In 2021, the woman and I discussed who she wanted to know about the situation. Our focus was on his colleagues at that time and people he might have a mentorship relationship with. I’ve clarified here that this did include one person who was a board member of EV UK (then called CEA UK) at the time.
When the TIME piece publicly described the situation but not either of the people’s identities, Nicole and I decided that the board should know that the account was about Owen (but not the identity of the woman).
There's an old "Effective Zakat" group with some EAs on Facebook - you've likely posted it there already, but would be good to share there if not!
In the first case, I initially heard about the situation from a third party, but nearly all the information I knew came from Owen. (I asked the woman if she had concerns about the situation that she wanted to discuss, and I didn’t hear back.)
I should add something that I forgot to include.
I’ve talked about February 3rd as the date I told the boards of EV US and EV UK, because that’s when I told everyone who’s on the current boards.
As I said, I had previously discussed some but not all of the situation with Nicole Ross, who was my manager and who is on the EV US board. And one of the staff at FHI I informed in 2021 about the situation described in TIME was Toby Ord, who at that time was on the EV UK (then called CEA UK) board. He was no longer on the board by the time I informed both boards about the full situation earlier this month. Our conversation focused on how he could reduce risk at FHI of further problems, and I don’t remember to what extent (if at all) we talked about the board. (I’m avoiding talking with him to see if he remembers more in order not to compromise the investigation.)
The TIME article is what prompted me to realize I hadn’t properly dealt with everything here.
Can you clarify the extent to which not informing the EV UK board was a result of the victim explicitly requesting something along these lines
She did not request that I not tell the board - I don't think we discussed that possibility.
What actions did you take to reduce the risks associated with these events
- I had conversations with several of his colleagues alerting them to the situation so they could intervene if they thought something like this might be happening again.
- An email was sent to researchers he mentored encouraging them to bring concerns to me if they had feedback about their experience in the program or how personal and professional relationships were intersecting in the workplace.
- I talked with Owen about the problems I saw with his behavior, including the power dynamics.
what's the role of OCB's colleagues here? Were they complicit, or was this for harm-mitigating reasons?
As far as I know, they did not previously know about any of this. The goal was harm mitigation.
Are you also happy to comment on whether your CoI with OCB was disclosed with Nicole when you informed her of this situation, or with anyone else in the CH team at any stage? What details did you share with Nicole in 2021, when she became your manager?
We expect that we’ll be interviewed separately about what we recall of this conversation as part of the investigation, so I think it’s best if I don’t go into detail here.
Did the complaints from the woman in the Time article come before or after other feedback you heard about OCB?
The order was: I learned about one situation from a third party, then learned the situation described in TIME, then learned of another situation because I asked the woman on a hunch, then learned the last case from Owen.
I don’t have a clear answer about the ways various considerations played into my decisions. I expect this is the kind of thing we’ll be discussing as part of the investigation into our work here.
On Feb 3 I heard from Owen, I discussed the situation with Nicole, I informed Owen I'd be telling the boards, and I told the boards. I told Chana the following morning.
I hope I would have eventually recognized there was more to do here, including telling the board, but it’s possible I wouldn’t have recognized this.
I want to explain my role in this situation, and to apologize for not handling it better. The role I played was in the context of my work as a community liaison at CEA.
(All parts that mention specific people were run past those people.)
In 2021, the woman who described traveling to a job interview in the TIME piece told me about her interactions with Owen Cotton-Barratt several years before. She said she found many aspects of his interactions with her to be inappropriate.
We talked about what steps she wanted taken. Based on her requests, I had conversations with Owen and some of his colleagues. I tried to make sure that Owen understood the inappropriateness of his behavior and that steps were taken to reduce the risk of such things happening again. Owen apologized to the woman. The woman wrote to me to say that she felt relieved and appreciated my help. Later, I wrote about power dynamics based partly on this situation.
However, I think I didn’t do enough to address the risk of his behavior continuing in other settings. I didn’t pay enough attention to what other pieces might need addressing, like the fact that, by the time I learned about the situation, he was on the board of EV UK (then called CEA UK), or the areas where he could influence funding and career opportunities for other people.
No other women raised complaints about him to me, but I learned (in some cases from him) of a couple of other situations where his interactions with women in EA were questionable. None of these seemed as serious on their own from what I knew — one of the women summarized it as "He apologized to me then, and I accepted it and things were / are totally fine.” But they formed a pattern, and I should have taken that pattern more seriously.
A few months ago Owen told me about another more recent situation where, according to him, he had made another woman uncomfortable. I didn’t reach out to the woman about this at the time, which I now think was a mistake. I understand EV UK and EV US’s external investigation will look into what happened here.
I also didn’t seek adequate backup given that I was friends with Owen. (Owen and I live in different countries and were not close friends, but we and our families have spent social time together.) When the woman in the TIME piece told me that her concern was about Owen, I flagged to her that I was friends with him. She and I decided to proceed anyway because we couldn’t think of a better option, although she felt it was unhealthy for EA that people who had power were entwined in these ways.
If I had flagged the situation earlier and more thoroughly to others, they might have recognized the parts of the situation that I hadn’t handled adequately. I should have thought more about how to get more help here or how to hand off the situation to someone else.
After reading the TIME piece, I flagged my worries about Owen’s roles in EA to the EV UK and EV US boards. I had earlier flagged some parts of the situation to my manager, but not the whole picture.
I’m really sorry that I didn’t handle this better. It’s really important to me that women in the community can do their best work without wondering if they’ll be treated unfairly, be hit on in professional contexts, or worse.
I understand that EV UK and EV US will be working with external evaluators to assess my and my team’s processes here and evaluating the choices that I and my manager made in handling this situation. I will also be reflecting further on my own and with my team.
I’m guessing that my mistakes here may mean some people will feel less comfortable bringing problems to me. For unrelated reasons, over the last two months my team had moved most of our work on interpersonal harm to my colleague Catherine Low, who was not involved in this situation. If you’d like to get help from the community health team but don’t want me involved, please feel free to contact Catherine or my other teammates (and you can ask them to not share information about the situation with me.)
[Edited to add: more info added below]
Hey, I'm sorry to hear this has been hard. Alcohol problems are so common in general that there are certainly other EAs struggling with this.
Here's an overview I put together a while ago about some different treatment options: Resource on alcohol problems
If you think talking with others in EA would be helpful, the EA Peer Support group has had other posts about this and allows anonymous posting.
Sending you best wishes!
There are some important misunderstandings here. [Username redacted], I’ll reach out privately to clarify.
Community health request, different from the moderation decision on whether this is allowed:
The person whose Twitter thread has indicated elsewhere that she doesn't think the accused should be identified, because that could reveal information about other women in the piece. The community health team is requesting that people not link to her Twitter thread.
I was talking with someone about survey design recently, and remembering how useful it was to have a workshop with a Faunalytics staff member on survey design. I think that particular person no longer does office hours, but they still do free office hours on several other topics and have a library of research and survey design advice.
Less importantly, I love the Faunalytics logo.
To give a little more detail about what I think gave wrong impressions -
Last year as part of a longer piece about how the community health team approaches problems, I wrote a list of factors that need to be balanced against each other. One that’s caused confusion is “Give people a second or third chance; adjust when people have changed and improved.” I meant situations like “someone has made some inappropriate comments and gotten feedback about it,” not something like assault. I’m adding a note to the original piece clarifying.
I don't think that appendix has enough information to give people the ability to comment on what would have made people be more or less comfortable coming to us with a concern in those situations. I want there to be room for broader discussion (though if people do have specific ideas, I’m interested to hear them). Our team will be continuing to work on improving our practices here, and we welcome suggestions for what we could be doing better.
I want to clarify — you did give me info about some concerns, and I really appreciate that. That allowed me to take action to keep the accused people out of CEA spaces.
I agree there’s room for improvement. Thank you for the services you provide here — I’ll be in touch.
The woman did bring this concern to us. I don't want to share details that would break her privacy, but I did my best to follow her wishes as far as how the matter was handled. My post on power dynamics was informed by that situation.
Looking back at the situation, I’m not sure about some aspects of how I handled it. We’re taking a renewed look at possible steps to take here.
I’m responding on behalf of the community health team at the Centre for Effective Altruism. We work to prevent and address problems in the community, including sexual misconduct.
I find the piece doesn’t accurately convey how my team, or the EA community more broadly, reacts to this sort of behavior.
We work to address harmful behavior, including sexual misconduct, because we think it’s so important that this community has a good culture where people can do their best work without harassment or other mistreatment. Ignoring problems or sweeping them under the rug would be terrible for people in the community, EA’s culture, and our ability to do good in the world.
My team didn’t have a chance to explain the actions we’ve already taken on the incidents described in this piece. The incidents described here include:
- Ones where we already took action years ago, like banning the accused from our spaces
- Ones where we offered to help address the situation and the person affected didn’t answer
- Ones we weren’t aware of
We’ll be going through the piece to see if there are any situations we might be able to address further, but in most of them there’s not enough information to do so. If you want to share any information about a problem you know of, you can always contact us (including anonymously).
When I first learned about the problems described in the piece, I felt disappointed and angry. I still feel that way. I recognize that problems happen in every community, but that doesn’t make it ok. That’s why we’ve been working for years to prevent and address community problems.
This isn’t a problem that one team or organization can address alone. We regularly talk with group organizers and organization staff who want to build a healthy and supportive culture. I’ve seen many people in the community stand up for people who experienced harm, and work toward the kind of healthy community they feel so strongly about. That strengthens the determination I feel to keep working on this.
If you’ve experienced a problem, we want to help. You can always contact us to discuss a problem.
I am interested in your thoughts whether data collection at EAGs have been effective or useful for capturing these kinds of incidents, how the community health team has responded, whether any of this is share-able in a deanonymised way?
Learning about what kind of problems people have experienced has led us to changes like asking attendees not to use Swapcard for dating purposes.
does the community health team expect to continue sharing summaries similar to what you published in this appendix going forwards? I found this quite useful personally in getting a sense of how the community health team operates and think it's somewhat useful for trust-building and accountability.
I’m glad you found it useful! Getting the right level of anonymity with that list was tricky, so I could imagine doing it at some interval but not every year.
Likewise I wasn't sure if this one was meant to be specific to EA spaces or to every social space I've ever been in: "Have you ever experienced retaliation for rejected romantic or sexual advances in your social sphere?"
Hey, I'd like to look into this but I'm having a hard time figuring out who might have given this kind of feedback to the documentary maker, or what part of CEA might have been advising on the project. DMing you.
I'm going to interpret this to include "hiring outreach beyond ads" for fields where hiring isn't done mostly through ads.
Best wishes with your work!
When I used to work with homeless clients, one said that the $500 her parents gave her was "enough rope to hang myself with" - enough for a lot of drugs but not enough for a security deposit on an apartment. So given your wish to give to this population, I'd probably go with smaller amounts to more people.
+1 on saying something directly to GiveWell. info@givewellorg
Sometimes there's a problem in EA where people have a concern and write it up publicly, but don't flag it to the specific org or person they want to read it, and the org or person doesn't see it for a while or at all.
If the facts are unclear, I think it's good practice to fact-check with the organization before writing publicly. But if the author doesn't think that's necessary or finds that too restrictive, I think they should at least ping the organization with "Here's a link to something I wrote about your practices."
I agree that this is really important. When I started working at CEA in 2015, one of the main things my predecessor had been working on was developing anti-harassment practices for CEA’s conferences, and I continued her work. The conference materials from Geek Feminism were helpful to us in developing our practices.
The place where all EAG and EAGx attendees agree to the standards is the code of conduct, which must be acknowledged when registering for an event. The text on the registration form for the upcoming EAG Bay Area is:
At EA Global and social events associated with EA Global, you agree to:
- Respect the boundaries of other participants.
- Look out for one another and try to help if you can.
- Adhere to national and local health and safety regulations, as well as any additional policies we institute for EA Global.
This is a professional learning and networking event. These behaviors don't belong at EA Global or related events:
- Unwanted sexual attention, or sexual harassment of any kind.
- Using the event app to request meetings for romantic or sexual reasons.
- Offensive, disruptive, or discriminatory actions or communication.
We understand that human interaction is complex. If you feel able, please give each other the benefit of explaining behavior you find unwelcome or offensive.
If you’re asked to stop a behavior that’s causing a problem for someone, we expect you to stop immediately.
By submitting this form, you confirm that you will adhere to this Code of Conduct, which applies at the conference and all related social events.
You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
This text wasn’t on our website, but we’ve added it to our FAQ page now. Thanks for suggesting this! It’s also referenced in the attendee guides, for example this text from the EAG DC guide: “Harassment, bullying, or unwanted romantic/sexual attention is unacceptable at our events, and we encourage you to report any of this behavior to us.”
All our conferences have at least one community contact person, whose role is to be available for personal or interpersonal problems that come up. When a problem is raised during a conference, they’re there to deal with it as soon as possible. Sometimes attendees contact us after an event with something they’ve been mulling over.
I’ve often been one of the contact people. My sense is that pre-specified criteria for what constitutes something like “offensive actions” or “unwanted sexual attention” and what the response should be isn’t realistic or a good idea. A lot of factors play into what constitutes a problem — words, body language, setting (the career fair vs. an afterparty vs. a deserted street outside the venue at night), power and status differences between the people, etc. Responses should be shaped by the wishes of the person who experienced the problem — people have different preferences about how much action they want us to take, whether they want us to act immediately or give them time to think over the options, etc.
Besides the community contact people at events, attendees can also report problems anonymously on the event survey, or on the community health team’s anonymous contact form.
[edited to add: I'm second-guessing myself and have edited a bit because I don't remember ever actually doing this. I think I should develop a clearer policy here.]
I'd like to provide a picture of how this might play out. (To be clear, I'm making up pretend examples, not referring to Linda specifically.)
If you share specifics with me and want me to keep them specific, I will. So if you tell me in confidence that you're struggling with addiction or have messed up your job or whatever, I won't share those facts with anyone.
But if a funder asked for my opinion about funding your work, I'd probably give them some general indication of how excited (or unexcited) I was about your fit for that work.
I'm not sure this has ever actually happened based on material the person themselves told me, rather than my own observations and things other people told me about them.
Thanks, this helps me understand your views better.
Yes, perhaps linking to this outline in the post would help address confusion.
I feel confused about how you're balancing different aims against each other. Several times in the comments someone points out that your proposed interventions sometimes oppose your stated goal of "voluntary abortion reduction" (by increasing abortions or by not being voluntary.) Then you say there's some other consideration. This makes me feel the goals are constantly shifting, and I can't tell how much you really value each of them.
I'm no expert on cause prioritization, but I'd think a useful step would be to think about how you value each of the different things (not causing pain to moral patients, not cutting short someone's life, more people being alive, wellbeing of parents/potential parents, etc) and the scale of those things. This might lead to a more coherent list of priorities.
I hadn’t realized the original apologies from Will and me are no longer visible since Alexey took down the post. Here’s what Will and I wrote in November 2018:
(Alexey and others then replied with more thoughts, but I haven't sought permission to repost those comments.)
Maya, I’m so sorry that things have made you feel this way. I know you’re not alone in this. As Catherine said earlier, either of us (and the rest of the community health team) are here to talk and try to support.
I agree it’s very important that no one should get away with mistreating others because of their status, money, etc. One of the concerns you raise related to this is an accusation that Kathy Forth made. When Kathy raised concerns related to EA, I investigated all the cases where she gave me enough information to do so. In one case, her information allowed me to confirm that a person had acted badly, and to keep them out of EA Global.
At one point we arranged for an independent third party attorney who specialized in workplace sexual harassment claims to investigate a different accusation that Kathy made. After interviewing Kathy, the accused person, and some other people who had been nearby at the time, the investigator concluded that the evidence did not support Kathy’s claim about what had happened. I don’t think Kathy intended to misrepresent anything, but I think her interpretation of what happened was different than what most people’s would have been.
I do want people to know that a lack of visible action doesn’t mean that no one looked into a situation or took it seriously. More here about why there may not be much visible action.
I think these problems are really hard to deal with fairly and well. I’m sure my team doesn’t always have the balance right, but you can read more about our approach here.
Cultural change also can’t all be handled by CEA or any one centralized source. We want to support organizers, employers, online spaces, and other EA spaces in building a healthy culture. To anyone who's an organizer or other person shaping the culture of an EA space, we’re here to talk if you’d like to.
The community health team does have an anonymous form. Thanks for the observation that it wasn't that easy to find - we'll be working on this.
The modal thing that gets reported to community health is something like “This person did a thing that made me / my friend kind of uncomfortable, and I’d like you to notice if other people report more problems from them.”
Thanks for raising this, I think I wasn’t clear enough in the post cited.
To clarify - that line in the table is referring specifically to sharing research, not all kinds of participation in the community. I meant it about things like “should people still be able to post their research on the EA Forum, or receive a grant to do research, if they’ve treated other people badly?” I find that a genuinely hard question. I don’t want to ignore the past or enable more harm. But I also don’t want to suppress content that would be useful to other EAs (and to the world) because of the person who produced it.
I see that as a pretty different question from “Should they attend conferences?” and other things more relevant to their participation in the community side of EA.
I don't know anything about this area, but it sounds like something that I'd expect people have looked at before if it's so technically simple. Do you have a sense of whether this has been trialed, or why it isn't already being done at scale?
I'm happy to see this! Best wishes with your work.
Thanks to people who are leaving ideas here!
A note on the comment that asked why the community health team isn’t visibly “pulling these guys aside and privately warning them that they are making people uncomfortable.” We have definitely done that when someone lets us know about a problem and are ok with us doing something. In other cases, the person reporting the problem doesn’t want us to take action (often because they don’t want the other person to guess that they spoke up.)
If you’ve experienced a problem and want us to talk to someone, we’re very willing to do that. And we certainly do consider these types of complaints for admissions to future events. More here.
Thanks for starting this discussion!
Some previous efforts here:
The community health team has done some more in-depth work, for example interviews about women's experiences in a couple of workspaces. Unfortunately, the in-depth work didn't yield that many useful next steps. (I’m sure this varies, and in some cases in-depth study of what’s going on with the culture in a space would yield useful action points.)
And more general thoughts:
- EA is multifaceted, made of thousands of people in different online spaces, workplaces, cities, and countries. Even understanding the culture(s), let alone shaping the whole thing, is a huge task.
- All of us bring pre-existing expectations from our universities, friend groups, workplaces, etc, so there’s no static EA culture - there’s constant inflow from other cultures.
- The work of shaping culture is usually best done by people who understand their space well (their workplace, local group, etc) rather than an outside entity. The staff at CEA can provide advice and support, but we certainly can’t single-handedly change the culture of all these EA spaces.
The community health team at CEA is available to talk about concerns like this. You can reach us here.
Additional thoughts as Catherine's colleague:
Larger events or groups are more likely to have a code of conduct — for example the code of conduct at CEA events makes clear that unwanted sexual attention does not belong at these events. Our conferences also have at least one community contact person available on site to help with any personal or interpersonal problems that come up. We encourage anyone experiencing uncomfortable treatment at one of these conferences to let us know so we can address it.
Smaller EA events and groups are less likely to have these formal systems. Whether there are formal systems or not, culture is shaped largely through more informal interactions, the vibe set by organizers, etc. For group organizers, we encourage reading these community health resources. And we hope everyone in EA spaces will think about how each of us shapes the culture.
It’s true that in past years I was the main person working on these kinds of cultural things, but at this point the community health team has (thankfully!) grown. The CEA groups team and events team also think about these issues, and want to support events and groups (whether run by CEA or not) as healthy spaces.
As Catherine said, we’re happy to talk more about ideas that community members have about shaping the culture and ideas you have for preventing and addressing problems.
A related post from Damon that I like: For the mental health of those affected by the FTX crisis
Minor formatting thing: you might add some kind of line where your intro stops and Robert's post begins?
Yes, there's been a lot of research on this. Here's an analysis of 40 trials with 11,000 women.
My guess is that epidurals are unlikely to be the most cost-effective intervention to increase access to, since it requires an anesthesiologist. I was guessing that nitrous oxide might be more promising because it's so easy to administer.
3. I'm not sure they do as much bespoke advising as Longview, but I'd say GiveWell and Farmed Animal Funders. I think you could contact either one with the amount you're thinking of giving and they could tell you what kind of advising they can provide.
This doesn't seem obvious enough to me to include - I eventually co-owned a car at age 36 but never had one before that (living in suburbs of Philadelphia and Boston). It does seem worth talking to people in the area you plan to live about whether they find it feasible to not own a car.
When I see a study like this I usually go to Pubmed and see if there are other studies or meta-studies.
In this case there are a couple of recent metastudies:
From one of the abstracts: "Eleven (44%) of the outcomes indicated that vegetarian and vegan diets were associated with higher rates of depression, while seven (28%) outcomes revealed beneficial effects of the diets on depression. Seven (28%) outcomes found no association between vegetarian and vegan diets and depression, although two of these studies found a higher risk of depression in some groups. . . . The evidence on the effect of vegetarian and vegan diets on depression is contradictory, possibly due to the heterogeneity of the studies analysed."
Thanks, adding to the post!
(writing personally here, not for any organization)
Some good questions raised here!
I know that EA organizations have thought about this, for example when Giving What We Can was working on the dashboard that would show projected lifetime earnings and donations. I think it’s really hard to provide a broad overview of differences that doesn’t sound insulting or over-generalizing.
So much of the wage gap by gender reflects time away from work after having children, and individuals have significant choice over that. For example, I took a lot more leave (from a non-EA job I disliked) with my first child than I did with my second two from my EA job. In the US it’s common to take more like 10 weeks of leave, so the post’s use of a year of maternity leave as the default is pretty different from my experience.
(But I recognize that a lot of choices about how much time to take depends on income, childcare options, the children’s needs, and how flexible the parents’ work is. I don’t want to frame it all as completely up to personal preference. For example, my partner and I found ourselves unexpectedly without childcare when our eight-month-old refused to eat at daycare.)
On the informal side, there are groups for women and nonbinary people in EA and parents (and people considering parenting) in EA.
Some non-EA resources that I’ve found at least somewhat helpful:
I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam - based on working mothers’ time logs, showing how they actually use their time. Both the book and her podcast are definitely aimed at high earners / high spenders, which I found frustrating at times. But they’re useful for taking your time seriously. I often find time management advice by non-parents irrelevant, but Vanderkam is a parent of five.
ParentData blog and books by Emily Oster - less about career, but an economist-y take on a bunch of parenting questions.
Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids - maybe will help you worry less about things you can’t change, but I find there’s still plenty to worry about.
Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is in this genre, but honestly I don’t remember any takeaways.
And some pieces by EAs about parenting:
Parenting: things I wish I could tell my past self, Michelle Hutchinson
How to be productive before your baby turns one, Ruth Grace
My experience returning to work after having a baby, Rose Hadshar
Equal parenting advice for dads, Jeff Kaufman (plus lots of his other parenting posts)
Parenting and effective altruism, Bernadette Young
How much will pregnancy affect your health and work? me
What startup founders should think about before having kids me
How much do kids cost? The first 5 years me
I enjoyed reading this - I spent 10 years active in Quakerism, including a college course on Quaker history and a year working at a Quaker retreat center. I also happened to write a post about EA and Quakerism recently.
I like the idea of drawing inspiration from historical Quakers. But I feel confused about what it would look like for EA to emulate peak Quakerism.
- Early (and peak) Quakers went down some weird ineffective paths. It's cool that they were into nonviolence and class equality, but they were also really into renaming the days of the week and months of the year to avoid pagan names. Even at their peak, they were maybe most notable for dressing funny. Even one of the cofounders described the fastidiousness about clothing as "a silly poor gospel."
- Quakerism doesn't have heresy per se as a concept, but you could definitely get kicked out for doing it wrong. Perhaps most commonly in the past for marrying a non-Quaker, but also for extramarital sex or disagreeing about the nature of God.
Modern Quakerism isn't very religious for a religion (at least in the UK and coastal US - there are evangelical branches elsewhere), but until the 20th century it really was. I don't really understand what led this particular sect to hit on a bunch of social policies that look really good to modern views, but a ton of 17th century sects didn't.
As for what made them successful, a couple of things come to mind
- inability to participate in the military or universities (because those required violence and swearing an oath of loyalty to the crown respectively) meant that their talented people went into business. Similar to other religious minorities that sometimes do well after being cornered into one part of the economy.
- Businesses did well partly because they were so fastidious about honesty, so they had a reputation for fairness. I do think this is worth learning from - for a while one theory about what EA's brand should be was "astonishingly rigorous", and I think there's something parallel here.
Note that unilaterally using gene drives in this way is usually considered a really bad idea because of poisoning the well against further use. Not just by usual conservative bioethics types, but by the scientist who first proposed using CRISPR to affect wild populations like mosquitos:
"Esvelt, whose work helped pave the way for Target Malaria’s efforts, is terrified, simply terrified, of a backlash between now and then that could derail it. This is hardly a theoretical concern. In 2002, anti-GMO hysteria led the government of Zambia to reject 35,000 tons of food aid in the middle of a famine out of fear it could be genetically modified. Esvelt knows that the CRISPR gene drive is a tool of overwhelming power. If used well, it could save millions of lives, help rescue endangered species, even make life better for farm animals.
If used poorly, gene drives could cause social harms that are difficult to reverse. What if gene drives get a bad rap? What if an irresponsible scientist moves too fast and prompts a strong political countermovement, like that which has stymied other genetically modified organisms since the 1990s? What if an irresponsible journalist — let’s call him Dylan Matthews — writes a bad article that misconstrues the issue and sends the project off the rails?
“To the extent that you or I say something or publish something that reduces the chance that African nations will choose to work with Target Malaria by 1 percent, thereby causing a 1 percent chance that project will be delayed by a decade, the expected cost of our action is 25,000 children dead of malaria,” Esvelt tells me. “That’s a lot of kids.”"
A favorite piece on this: Keeping Absolutes in Mind