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Introduction

Many people, including me, have criticized EA for being a subpar place for women in certain ways, including: women are underrepresented (which contributes to various problems), there are few mechanisms aimed at preventing sexual harassment before it occurs, there is limited guidance regarding appropriate behavior, the criteria for evaluating misconduct are questionable, and existing systems may be ill-equipped to respond to allegations of abuse. [1]

At the same time, I think EA does well on certain gender issues relative to other communities. My aim here is not to make a substantive feminist case for EA, respond to critiques in this vein, or argue that being involved in EA is on balance good for women,[2] but to describe features of the EA community that may be good for women (or, at least, have been good for me). Several of the features I'll highlight are good for everyone, but contrast with features of the wider world that are often bad for women.[3] 

My goal in writing this is threefold. First, as EA works to fix certain gender issues, it’s worth considering what to preserve. Second, I want to highlight practices and behaviors that I’ve appreciated in the hopes of others emulating them. Third, and most importantly, I want women who are considering whether EA is a community they want to be a part of to be aware of both the good and the bad.[4]

Eight features of EA that can make EA a good place for women

In the remainder of this post, I'll describe features of the EA community that I think can benefit women. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, nor are these things listed in any particular order. I'll also highlight how a few of these features can cut both ways.

(1) People defy conventional social norms

Why this can be good for women: EA has less gendered expectations regarding behavior and appearance, which can be good, because such expectations often serve to oppress women.

Example: EA is famously not into wasting money and time on unimportant stuff. In other spheres, women face pressure to invest in makeup, nails, hair, clothes, Botox, buccal fat removal, BBLs, and lots of other stuff you probably shouldn’t Google. I enjoy doing my hair and makeup sometimes, but it matters to me that I feel basically no pressure to do this in EA spaces.

Why this can be bad for women: At times, EA may also subvert certain norms that are good for women.

Example: I still think it’s a bit weird that a post that says—based on scant evidence—that “if I could pop back in time to witness the [interactions reported in the TIME article], I personally would think in 80% of cases that the accused had done nothing wrong” has 349 upvotes. One reasonable, good-for-women social norm that is being questioned here: believing most women who make accusations of sexual misconduct.

(2) People value things about you that are important (e.g., how kind you are, how hard you work, how good your work is)

Why this can be good for women: Society tends to value people for the wrong reasons (e.g., thinness), but often applies these standards more stringently to women (who are more affected by, e.g., weight discrimination). By contrast, many EAs and EA organizations make an active effort not to unfairly discriminate against people (although, of course, bias that exists in the outside world will invariably exist within EA, too).

Example: Many EA organizations are intentional about not letting bias and discrimination influence their hiring practices. Last year, I applied to a job at an EA organization. This was the first job I had applied to in years where things that have no bearing on my work quality were intentionally excluded from the application process. The organization did this by reviewing my application anonymously, not having a face-to-face interview, and not requiring me to submit a photo; these are all basic things many graduate programs fail to do.[5]

(3) People are intentional about networking

Why this can be good for women: Any community can be susceptible to old-boys-club-ism, and EA is too. But EA’s explicit focus on having positive impact leads people to take special care to connect people to each other, helping subvert gendered cliquiness and the power imbalances this can create.

Example: In general, communities that are less proactive about connecting the right people to each other are more likely to suffer from old-boys-club-ism than those that are more intentional about this, because gendered social groups emerge naturally, and men disproportionately hold professional power. By contrast, EAs are proactive about connecting people to the people they should be connected to. For instance, a quick search of my email for the classic “<>” returns dozens of results from the past year. I’ve also found that people—including people who are very busy—are generous with their time, almost always respond to messages, and often email me out of the blue to inform me about things I should consider applying to. Because of these proactive efforts at networking, I generally feel less shut out from conversations and opportunities within EA than I do in academia. 

(4) People care about community building

Why this can be good for women: I find that most people are concerned about the fact that women are underrepresented in EA (which, to be clear, is bad). As a result, people and institutions take steps to retain and support those of us who are here.

Example: Magnify Mentoring is an EA-funded program aimed at supporting gender and other minorities "motivated to have a positive impact with their careers and lives." Women within this community have mentored and supported me. Last year, I also participated in an excellent workshop that was targeted toward gender and other minorities. Ideally, there would be gender (and other) parity in EA, such that targeted recruitment and mentorship efforts would be less important. But I’m involved in other communities where women are underrepresented, and feel like those communities often do a worse job supporting women (although this varies a lot).

(5) People look out for each other

Why this can be good for women: People—and especially women—rely on whisper networks to avoid bad people, institutions, and things. I find that EAs warn me about stuff I should look out for, perhaps because they are inclined to trust other EAs and are invested in our success. 

Example: When I was a prospective graduate student, I would ask current graduate students about potential research mentors. But saying anything negative about a professor was basically only risky for the current students: so-and-so could find out and retaliate against them for telling the truth, whereas being honest provided little benefit. As a result, people would err on the side of glossing over problems or speaking in veiled terms. By contrast, within EA, I think people tend to give more honest accounts for two reasons. First, people in communities trust members of their communities more than they trust random people they just met (this is true about communities in general, not just EA), so EAs tend to tell each other the truth. Second, we’re invested in each others’ successes. Most EAs aspire not to care about whether we personally save lives, reduce suffering, etc., but just that this gets done. If I can increase the likelihood of someone else succeeding by warning them about something or someone, then I will do this because we share the same goals.

(6) High prevalence of good allies

Why this can be good for women: Much has been made of whether EA has a higher prevalence of bad actors than other communities. I don’t have a view on this, but do think that EA has a higher prevalence of good actors. In fact, some of the best instances of male allyship I’ve experienced have been within the EA community. (I don’t want to make too much out of good allyship—this is like celebrating having functional lifeboats on a sinking ship—but it’s good when the people around you are doing their part to help fix problems.)

Example: Since the TIME article dropped, here are a handful of examples of what I've considered good allyship:[6] 1) While meeting with a male colleague about something tangentially related, we began to discuss the TIME article. He asked some sensitive/thoughtful questions about my perspective on this, relayed some helpful information, and then (with my permission) took notes, and emailed someone on the Community Health team a summary of our discussion. 2) One friend was on an application committee that someone who’d been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct applied to. He committed to resigning if the committee selected that person, which they didn’t. 3) The same friend relayed concerns about sexual harassment to his male boss, who relayed these concerns to the Community Health team. 4) I have heard multiple examples of people not funding/hiring someone because that person repeatedly committed harassment. 5) On many occasions, people have called attention to problems within the community. 6) People have written thoughtful commentaries about issues related to gender, usually—though by no means always—responded compassionately and reasonably to such commentaries, elevated the voices of those sharing their perspectives, and pushed back on bad takes. 7) People have openly committed to taking action against people accused of harassment.[7]

(7) Organizations walk the walk

Why this is good for women: EA organizations don’t just talk a big game about doing good; many also have progressive policies on the books.

Example: I have never worked at an EA organization, but my sense is that they have far more progressive family leave policies than most workplaces (e.g., 4-6 months of paid parental leave, which is rare in the US). Similarly, these organizations tend to post their salary ranges, a practice that reduces gendered pay disparities. My sense is that I could work at many EA organizations and have kids without taking a significant career hit which, unfortunately, is not what I’d expect at most workplaces.[8]

(8) People are willing to fix things that are broken

Why this is good for women: EAs have sexually harassed other EAs. Regardless of whether you think the rate of sexual misconduct within EA is higher than in other communities, this is bad. But my sense is that most EAs and EA institutions know this, are committed to outperforming other communities when it comes to reducing rates of sexual harassment, and seem willing to make hard/expensive changes to facilitate this.

Example: As a general rule, institutions do not want to involve outside actors in resolving internal disputes. Last year, the Harvard Graduate Student Union (HGSU) almost failed to reach a contract with Harvard University after years of negotiations because the University was unwilling to allow outside actors to mediate allegations of sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination (“Title IX disputes”). Eventually, HGSU caved, and the University continues to rely solely on internal processes to investigate Title IX disputes, which even contributed to a department chair leaving. By contrast, although EA institutions have historically been reluctant to involve outside actors in mediating EA disputes, EV UK recently “commission[ed] an external investigation by an independent law firm into Owen’s behaviour and the Community Health team’s response” after members of the community requested something like this

Conclusion

Things can simultaneously be bad (any sexual harassment is too much sexual harassment), better (EA is a relatively less sexist environment in several key ways), and improvable.

Diagram

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Figure 1:  A friend made this diagram, which is adapted from this one from Our World in Data. (This is just for vibes; I don't actually think EA is awful.)
  1. ^

    Several of these issues are discussed in this recent TIME article.

  2. ^

    I say here: "If something causes me to leave EA entirely, it may well be sexism. I simply don’t have to do as much extra work to prove myself in other spaces (including ones where people are every bit as smart), and having to do this work saps me of my energy, confidence, and time; in short, of my ability to be an effective altruist." I stand by this comment. I continue to think EA is a good place for women in some ways and a bad place for women in others. Who you are, what you work on, what communities you're part of, what organizations you work for, etc., will influence the relative balance of good and bad. I focus on the good here partly because I've focused on the bad in other places, but also because I've generally felt positive about how the community has responded to issues related to sexual harassment over the past three months.

  3. ^

     As an analogy: giving $1,000 to everyone is good for everyone, but it’s particularly good for the poor; similarly, some EA norms are good for everyone, but especially good for people who are less likely to benefit from these norms outside of EA.

  4. ^

    Some caveats: my most direct point of comparison is academia, so if you’re working in a progressive, feminist space, the features of EA I highlight might not sound particularly special, in which case, great! I hope these practices will become more widespread. That said, academia is comprised of well-resourced institutions and smart, liberal people, so outperforming academia in several ways isn’t exactly a low bar for EA to clear. Second, my experiences may not be representative, so I encourage others—but especially women, and especially women from groups underrepresented in EA—to highlight things they disagree with or features they’d add to my list. In particular, I haven’t interacted with the Bay Area EA/rationalist communities, so my comments shouldn't be read as applying to those contexts.

  5. ^

    Sometimes the bar is, in fact, underground.

  6. ^

    I'm intentionally being light on details here, both to protect the identities of those involved and because the details aren't the point. (If your knee-jerk reaction to this section was skepticism about whether these responses were appropriate, I would gently ask you to reflect on whether your orientation towards disbelief was reasonable, and whether you're applying this standard consistently.)

  7. ^

     I'm forgetting a lot of examples, so others should feel free to share theirs, too. Also, I've linked to examples of what I consider good allyship, but this shouldn't be read as a global endorsement of these people as allies (simply because I don't know most of these people well enough to speak to this, not because they aren't).

  8. ^

    I would encourage women who have worked at EA organizations to weigh in here, since I can’t speak to this firsthand, and presumably, this varies across organizations. Again, the links represent examples of good policies, rather than global endorsements of these organizations, since I haven't worked at them and can't speak to whether their work environments are generally supportive.

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KMF
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Lilly: I am so pleased to read this- thank you for sharing your experiences with our network. 
_
I hope it is appropriate to mention here, on the note of EA funding, that Magnify Mentoring got close to the wire funding-wise this time. Thanks to incredible individuals from our network, we now have enough funding to open rounds for applications in May to coincide with EAG London. We are not yet​ ​at our total fundraising 2023 goals. We are so excited to be able to welcome our new cohort of mentees though! :) If I can do anything at all to help in the meantime, please reach out to me at Kathryn (kathryn@magnifymentoring.org). If you are reading this and find our work compelling, we would love to hear from you. Thank you so much!

Magnify Mentoring is so great and I'm really glad they exist! I got a lot out of the conversations with my mentor. Hope they continue to get funding!!

@MagnifyMentoring  and specifically @KMF were pivotal for my career direction, success, and emotional health. MM helped me build the confidence and systems I needed to move forward at a time I felt I couldn't, and Kathryn specifically went above and beyond to support me. This was the first time I felt I could be vulnerable and honest about my difficulties and limitations, and–contrary to all my expectations–I received acceptance, care, encouragement, and practical help. 

I know for a fact I wouldn't be where I am now without Kathryn and my direct mentor I am concerned and saddened that other women and minorities would miss out on that critical support if MM didn't receive enough funding to continue operating.

For me Magnify has been super important to balance my idea of what kind of people the EA movement consists of and to feel more at home in the community!

I'm so glad a project like Magnify Mentoring exists and am really happy to hear that you got funding to run another round. Back in 2020 my mentor helped me navigate my applications to different EA orgs and it was soo helpful!
I now have my first mentee and it's a very rewarding thing to give back to the community. 

As always, thank you so much for your effort and engagement, Kathryn + others!

Sorry to be late to the game: Would it be helpful if I collected donation opportunities for making EA safer and more welcoming for women, BIPOC and other marginalized groups? While a tough decision I have to contemplate more, I feel some obligation to donate to such causes myself and perhaps others feel the same.

Thank you so much. Magnify Mentoring would put to excellent use further donation support from the community. We have 200 mentee applications this time which I am currently reviewing and matching. On specific support, I am aware of Magnify Mentoring's work, Epoch and FRI's Mentorship program, and GPI's recent programming.  I am also working out whether we (Magnify) should do some Bay-specific event programming (think activities to further create a warm, welcoming space, focused on cheap information dissemination and career building activities) and I expect I'd try and raise a small side budget to this but I am still working out what already exists and what has been tried. Thank you so much, Ulrik and my turn to apologize for missing this ;)
 

This is really nice of you to think of! I think I would want to get clear first on whether (1) there are good such opportunities (i.e., ones that are tractable, neglected, etc), and (2) funding is a barrier to implementing/growing them. I sort of suspect that the changes that would most make things better for women are structural (e.g., getting clearer policies around sexual harassment on the books), and that lack of funding is not the primary barrier to implementing them, but I haven’t thought about this enough to be confident in that, and others might disagree.

One reasonable, good-for-women social norm that is being questioned here: believing most women who make accusations of sexual misconduct.

I think it's not clear that 'conventional social norms' are all that conventional. Many of us live or grew up outside of the Anglo-American world (or grew up in another generation, or in less elite areas) and might place more importance to principles such as the presumption of innocence.

Part of my point is that whether EA is good for women depends on your point of comparison. You're right that norms vary across contexts, so when I say "conventional social norms," I'm referring to my comparison class. (As I say in footnote 4, "My most direct point of comparison is academia, so if you’re working in a progressive, feminist space, the features of EA I highlight might not sound particularly special." Of course, the opposite can be true, too: the features of EA I highlight might be particularly good for women based in more regressive environments.)

But also: I don't think believing women (in day-to-day life) and presuming innocence (a legal standard) conflict in the way you seem to imply. This isn't just because these principles are generally employed in different contexts; it's also because these principles may not genuinely be in tension. There's a nice discussion of this in this recent paper (page 16):

"Interpreting the presumption of innocence does not genuinely conflict with believing women, if we respect the evidence we receive. Here’s why: an accusation is made. We start with no evidence, then the accuser offers her testimony that p. If we’re good Bayesians, we update by conditionalizing our prior in p on how probable p is given this new evidence. Where this leaves us depends on where we started, how attached we were to that starting point (sometimes called resilience), and how much we trust the evidence we got. If we put more stock in the trustworthiness of the testimony than in our starting presumptions—which we should—then no matter our starting point, it will be pretty easy for testimony that p to move us to significant confidence in p. The more attached we are to the starting point (or the less we trust the testimony), the more the difference between the alternative understandings of the presumption of innocence makes a difference to the post-update degree of confidence. If the starting point is resilient, it will take an overwhelming amount of evidence to convince someone who starts out presuming ~p that in fact p is probably true. But insofar as the presumption of innocence is a stance defined by the absence of any evidence, the starting credence it yields should not be resilient, and so should easily shift in response to the weight of evidence with any real probative force."

Thank you for pointing to your footnote.

Regarding believing accusations and presuming innocence, I think we're using 'believe' in two different senses.

I agree that (in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases in which we're not multiplying by a Bayes factor of 1) one's probabilities should change after updating. In that sense, we should 'believe (or disbelieve)' accusations.

However, I'm not confident that we should 'believe' in the sense of updating our probabilities so that they're above a probability threshold high enough to mete out significant social or legal consequences. This seems to be what presuming innocence is about.

I'm skeptical whether the barriers between social and legal contexts are as strong as you seem to imply. Those contexts affect each other a lot. How we act in society affects how it evolves, and what laws are adopted.

EDIT: I took a closer look at the passage you quoted and I think I also take issue with the conclusion it implies: "But insofar as the presumption of innocence is a stance defined by the absence of any evidence, the starting credence it yields should not be resilient, and so should easily shift in response to the weight of evidence with any real probative force."

One might view the presumption of innocence as being at least partially defined by base rates, rather than by the absence of any evidence. Think about it: it obviously doesn't apply when almost everyone is actually guilty/out to get you (e.g. it doesn't make sense to presume the enemy isn't going to shoot you in a war, or presume that hungry predators won't try to eat you). But it applies in our world because false accusations do exist. In this sense, it's more 'resilient' than the passage argues that it is. If someone insists on using the author's concept of how its defined then that seems like a definitional dispute.

I'm skeptical whether the barriers between social and legal contexts are as strong as you seem to imply. Those contexts affect each other a lot. How we act in society affects how it evolves, and what laws are adopted.

If a friend confided in you that they were sexually assaulted, would you wait until this was confirmed in court before believing her? Do you hold back because you worry about how your actions may affect the legal principle of "presumption of innocence", and how this affects what laws are adopted?

I see you're focusing on a particular subset of cases. I think it's also worth mentioning that in the majority of cases accusations are not made by friends. When I have limited knowledge about those involved, I tend to uphold stricter standards.

In the case where it is a friend, I'd assume those who I call friends are honest people (with sufficient mental health as to make accurate claims), so I think I'd tend to believe them in the sense of updating beyond a significant threshold. Although, I've also made the mistake of misjudging my friends' honesty in the past, so I might be careful not to be overly confident in my beliefs.

I'm mainly responding to your point that "social and legal contexts affect each other a lot..." etc, and illustrating the point that legal principles and standards are often not (and should not be) the standards that are upheld in day-to-day life. Would you expect the community health team to only take action if accusations could be supported to a legal standard? 

in the majority of cases accusations are not made by friends

What do you mean by this sorry?

I agree that legal standards and standards upheld in day-to-day life shouldn't be the same, but some of the 'willingness to believe bad things happened' I'm seeing in the social groups that EA draws from seems a bit immoderate, so I'm cautious of straying too far from those stricter standards (and straying too far also has a risk of undermining them).

To answer your other question (which you have now deleted), I downvoted your first comment instead of disagree-voting because it appeared to me that you were concentrating on instances where we evaluate accusations made by friends, to the exclusion of the vast majority of situations where we evaluate accusations made by individuals who are not friends (fyi, just so it's less confusing - I make a distinction between friends and acquaintances, and EA seems big enough that not everyone can be considered a friend). That made your comment potentially misleading. However, I do I agree with your comment in that I should believe a friend's accusations (unless it turns out I'm a poor judge of character).

I now realize that by asking about what I meant by "the majority of cases accusations are not made by friends," you indicate that you did not make that distinction as I did.

However, I'm not confident that we should 'believe' in the sense of updating our probabilities so that they're above a probability threshold high enough to mete out significant social or legal consequences. This seems to be what presuming innocence is about.

I think the problem here might be equating "presumption of innocence" with "beyond reasonable doubt". Criminal punishments have an incredibly high standard of evidence because the punishment is extremely severe, so we are willing to let 10 guilty people free to prevent 1 innocent being punished. 

Social punishments are significantly less severe, and should have a smaller threshold for action. This is because inaction can cause severe consequences. Offenders are likely to reoffend, and exploit your group for their own gain. 

Also consider that if, say, A credibly accuses B of sexual assault, but you refuse to kick out B because of "presumption of innocence", then you are effectively kicking out the victim A (or expecting them to just hang around with their assaulter). Someone is leaving the group either way, you have to decide which one you prefer. 

I'm not sure that I'm equating those two. I personally wouldn't want to be a person who doesn't have enough information, but upon hearing a single accusation (from someone who I don't really know), will presume guilt (i.e. assign a moderately high probability). If A credibly accuses B then that's different, but I'd assume in most cases, things are more uncertain.

EDIT: Actually, regarding assault, yeah I think it seems to make sense to assign a moderately high probability (say ~80%), and you seem to be right that I'm using the "beyond reasonable doubt" principle here (including in social settings - though I'm uncertain whether or not it's the right call). Although, lilly's comment which I was responding to was actually on misconduct, and I think the influence of the "presumption of innocence" factor is larger in those cases. More in my response below.

Out of curiosity, did you read the comment in response to your original comment earlier? Specifically this part:

these principles may not genuinely be in tension. There's a nice discussion of this in this recent paper (page 16):

"Interpreting the presumption of innocence does not genuinely conflict with believing women, if we respect the evidence we receive. Here’s why: an accusation is made. We start with no evidence, then the accuser offers her testimony that p. If we’re good Bayesians, we update by conditionalizing our prior in p on how probable p is given this new evidence. Where this leaves us depends on where we started, how attached we were to that starting point (sometimes called resilience), and how much we trust the evidence we got. If we put more stock in the trustworthiness of the testimony than in our starting presumptions—which we should—then no matter our starting point, it will be pretty easy for testimony that p to move us to significant confidence in p. The more attached we are to the starting point (or the less we trust the testimony), the more the difference between the alternative understandings of the presumption of innocence makes a difference to the post-update degree of confidence. If the starting point is resilient, it will take an overwhelming amount of evidence to convince someone who starts out presuming ~p that in fact p is probably true. But insofar as the presumption of innocence is a stance defined by the absence of any evidence, the starting credence it yields should not be resilient, and so should easily shift in response to the weight of evidence with any real probative force."
 

Thanks for bringing that up again. I realized I misparsed a bit at the end. However, the conclusion it seems to imply seems a bit dubious, i.e. it seems that our starting credence is more 'resilient' than the passage presents it to be if we're anchoring to base rates. I edited in a section to my initial response to that comment.

What are the base rates you are anchoring to here? This is basically comparing the probability of someone being sexually assaulted VS the probability of someone making a false accusation right?

Update (2023-04-27): In retrospect, I think I could have underestimated the probabilities, although perhaps not by much?

I still think there are strong differences between different parts of society/the world. A lot has changed this past decade, it seems. I would probably still assign higher-than-average probabilities to accusations in places where it's more costly to accuse (e.g. outside of English-speaking countries, more conservative areas etc.), and lower-than-average probability to accusations in places where it's less costly (or even slightly status-elevating) to accuse (e.g. within English-speaking countries, more progressive areas etc.).

For now, I'll avoid stating a new number so I don't anchor to it while updating. I should also be less susceptible to pressures from the community to think in a certain way, with more time to think about it. 

In any case, I don't appreciate uncharitable interpretations of views that challenge apparent community consensus. I intend to continue to speak my mind.

 

 

lilly's comment was on misconduct, which seems to have a lower rate of being true than assault, given that it encompasses milder problems, as well as different interpretations of what harassment means (this seems particularly the case in the Anglo-American world). My guess is that base rates could range anywhere between 20% and 90%. Recent societal trends have introduced a lot of uncertainty, and have made me doubt accusations more. I think 37.5% prior probability conditional on an accusation (maybe 25% in progressive-leaning social environments) might make sense. (I think I have higher-than-average doubt relative to many EAs on humans acting justly when they perceive an increase in power. It only takes a small percentage of individuals who are willing to exploit things.)

On assault accusations, which titotal's comment refers to, the base rate seems higher (although the error bars seem large - Scott Alexander on a related statistic). Perhaps I should assign an ~80% prior probability conditional on an accusation. Yeah, that does seem like a "moderately high probability" actually - it makes sense for me to correct my reply to titotal. I think I'd still be less willing to punish severely with that amount of uncertainty, because of "beyond a reasonable doubt" reasons actually, as titotal pointed out, but it's hard to be confident that that's the right thing to do.

Makes sense RE: it encompassing milder problems, but this means it is also more likely, so it's not clear that this cashes out favorably in the direction of the false accusations.

What do you think the base rate of sexual harassment is? e.g. if you think 80% is the baseline risk for someone, i don't know how you justify a 25% to 37.5% likelihood of actual harassment conditional on an accusation. It sounds like you're basically saying that 2/3 to 3/4 accusations are false? Are you grounding these in anything empirical or are these uninformed priors?

EDIT2: It seems like the people responding to me don't really consider the possibility of missteps/someone's intent? That seems unfortunate.

EDIT: the link I posted earlier (https://hiddentribes.us/) is quite relevant in introducing nuance to what I wrote about people in "parts of the Anglosphere" becoming more sensitive. It's different for different people in the Anglosphere. E.g. about a 49-51 split on "harassment is commonplace" to "too many ordinary behaviors are labeled as sexual harassment" in the U.S.

I suspect my probabilities are probably very different from yours mainly because of different ideas of what harassment means.

For instance, one acquaintance of mine puts his hands around me in a somewhat intimate way sometimes, but I honestly don't consider it "harassment" (edit: it does make me feel slightly uncomfortable and I haven't raised the issue, but I really don't think he has bad intentions - we're probably just raised differently etc.). One friend makes sexual remarks a lot - some people might feel very uncomfortable - I don't really.

I think those examples point to differences in expectations of what's comfortable/uncomfortable to people. In parts of the Anglosphere, people seem more sensitive to an extent that in some cases I would consider them to be overreaching. Sure, maybe avoid those things if you think if it makes people uncomfortable (or not, if you think there are risks of safetyism?) - but I don't see the case for expanding a concept that comes with significant legal and social consequences.

I'm guessing I'm less inclined than you are to consider discomfort to mean harassment (I believe Aella made several great points in her post that are relevant to this view). In a larger number of cases where there's an accusation that simply refers to "sexual harassment" I'm doubtful that it means what (many others and) I have in mind.

I didn't make a claim that this was just about making sexual jokes or just about 'discomfort', and I'm not really sure where you got that from.

Also, you're clearly entitled to your opinion around what you consider uncomfortable personally, but what happens if someone else thinks putting you putting your hand around them in a somewhat intimate way is inappropriate? It sounds like you'd consider this a false accusation? That this shouldn't be something classified as sexual harassment?

Again,

It sounds like you're basically saying that 2/3 to 3/4 accusations are false? Are you grounding these in anything empirical or are these uninformed priors?

I want to make a meta point about why I chose not to engage in a back-and-forth with @Timothy Chan about this. My language here is a little sharp, because I'm frustrated by his exchange with @pseudonym (and think it's reasonable for me to be frustrated).

From the outset, I was a bit worried that what was motivating Timothy's comment was not a rejection of the claim that "believing most women who make accusations of sexual misconduct" is a conventional social norm, but rather that it is a reasonable one. His initial point ("Many of us live or grew up outside of the Anglo-American world... and might place more importance to principles such as the presumption of innocence") is, of course, true. But my post isn't about what conventional social norms are, and to the extent that it does touch on this, the relevant claim is just: "whether norms in EA are good or bad for you will depend on your point of comparison," not a substantive descriptive claim about what norms are "conventional." 

The bar for commenting on the Forum definitely shouldn't be "you have to engage with the core point of the post," which is why I responded in good faith. But his initial comment wasn't giving me big scout mindset vibes, because he didn't attempt to tie his comment to the upshot of that section, didn't read the relevant footnote, and didn't meaningfully engage with the substance of the post.

I responded by citing a paper on whether there's tension between the presumption of innocence and believing women, since I took the subtext of his comment to be that there is a tradeoff here. He proceeded to not substantively engage with my response, either. (@pseudonym later quoted the same passage again, leading Timothy to eventually acknowledge: "I realized I misparsed a bit at the end," and edit his response, which I appreciate.) By that point, I strongly suspected that what was actually going on here was that Timothy didn't like that I had suggested that "believing most women" was a reasonable norm, and what he was actually taking issue with was that, but was couching this in a trivially true descriptive claim. I decided to stop responding.

Eventually, in his exchange with pseudonym, he all but confirms my initial hypothesis, saying: "In a larger number of cases where there's an accusation that simply refers to 'sexual harassment' I'm doubtful that it means what (many others and) I have in mind." In other words, he doesn't think it's reasonable to believe most women who make allegations of sexual harassment because, as he puts it, they're perhaps just "sensitive." (One might read my interpretation here as uncharitable, but I think I'm drawing inferences that are reasonable to draw, especially because discussions on this issue often play out this way. #baserates)

I had intentionally kept the claim in the post weak—"believe most women"—because I wanted to avoid this kind of back-and-forth. What I said isn't deep: you'd believe most people if they told you it was cold outside, you'd believe most people if they told you they didn't like olives, you'd believe most people if they told you someone made a rude remark, and you should similarly believe most women who accuse someone of sexual misconduct. I didn't quote some statistic about how 92% of the time, women are telling the truth; I just said it's reasonable to believe most women who accuse others of misconduct, which it is.

Thanks for writing this. It is nice to read someone's thoughts on both what is going well, and what can go better. 

I apologize for a comment so tangential, but could you please explain the meaning of “<>”? I googled around and just found references to various programming languages, but the way you mentioned it seemed to imply that it means something related to networking

Sorry, this is maybe a niche reference! I find that EAs often use the subject line "Person A <> Person B" to connect people to each other via email.

Thank you so much for this post! It is SO nice to read about this in a framing that is inspiring/positive - I think it's unavoidable and not wrong that we often focus on criticism and problem description in relation to diversity/equality issues but that can also make it difficult and uninspiring to work with improvement. I love the framing you have here!