE did the right thing in response to a hard situation, and communicated that poorly." Your post really downplays both the comments that the people in question made and actions they took, and the fact that the people in question were senior leadership at a charity, not just random staff.

I also want to note that I've had conversations with several people offline who disagreed pretty strongly with this post, and yet no one has posted major disagreements here. I think the EA Forum is generally fairly anti-social justice, while EAA is generally fairly pro-social justice, so there are norms clashing between the communities.

 

The blog post

Taken at face value, these claims seem pretty absurd. For example,"inextricably linked" implies that societies without white supremacy and/or patriarchy wouldn't oppress animals.

Your main issue seems to be the claim that these harms are linked, but you just respond by only saying how you feel reading the quote, which isn't a particularly valuable approach. It seems like it would be much more productive to read the source document they cite than take your personal reaction as good evidence about the value of the claims.

In this case, I think many authors have made this particular argument, and it isn't some out-there claim. If you think it is a good argument, then you might have good reasons to work on both these issues. If you think it is a bad argument, then you might still have good reasons to work on both these issues, as the harms from both could be pretty severe.

I'm not particularly certain how social justice work (especially US-focused social justice work) ought to fit into a very strong EA framework, but nothing in this struck me as unusually strong language from a social justice perspective. Plus, ACE removed the blog post, which might be a tacit rescinding of their support of the claims made in it, so it doesn't seem like this is particularly good evidence to your point.

 

Withdrawal from the 2020 CARE Conference

This section, which seems like the bulk of your argument, strikes me as being quite misleading about what happened.

From my perspective, these so-called "inflammatory" and "harmful" comments were generally respectful in tone and expressed pretty reasonable views -- certainly nothing that should be considered outside of the overton window of EAA discussion.

The comments in question are undeniably inflammatory - they started a multi-hundred comment argument in a Facebook group, which as far as I know is the only thread that the moderators of that group have locked (at least in recent memory). There were also dozens of people in that thread, all of whom strongly thought that the person in question and others were being harmful, so your sense of the overton window for EAA discussion (given that the forum is the main platform for EAA discussion) seems like it is miscalibrated.

You also neglect to talk about the specific things that the commenter in question did or said, and fail to acknowledge that multiple commenters were country-level Executive Directors of Animal International, not just random staff.

It seems like what happened is as follows:

  • Encompass, a DEI training organization for animal advocacy groups advertised an event called "How white vegans can support anti-racist efforts"
  • Someone called Encompass a hate group (which as a side note, it definitely is not). The Anima Executive Director in question liked this comment.
  • Someone called our world "a color-blind society" (which again, it definitely  is not). The Animal Executive Director in question liked this comment.
  • The Anima Executive Director posted a comment saying that this issue is not related to animals (which doesn't seem particularly reasonable since Encompass is a group that specifically works on race issues at animal advocacy organizations, and the training was for animal advocates).
  • The Anima Executive Director  argued with a lot of people about various race issues, and clearly made many people very upset (and I believe another Anima country-level Executive Director also)
  • The CARE Conference schedule came out, and said ED was speaking on a panel about Black Lives Matter and diversity in the movement.
  • This was a red-flag to ACE (and probably should have been to many people), since the ED had both liked some pretty inflammatory / harmful statements, and was speaking on a topic they clearly had both very strong and controversial views on, regarding which they had previously picked fights on.
  • ACE's staff either felt unsafe and communicated that to ACE, or ACE was concerned about their staff being unsafe in this environment, and withdrew from the conference to avoid that.
  • ACE was going to have speakers there, so they made a statement about why they withdrew, since they cancelled their events.

You say,

One could reasonably disagree with some of the comments that the planned speaker posted, but his comments seemed far from anything that would reasonably make people feel unsafe at a conference, and very far from something that would justify barring him from speaking. So I'm very concerned that ACE is implying that the CARE organizers made a mistake in letting this person (who ultimately withdrew from his scheduled talk) speak at the conference.

I think that there are two things wrong with this. 

  • One, you thinking that what feels safe for you is a good test of what ought to feel safe for other people is obviously wrong. If we have different life experiences, the things that make us feel unsafe are bound to be different. In this case, there is a group that does advocacy on behalf of non-white people in the animal space. Someone called them a hate group, and a speaker on a panel about diversity in the movement endorsed that comment. It is entirely reasonable for someone to feel unsafe in response to this. This isn't a radical social justice position or something - it seems like common sense to not have a speaker who has demonstrated that they are confrontational and unconstructive on these issues speak on a panel about diversity in the movement.
  • The speaker also voluntarily withdrew from the panel. You insinuate that they would have been barred, but there isn't evidence that would have happened (though to be clear, I think it would have been perfectly reasonable to remove this person from a panel on diversity issues given their history of engagement on it being confrontational).

 

Penalizing charities based on statements from staff

This section severely downplays that the staff in question were both country-level Executive Directors of Anima, and were in senior leadership roles. I think if ACE is exclusively penalizing these charities based on their statements, it is entirely reasonably to do so given that they lead large wings of Anima. And note that ACE still recommends Anima as one of their Standout charity recommendations. They still urge donors to support Anima. They still do fundraising for Anima. They haven't cancelled Anima or something. 

I'm not trying to say that ACE's culture review is perfect or to justify their review of Anima. Like you, I don't have enough knowledge of how that process works to evaluate it well. It seems good that they want to include this evaluation, and I imagine that it is incredibly hard to do well. I imagine that it is reasonable to design a survey, and when you realize that it doesn't capture everything you want to capture,  you weigh up your survey results against outside information you're familiar with and use that to make your assessment.

 

The supposed harms of this action

Embracing social justice norms may lead to less effective allocations of movement resources.

I could see this going either way - maybe the lack of representation of non-white people in the animal movement is a weakness that is making it less effective. Maybe if the organization stands up on multiple issues you care about, you're happier at work, and end up being more motivated at work. Maybe social justice norms are just good, and a minor trade off in effectiveness is worthwhile to have a more equitable world. This doesn't seem like an obvious harm to me, and we don't have particularly strong evidence in either direction.

Embracing social justice norms may attract bad actors

This just seems like pure fear-mongering. There is no evidence this is happening, and it is really dismissive of funders' and grantmakers' ability to evaluate projects. If I am making a grant, and it is an animal program, obviously I'm going to think about the impact on animals. 

Also, say that if this is true - then it is probably equally likely that embracing anti-social justice norms might also do this, and it seems like the bad actors on the anti-social justice side are much worse (though note, I'm not convinced that most people in the social justice community who might do this are "bad actors". They are probably just people who disagree with you about the effectiveness / importance of their project - people on the anti-social justice side of things seem much more likely to be genuine "bad actors". This isn't to say that the social justice community is perfect or the discourse norms are great, but I guess it seems like the far-right is a lot more harmful than the far-left right now, even if the far-left has more cultural power).

Embracing social justice norms is likely to create a hostile epistemic environment and reduce trust

This is again, equally true in both directions. I can say right now as someone who is fairly social-justice sympathetic that I'm not very comfortable writing my opinions on the EA Forum about these things, despite them being (I believe), pretty rational, well-reasoned opinions. And I'm a white man. I can easily imagine that if I were a non-white person, I could be completely alienated from this community. Imagine that you're browsing a forum, and see that there is an event for how people not like you could support people like you in a space where you've been historically underrepresented / mistreated, and then seeing a leader in the space endorse a comment that the organizers of the event are a hate group. We already have a hostile epistemic environment and reduced trust — you (Hypatia) just happen to be on the inside already.

 

***

I'm not trying to argue that ACE did everything perfect here, and am definitely not claiming ACE is above criticism for how they handle charity evaluations, equity issues, or anything else. I think ACE definitely did not communicate on these issues well.  That ACE did what seem like totally reasonable things to do, yet they made you and many other people in the EA community upset by how they talked about it demonstrates that they failed to communicate to all their audiences well. But I think your post is a strong mischaracterization of this situation, and represents a really uncharitable position toward both ACE and social justice work.

Replies from: Hypatia, jackmalde
comment by Hypatia · 2021-04-17T16:25:45.138Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. There's a lot that I don't have time to thoroughly unpack, but I'll share my thoughts briefly. I'll mostly address the EAA FB thread and ACE's CARE conference withdrawal. I'll make edits to the original post where I feel it's appropriate. 

The comments in question are undeniably inflammatory - they started a multi-hundred comment argument in a Facebook group, which as far as I know is the only thread that the moderators of that group have locked (at least in recent memory). There were also dozens of people in that thread, all of whom strongly thought that the person in question and others were being harmful, so your sense of the overton window for EAA discussion (given that the forum is the main platform for EAA discussion) seems like it is miscalibrated.

Note that I was only referring here to comments from the scheduled CARE speaker. I think there were some other critical commenters who were being fairly rude and  unreasonable. It looks like there was one other person on Anima's leadership team participating in the thread, but I think her comments were also generally respectful and not inappropriate. 

As you state, the EAA Facebook group is generally pro-social justice. And I think that because Facebook isn't an anonymous platform, there's a fairly strong bias toward socially-desired positions. In this case, that means supporting Encompass and the emphasizing racial equity in the animal advocacy movement. Those who disagree are probably less likely to comment or react to others' comments. 

For example, when I read that thread I was uncomfortable with the way some of the pro-Encompass commenters in that thread were behaving, but I decided not to say anything, especially since some them commenters were being quite rude and making personal attacks toward those who wrote critical comments. I think the views that the two Anima leaders expressed in that thread should  be within the overton window of EAA discourse, and the fact that so many people apparently think otherwise concerns me.    

Someone called Encompass a hate group (which as a side note, it definitely is not). The Anima Executive Director in question liked this comment.

I think that comment was highly inappropriate and is the type of thing I'd like to avoid in these discussions. I didn't realize the planned speaker 'liked' that comment and that updates me towards him behaving badly and having worse views than I thought. I'll edit the post to indicate that. But this doesn't really change my overall assessment ACE's behavior here. (Note: as far as I can tell the person who actually wrote the comment isn't affiliated with Anima)

Someone called our world "a color-blind society" (which again, it definitely  is not). The Animal Executive Director in question liked this comment.

I think the comment was a bit more nuanced than that; I've reproduced it here:

 I am eager for an end to racial discrimination in a color blind society, but we have essentially already achieved this. Tot the extent there remains a few small issues, then we can focus on those issues specifically. I don't think this will help.

Edit: I would like to add a little more uncertainty about the truth of my view than I expressed in my initial comment. Because I feel a stronger uncertainty after the discussions so far, and I think it is only right that people know this without having to read the entire thread. Maybe it would be more true to say there is some anti-black racism still in the West, although I do not believe it is systemic. The U.S is very divided, so in parts of the country, I believe you can find it still to a significant degree in people, including some in positions of power. But in more liberal-dominated places, including the AR movement, I do believe it is all but gone, and if anything, it is reversed. How much exactly there is in different places, I am happy to learn more about by looking (critically of course) at more data and evidence.

I don't agree with this comment, but I think it's respectful enough and it makes an empirical claim that deserves serious scrutiny rather than immediate dismissal. I don't think it should be considered beyond-the-pale, and I'm not too worried that two of Anima's leaders 'liked' it. (Note: as far as I can tell the person who wrote this comment also isn't affiliated with Anima)

The Anima Executive Director posted a comment saying that this issue is not related to animals (which doesn't seem particularly reasonable since Encompass is a group that specifically works on race issues at animal advocacy organizations, and the training was for animal advocates).

The event was titled "How White Vegans Can Support Anti-Racist Efforts". While it was directed at vegans, I think it's reasonable to question its usefulness and relevancy to animal advocacy. Suppose someone posted an event about how vegans can improve global health by supporting the Against Malaria Foundation. Even though I support AMF, I think it would be reasonable to post a comment questioning the importance of animal advocates devoting resources to that issue. I'm pretty worried that some people in EAA find this type of criticism unacceptable. 

The CARE Conference schedule came out, and said ED was speaking on a panel about Black Lives Matter and diversity in the movement.

This was a red-flag to ACE (and probably should have been to many people), since the ED had both liked some pretty inflammatory / harmful statements, and was speaking on a topic they clearly had both very strong and controversial views on, regarding which they had previously picked fights on.

I don't think it's a problem that he was scheduled to speak about Black Lives Matter (but I think this is an important detail, so I'll add it to the main post). I think it's unlikely that his views on BLM would be harmful enough for his presence on the panel to be a big concern. And I don't think leaders of organizations should be afraid of respectfully participating in online discussions, even if they hold an unpopular or controversial viewpoint. 

One, you thinking that what feels safe for you is a good test of what ought to feel safe for other people is obviously wrong. If we have different life experiences, the things that make us feel unsafe are bound to be different. In this case, there is a group that does advocacy on behalf of non-white people in the animal space. Someone called them a hate group, and a speaker on a panel about diversity in the movement endorsed that comment. It is entirely reasonable for someone to feel unsafe in response to this.

I think you're mostly right here, and I chose my words poorly. I think ACE's speakers probably did feel unsafe speaking at the conference, and I should have instead said there was no actual safety risk. As you said, people might feel unsafe or unwelcome for a variety of reasons, not all of which are perfectly rational (and that's okay!). Someone with severe social anxiety, for example, might understandably feel unwelcome or unsafe at any large gathering. But I think there's a limit to how much conference organizers should accommodate these types of safety concerns, and I think it was wrong of ACE to ask CARE organizers to (presumably) stop him from speaking. 

The speaker also voluntarily withdrew from the panel. You insinuate that they would have been barred, but there isn't evidence that would have happened (though to be clear, I think it would have been perfectly reasonable to remove this person from a panel on diversity issues given their history of engagement on it being confrontational).

My claim was that ACE attempted to get the speaker barred, which I think is a reasonable takeaway from the public post.  I don't have a strong view on whether the attempt would have been successful had he not voluntarily withdrawn. 

This section severely downplays that the staff in question were both country-level Executive Directors of Anima, and were in senior leadership roles.

Fair enough, I'll edit the post to clarify. 

 I could see this going either way - maybe the lack of representation of non-white people in the animal movement is a weakness that is making it less effective.

I don't think there's a huge tradeoff between norms of openness and freedom of expression and norms of being pro-DEI. I think some pro-social justice people take this position, but they should be more explicit about it. 

I think a lot of people are concerned about both EA's lack of demographic diversity (including diversity along racial/ethnic lines) and the potential spread of the toxic discussion norms and poor epistemic standards common within many social justice communities. To the extent there may be a tradeoff, I think having EA-style epistemic norms is much more important than demographic diversity, but this might be a point of disagreement. 

This just seems like pure fear-mongering. There is no evidence this is happening, and it is really dismissive of funders' and grantmakers' ability to evaluate projects. If I am making a grant, and it is an animal program, obviously I'm going to think about the impact on animals. 

I haven't seen evidence of this happening in EA, but I think it's reasonable to be risk-averse here. I think ACE isn't skeptical enough of groups that position themself as being social justice activists (as opposed to purely animal focused/EA). 

This is again, equally true in both directions. I can say right now as someone who is fairly social-justice sympathetic that I'm not very comfortable writing my opinions on the EA Forum about these things, despite them being (I believe), pretty rational, well-reasoned opinions. And I'm a white man.

I think I largely agree with you here. One thing I don't think I communicated very well is that I'm not opposed to social justice, and I definitely don't think EA should position itself as "Anti-social justice" or anything like that. What I'm really opposed to is the really bad discussion norms and lack of intellectual rigor in many social justice spaces, and I'm starting to see some of this creep up in the EAA community. I think the norms in a lot of anti-social justice spaces are also really bad, and I wouldn't to see those enter EA either. 

I don't like that you feel uncomfortable writing opinions on the EA forum. I think the knee-jerk negative reaction some people have towards anything related to social justice ideas isn't good. Though I think this is less of a concern than on the EA Facebook groups, where anonymous participation isn't possible. 

Overall, your comment updated me towards ACE's position and made them seem less unreasonable than I initially thought. However, I think my characterization of ACE's behavior was mostly accurate, and I still think they were behaving quite badly 

Replies from: Khorton
comment by Khorton · 2021-04-18T10:40:01.815Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"I think ACE's speakers probably did feel unsafe speaking at the conference, and I should have instead said there was no actual safety risk. "

Perhaps you mean there was no physical safety risk (or you don't believe in psychological safety as a concept)?

comment by jackmalde · 2021-04-17T15:20:49.190Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this comment as I think you make some good points and I would like people who disagree with Hypatia to speak up rather than stay silent.

Having said that, I do have a few critical thoughts on your comment. 

Your main issue seems to be the claim that these harms are linked, but you just respond by only saying how you feel reading the quote, which isn't a particularly valuable approach.

I don’t think this was Hypatia’s main issue. Quoting Hypatia directly, they imply the following are the main issues:

  • The language used in the statement makes it hard to interpret and assess factually
  • It made bold claims with little evidence
  • It recommended readers spend time going through resources of questionable value

Someone called Encompass a hate group (which as a side note, it definitely is not). The Anima Executive Director in question liked this comment.

You bring this up a few times in your comment. Personally I give the ED the benefit of the doubt here because the comment in question also said “what does this have to do with helping animals" which is a point the ED makes elsewhere in the thread, so it’s possible that they were agreeing with this part of the comment as opposed to the ‘hate group’ part. I can’t be sure of course, but I highly doubt the ED genuinely agrees that Encompass is a hate group given their other comments in the thread seeming fairly respectful of Encompass including “it's not really about animal advocacy, it's about racial injustice and how animal advocates can help with that. That's admirable of course, I just don't think it's relevant to this group”.

This was a red-flag to ACE (and probably should have been to many people), since the ED had both liked some pretty inflammatory / harmful statements, and was speaking on a topic they clearly had both very strong and controversial views on, regarding which they had previously picked fights on.

You seem to imply that others should have withdrawn from the conference too, or at least that they should have considered it? This all gets to the heart of the issue about free speech and cancel culture. Who decides what’s acceptable and what isn’t? When is expressing a different point of view just that vs. "picking a fight". Is it bad to hold "strong and controversial views"?

People were certainly affected by the ED’s comments, but people are affected by all sorts of comments that we don’t, and probably shouldn't, cancel people for. People will be affected by your comment, and people will be affected by my comment. When talking about contentious issues, people will be affected. It’s unavoidable unless we shut down debate altogether. You imply that the ED's actions were beyond the pale, but we need to realise that this is an inherently subjective viewpoint and it's clearly the case that not everyone agrees. So whilst ACE had the right to withdraw, I'm not sure we can imply that others should have too.

comment by Neel Nanda · 2021-04-16T12:37:35.593Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks a lot for writing this up and sharing this. I have little context beyond following the story around CARE and reading this post, but based on the information I have, these seem like highly concerning allegations, and ones I would like to see more discussion around. And I think writing up plausible concerns like this clearly is a valuable public service.

Out of all these, I feel most concerned about the aspects that reflect on ACE as an organisation, rather than that which reflect the views of ACE employees. If ACE employees didn't feel comfortable going to CARE, I think it is correct for ACE to let them withdraw. But I feel concerned about ACE as an organisation making a public statement against the conference. And I feel incredibly concerned if ACE really did downgrade the rating of Anima International as a result. 

That said, I feel like I have fairly limited information about all this, and have an existing bias towards your position. I'm sad that a draft of this wasn't run by ACE beforehand, and I'd be keen to hear their perspective. Though, given the content and your desire to remain anonymous, I can imagine it being unusually difficult to hear ACE's thoughts before publishing.

Personally, I consider the epistemic culture of EA to be one of its most valuable aspects, and think it's incredibly important to preserve the focus on truth-seeking, people being free to express weird and controversial ideas, etc. I think this is an important part of EA finding neglected ways to improve the world, identifying and fixing its mistakes, and keeping a focus on effectiveness. To the degree that the allegations in this post are true, and that this represents an overall trend in the movement, I find this extremely concerning, and expect this to majorly harm the movement's ability to improve the world.

Replies from: tamgent
comment by tamgent · 2021-04-16T18:01:29.486Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your distinction between the views of individual employees at an organisation being totally fine to be whatever (although I wouldn't ignore it entirely, I also wouldn't overgeneralise from a couple of people in an org having epistemically-lacking views, maybe depending a bit on their position), and the decisions/statements an organisation makes as an org, being an important one. 

comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-16T14:49:28.118Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Edit: Jakub says [EA · GW] that ACE's evaluation was based on the Facebook comments, not leadership transition. The below is kept for historical purposes. Also, I should have noted in this post my appreciation for Anima's transparency – it wouldn't have been possible for me to post something like this with most organizations, because they would state that their CEO stepped down "spend more time with her family" or something similar.

Nevertheless, given the overall positive assessment, it's strange that Anima was awarded a "weak" rating in this category, and I think it's likely that Anima is being heavily punished for the public comments made by staff members.

Last year, Anima fired their CEO. The public statement said:

However, no matter how much we value her merits, there are issues in regards to everyday behaviour towards employees that we as an organization cannot accept. In Anima International we have to be a team that strongly supports each other.

I think ACE's rating about poor leadership and culture was based on that rather than Facebook comments made by staff members.

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini, Hypatia
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2021-04-16T18:28:35.670Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is what ACE's "overview" lists as Anima's weaknesses:

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums. We also think including non-staff members in Anima International’s governing board would increase the board’s capacity to oversee the organization from a more independent and objective perspective. 

Their "comprehensive review" doesn't mention the firing of the CEO as a consideration behind their low rating. The primary reason for their negative evaluation seems to be captured in the following excerpt:

According to our culture survey, Anima International is diverse along the lines of gender identity and sexual identity, however, they are not diverse on racial identity. This is not surprising, as most of the countries in which their member organizations operate are very racially homogenous; in practice, we think it would be particularly difficult for them to successfully attract and hire advocates who are Black, Indigenous, or of the global majority49 (BIPGM) in those countries. Our impression, however, is that the racial homogeneity at the organization has resulted in a limited understanding of racial issues, which has presented itself in some of the public and private communications50 we’ve witnessed from Anima International’s staff in the last year. In particular, we think leadership staff publicly engaging in conversations about the relevance of racial equity to the animal advocacy movement may have had a negative impact on the progress of racial equity in the movement.51 While we think this issue is less salient in the more racially homogenous countries in which they operate, for their work in more racially diverse countries, we think it is particularly important that they prioritize developing an understanding of racial equity. Additionally, for any organization working on an international scale, there are spaces that all staff may encounter that are more racially diverse—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums—in which it is again important to have an understanding of racial equity. This is particularly important so as to ensure the safety of BIPGM and to not impede—and to eventually contribute to—work on racial equity in the broader animal advocacy movement, which we believe will be crucial to its long-term success.52 Note: Our concern here is specifically about their understanding of racial issues and not issues relating to ethnicity, of which they report frequently encountering in their work in Eastern Europe and Russia—we have no reason to doubt their handling of those situations.53

In our culture survey, some respondents mentioned that leadership could offer training to be more inclusive or to better support staff who are members of marginalized groups.

Anima International supports R/DEI through their human resources activities. Anima International has a workplace code of ethics/conduct and a written statement that they do not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, or other characteristics. Anima International has a written procedure for filing complaints, as well as explicit protocols for addressing concerns or allegations of harassment54 or discrimination.55 In our culture survey, 96% of respondents agreed that Anima International protects staff, interns, and volunteers from harassment and discrimination in the workplace, and 98% agreed that they have someone to go to in case of harassment or discrimination. However, our culture survey suggests that Anima International’s staff experienced or witnessed some harassment or discrimination in the workplace during the past year, more than the average charity under review. Some respondents mentioned that they witnessed troubling behavior from the former CEO but that they were satisfied with leadership’s handling of the situation, i.e., suspending and removing the former CEO. Because staff feel overall protected from harassment and discrimination, and Anima International seems to have in place systems to prevent and handle harassment and discrimination in the workplace, we are not highly concerned about this finding.

Anima International does not offer regular trainings on topics such as harassment and discrimination in the workplace. In our culture survey, 75% of staff agree that they and their colleagues have been sufficiently trained in matters of R/DEI. Respondents mentioned that training has not taken place, or they are not needed. We believe that the opportunities for the team to learn about R/DEI at Anima International should be increased.

Overall, we believe that Anima International is less diverse, equitable, and inclusive than the average charity we evaluated this year.

---

Although it isn't relevant to this particular thread, I'd like to urge all participants to consider Will Bradshaw's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] and try to "hav[e] this discussion in a more productive and conciliatory way, which has less of a chance of ending in an acrimonious split", insofar as this is compatible with maintaining our standards of intellectual rigor.

Replies from: Neel Nanda, willbradshaw
comment by Neel Nanda · 2021-04-17T09:24:26.097Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing, that part updated me a lot away from Ben's view and towards Hypatia's view. 

An aspect I found particularly interesting was that Anima International seems to do a lot of work in Eastern European countries, which tend to be much more racially homogenous, and I presume have fairly different internal politics around race to the US. And that ACE's review emphasises concerns, not about their ability to do good work in their countries, but about their ability to participate in international spaces with other organisations.

They work in: 

Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Estonia, Norway, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France

It seems even less justifiable to me to judge an organisation according to US views around racial justice, when they operate in such a different context.

EDIT: This point applies less than I thought. Looks like Connor Jackson, the person in question, is a director of their UK branch, which I'd consider much closer to the US on this topic. 

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-17T08:22:31.999Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this comment was a pretty big update for me towards Hypatia's interpretation (I'd previously been much closer to Ben's).

Footnote 50 from that blockquote is also relevant:

In addition to lengthy email correspondence, our impression here was informed by evidence we cannot publish, including calls with Anima International’s leadership and correspondence in a public Facebook group (“Effective Animal Advocacy – Discussion”). Even though Anima and the ACE staff members who are discussed in the email thread encouraged us to publish the email correspondence, members of the evaluations committee decided against this to protect the privacy of the third parties mentioned, and to assure charities that we keep our private correspondence confidential. 

comment by Hypatia · 2021-04-16T18:29:23.440Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Ben, thanks for your comment.

I don't think ACE's review of Anima supports this interpretation at all.

The review does mention the leadership transition under Criterion 5: Leadership and Culture:

Anima International had a recent transition in leadership. Kirsty Henderson took the role of Acting CEO in April 2020, after being elected by the managing board of Anima International. Their new leadership describes the transition as an opportunity to re-evaluate their goals, structure, work, and values, through frequent communication with staff about the transition process and challenges. Henderson is requesting more in-depth feedback from staff members and having one-to-one meetings with all of them to learn more about who they are and how they see Anima International’s work. In the next few months, a new CEO will be elected. We are yet to see how successful the leadership transition turns out.

But ACE doesn't give any indication that it thginks the leadership transition or firing of the previous CEO is a bad thing. Additionally, when the review cites results from the culture survey, the results generally seem quite positive.  And the review's overall assessment of culture and morale appears positive: 

Overall, we think that Anima International’s staff satisfaction and morale are higher than the average charity we evaluated this year.

However, when it comes to Anima leadership's comments on DEI, ACE paints a negative picture, stating:

In particular, we think leadership staff publicly engaging in conversations about the relevance of racial equity to the animal advocacy movement may have had a negative impact on the progress of racial equity in the movement

And ACE concludes the section by saying 

Overall, we believe that Anima International is less diverse, equitable, and inclusive than the average charity we evaluated this year. 

This is despite the culture survey results related to DEI generally being quite positive. 

And in the weaknesses section of the review summary, ACE states:

We think Anima International’s leadership has a limited understanding of racial equity and that this has impacted some of the spaces they contribute to as an international animal advocacy group—such as coalitions, conferences, and online forums

But doesn't mention anything related to firing the CEO or leadership transitions.

So based on the review, I would be quite surprised if firing the previous CEO played a larger role in ACE's evaluation of Anima than public comments from staff related to DEI. And if it did, then I think ACE did a poor job indicating that in the review.  

Replies from: Ben_West
comment by Ben_West · 2021-04-16T19:39:45.720Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I had interpreted "We are yet to see how successful the leadership transition turns out" as a pretty strong statement, but I agree that the review doesn't specify how the different factors they list are weighted and your interpretation could be correct. I hope someone from ACE can clarify.

comment by Larks · 2021-04-16T12:42:56.741Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for writing this extremely detailed and thoughtful post on a very concerning topic.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-04-17T19:48:28.785Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm currently an intern for ACE, but speaking only for myself.)

First, I'd like to point out some related discussion here [EA(p) · GW(p)] and here [EA(p) · GW(p)].

I think EA/EAA should have evidence-based conversations about how important social justice, inclusion, equity, diversity/representation, etc. are for EA/EAA, including whether they deserve much attention at all and whether some things might cause more harm than good (I do think there are at least some small and fairly uncontroversial useful steps organizations can make and have already made [1]), but the main EAA Facebook group does not seem like an appropriate place to have them, since it's one of the first places people get exposed to EAA. I think the EA Forum is an appropriate place to have these conversations. Smaller FB groups that aren't the first point of exposure for many to EA/EAA are probably okay, too.

Imagine being worried about an issue that personally affects you and/or the people close to you, and going to one of your first EA meetups, where your worries are debated and dismissed by many. It wouldn't be surprising if many people in similar situations would not want to come back after that, or to find out that our community's demographics are so skewed. This is not to say there aren't other important - maybe more important - contributors to our skewed demographics, e.g. EA seems more appealing to atheists with quantitative backgrounds, and the demographics of people with such backgrounds are already skewed. One might also respond that we want to select against people who would be off-put by discussions of prioritization, since EA is about prioritization, but I think we should give people some slack for issues that affect them personally, and keep in mind their own perceptions of how bad it is for them.

(EDIT: I've made substantial edits to this paragraph after reading through the study more.) Furthermore, the event was not just about racism in society (or the US) as a whole, but also racism in the animal advocacy movement specifically.  From this Faunalytics study of animal advocates in the US and Canada, this graph suggests female and non-binary animal advocates and animal advocates from minority groups are much more likely to report experiencing discrimination in their roles as animal advocates than male animal advocates and animal advocates not belonging to minority groups, and this graph shows 28.6% of the 14 advocates of colour (a small sample) having experienced discrimination or harassment on the basis of their race/colour/ethnicity specifically [2]. Common sense, this graph, this figure for paid advocates' intentions to leave the movement and this figure for unpaid advocates' suggest this is bad for retention and movement growth, although I don't know what the actual rates of turnover and people completely leaving the movement are. Organizations previously recommended by ACE and granted to by Open Phil have had issues with harassment in general with multiple changes in leadership; see some discussion in the comments here [EA · GW] about more recent issues. 

So, the comments on that FB post weren't just dismissing issues that affect people interested in animal advocacy as not worth prioritizing, they could be read (whether this was the intention or not) as dismissing issues that people of colour experience in and push them away from animal advocacy itself and a request to help address such issues.

  1. e.g. better and better-enforced anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and posting job openings more widely or even also specifically to underrepresented communities to avoid taking applicants only from already badly unrepresentative networks.
  2. There isn't a comparison for white people on the basis of being white, although I'd guess it's lower. There could also be survivorship bias, although the study did include some former advocates.
Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-18T14:13:29.291Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

but the main EAA Facebook group does not seem like an appropriate place to have them, since it’s one of the first places people get exposed to EAA.

I might agree with you if doing this had no further consequences beyond what you've written, but... quoting an earlier comment of mine [EA(p) · GW(p)]:

You know, this makes me think I know just how academia was taken over by cancel culture. They must have allowed “introductory spaces” like undergrad classes to become “safe spaces”, thinking they could continue serious open discussion in seminar rooms and journals, then those undergrads became graduate students and professors and demanded “safe spaces” everywhere they went. And how is anyone supposed to argue against “safety”, especially once its importance has been institutionalized (i.e., departments were built in part to enforce “safe spaces”, which can then easily extend their power beyond “introductory spaces”).

Replies from: Wei_Dai, anonymous_ea
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-18T22:45:27.518Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

And suppose we did make introductory spaces "safe" for people who believe that certain types of speech are very harmful, but somehow managed to keep norms of open discussion in other more "advanced" spaces. How would those people feel when they find out that they can't participate in the more advanced spaces without the risk of paying a high subjective cost (i.e., encountering speech that they find intolerable)? Won't many of them think that the EA community has performed a bait-and-switch on them and potentially become hostile to EA? Have people who have proposed this type of solution actually thought things through?

I think it's important to make EA as welcoming as possible to all people, but not by compromising in the direction of safetyism, as I don't see any way that doesn't end up causing more harm than good in the long run.

comment by anonymous_ea · 2021-04-18T17:59:00.991Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You know, this makes me think I know just how academia was taken over by cancel culture. 

It's a very strong statement that academia has been taken over by cancel culture. I definitely agree that there are some very concerning elements (one of the ones I find most concerning are the University of California diversity statements), but academia as a whole is quite big and you may be jumping the gun quite a bit. 

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2021-04-18T20:39:09.694Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

one of the ones I find most concerning are the University of California diversity statements

I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. Do you think other universities are not requiring diversity statements from job applicants, or that the University of California is especially "concerning" in how it uses them? If it's the latter, what do you think the University of California is doing that others aren't? If the former, see this article from two years ago, which states:

Many more institutions are asking her to submit a statement with her application about how her work would advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The requests have appeared on advertisements for jobs at all kinds of colleges, from the largest research institutions to small teaching-focused campuses

(And it seems a safe bet that the trend has continued. See this search result for a quick sense of what universities currently have formal rubrics for evaluating diversity statements. I also checked a random open position (for a chemistry professor) at a university that didn't show up in these results and found that it also requires a diversity statement: "Applicants should state in their cover letter how their teaching, research, service and/or life experiences have prepared them to advance Dartmouth’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.")

Another reason I think academia has been taken over by cancel culture is that I've read many news stories, blog posts, and the like about cancel culture in academia, and often scan their comment sections for contrary opinions, and have yet to see anyone chime to say that they're an academic and cancel culture doesn't exist at their institution (which I'd expect to see if it weren't actually widespread), aside from some saying that it doesn't exist as a way of defending it (i.e., that what's happening is just people facing reasonable consequences for their speech acts and doesn't count as cancel culture). I also tried to Google "cancel culture isn't widespread in academia" in case someone wrote an article arguing that, but all the top relevant results are articles arguing that cancel culture is widespread in academia.

Curious if you have any evidence to the contrary, or just thought that I was making too strong a claim without backing it up myself.

comment by Dale · 2021-04-17T17:46:53.963Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This seems pretty worrying! Have you spoken to the CEA community health team about this? I guess they will probably read this blog post.

Replies from: Julia_Wise
comment by Julia_Wise · 2021-04-19T17:35:17.805Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The community health team at CEA has been following the situation.

comment by Eze Paez · 2021-04-19T11:46:56.928Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that Eric Herboso's reply already does an excellent job of explaining how one can, at the same time, follow proper epistemic rules and promote social justice. I would like to add a couple of considerations. First, I think Hypatia is engaging in a straw man fallacy. They describe social justice norms as having three features:

  • Placing great emphasis on standpoint epistemology;
  • Displaying great intolerance and hostility toward dissenting views;
  • A general skepticism of empirical evidence.

Given their definition of such norms it is understandable that they further incur in the false dilemma denounced by Herboso. But this is quite an uncharitable understanding of the guidelines often suggested to mitigate discrimination in our interpersonal relationships and in our organisations. One ought rather to understand them in the following way:

  • Assign greater credence to the beliefs of members of discriminated groups as to what constitutes an instance of discrimination and as to what are effective mechanisms to prevent it. This is based on the reasonable (though defeasible) presumption that they are in a privileged epistemic position;
  • Impose social sanctions on those whose behaviour (including, of course, speech acts) is harmful towards members of discriminated groups. This may include in some contexts behaviour consisting in denying that such discrimination exists or that it needs to be addressed. It is unreasonable to suggest that inquiry and speech should not be subjected to ethical standards (on top of epistemic standards);
  • Evidence-based reasoning, with the understanding that the burden of proof lies with those who deny that the EA movement must make strenuous efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination in its midst.

Thus, it is the position that funds should not be allocated to combat discrimination within the movement that should be rigorously defended. It is by not addressing social justice issues within the movement that one creates a hostile environment, destroys trust and squanders talent.

Finally, I think it would be profitable if there was an open discussion about the substantive issue of whether there is such thing as structural discrimination in our societies (and within the movement) and its relative moral importance. My hunch is that many apparent disagreements about the interpersonal and organisational norms that should be enforced regarding social justice are rooted in more substantive moral disagreements.  What are the best epistemic norms to follow on a daily basis does not depend solely on theoretical epistemic principles, but also on moral and political considerations.

Replies from: Max_Daniel, Neel Nanda
comment by Max_Daniel · 2021-04-22T14:03:26.807Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused about why this comment was heavily downvoted. I'd be curious if people think (a) the norms ("assign greater credence to the beliefs of members of discriminated groups" etc.) described by Eze are bad, or (b) they don't accurately describe actual "social justice norms" or potential norms at ACE or whatever actual norms may be relevant for this discussion, and therefore the comment is besides the point, or (c) something else.

Replies from: Eze Paez
comment by Eze Paez · 2021-04-26T14:11:59.581Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I must say I am pretty confused as well.

comment by Neel Nanda · 2021-04-26T08:44:53.690Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

 Evidence-based reasoning, with the understanding that the burden of proof lies with those who deny that the EA movement must make strenuous efforts to eliminate all forms of discrimination in its midst.

I feel somewhat skeptical of this, given that you also say:

This may include in some contexts behaviour consisting in denying that such discrimination exists or that it needs to be addressed.

It feels like 'trying to provide empirical evidence that the EA movement should not make overcoming discrimination an overwhelming priority' can certainly feel like denying discrimination exists, and can feel harmful to people. I'm somewhat skeptical that such a discussion would likely happen in a healthy and constructive way under prevailing social justice discussion norms. Have you ever come across good examples of such discussions?

Replies from: Eze Paez
comment by Eze Paez · 2021-04-26T14:10:46.580Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Neel. Thanks for your respectful reply. Yes, I have been present in discussions in which all parties have been comfortable. Suppose that the background assumption is that gender/racial/class/whatever discrimination exists in the EA community, that it is unjust and that it needs to be addressed. Suppose that the EA organisations involved have taken steps to address it. Suppose that a further assumption is that the burden of evidence lies with those who claim that addressing its existence in the EA community should not be an overwhelming priority.  My hypothesis is that these are conditions that allow for a healthy and constructive discussion.  

comment by michaelchen · 2021-04-16T21:04:25.739Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this point from the Black VegFest 7 points of allyship (for the white vegan community) is reasonably straightforward:

White vegans/ARs will respect the sanctity of Black space and will not enter unless their presence is necessary. Black space is for the growth and betterment of Black people. Allyship and being accomplices begins with white people learning to respect Black space.

My understanding is that there can be spaces for only Black people to discuss, though white people can participate if necessary (presumably, if they are invited). Part of allyship is allowing for these spaces to exist.

That said, I’m still very confused by the second sentence of this quote:

There is no such thing as an equal playing field under white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy. In the current system, white people have the power to usurp anything Black lives create simply by being white.

EDIT: oh okay the last one makes slightly more sense in context:

Recognize that where and how you live and work affects everything around you. There is no such thing as an equal playing field under white supremacist imperialist capitalist patriarchy . In the current system, white people have the power to usurp anything Black lives create simply by being white. White people deny loans to Black people in neighborhoods they ignore and in neighborhoods they take over. The tiny loans white people do offer Black businesses are often predatory and insufficient and still create a dependency on whiteness to be kind or agreeable. This is all Redlining. It continues today despite being made illegal in 1968. White people deny grants to us and redistribute them to large 100 year-old white organizations due to the grandfathering of a racist system that has modified its tone but not changed its actions. When the excuse is not financial stability, small white organizations who seemingly appear out of nowhere “win” resources because they knew someone white.

Replies from: evelynciara, MichaelStJules
comment by evelynciara · 2021-04-17T03:08:19.051Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Nitpick: I really wish SJ-aligned people would clarify what they mean by "capitalism" in these contexts.

comment by MichaelStJules · 2021-04-18T00:01:00.994Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(I'm currently an intern for ACE, but speaking only for myself.)

With the context from your edit that was omitted from the original post, I think it does make sense and is not absurd at all on its face, but the phrasing "simply by being white" was hyperbole (which does lend itself to misinterpretation, so better to avoid), and was explained by the claims that follow. I think the OP omitting this context was probably bad and misleading, although I don't think it was intended to mislead.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley3) · 2021-04-16T14:54:08.485Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I can't seem to find the previous posts at the moment, but I have this sense that this is not an isolated issue and that ACE has some serious problems given that it draws continued criticism, not for its core mission, but for the way it carries that mission out. Although I can't remember at the moment what that other criticism was, I recall thinking "wow, ACE needs to get it together" or something similar. Maybe it has learned from those things and gotten better, but I notice I'm developing a belief that ACE is failing at the "effective" part of effective altruism.

Does this match what others are thinking or am I off?

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-04-16T15:01:49.066Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Previous criticism of ACE in venues like the Forum has primarily been about its research methodology (e.g. here [? · GW] and response here [EA · GW]).

It's been a while since I followed EAA research closely, but it's my impression ACE has improved its research methodology substantially and removed/replaced a lot of the old content people were concerned about – at least as far as non-DEI issues are concerned.

comment by RogerAckroyd · 2021-04-17T08:27:19.410Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for writing this, this is indeed concerning. I will acknowledge that I have a bias against the social justice movement, for many different reasons, but if I want to be altruistic I have to also see if it has good sides. 

I can certainly see a case that working with diversity and inclusion can have instrumental value for EA organisations, including animal advocacy ones. The idea that having representatives from diverse backgrounds can help to give a movement broad appeal seems very likely correct. The idea that this can also generate useful ideas internally is not so clear, but certainly possible. And coming out against diversity would generate bad PR.

But there are also numerous ways organisations could "over-optimize " for diversity. Efforts to make the working environment welcoming by policing micro-aggressions can certainly make people feel like they are living in fear of breaking arbitrary rules and impede normal human interaction. Efforts to increase diversity by affirmative action could impede hiring the best competence. And being too associated with one version of the American left, by adopting social justice jargon wholesale, is not very good PR either. Lots of people are skeptical of many parts of that movement, and that includes people it sees as marginalized. 
 

comment by Jsevillamol · 2021-04-16T12:15:14.145Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What is EAA? Effective Animal Advocacy?

Replies from: JJ Balisan, Neel Nanda
comment by JJ Balisan · 2021-04-16T12:24:35.356Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Correct: Effective Animal Advocacy, probably a bit too intra-group jargon to not define or at least link to an explanation. ACE was originally called Effective Animal Activism.

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2021-04-16T14:10:31.554Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To expand slightly: As JJ Balisan notes, ACE was originally called 'Effective Animal Activism' [? · GW], and that's how the acronym 'EAA' was first used in EA circles (if I recall correctly). Over time, people started using 'EAA' to refer to 'effective animal activism' instead, i.e. not the organization itself but any efforts within EA to engage in activism on behalf of non-human animals. Eventually, the term was applied more broadly, to refer to ways of helping animals beyond activism in a narrow sense, and accordingly the 'EAA' acronym acquired the new meaning of 'effective animal advocacy'. I think currently 'EAA' just means "the branch of effective altruism primarily concerned with animal welfare".

comment by Neel Nanda · 2021-04-16T12:27:51.299Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I interpret it as 'the subgroup of the Effective Altruist movement predominantly focused on animal welfare'