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There is some criticism of Singer’s approach to animal welfare; effective altruism; appropriating women’s voices; and discussion of a sexual harassment claim. 

This was a hard read, and CEA/EV haven’t investigated these claims, but I thought it was of interest to the community to share. 

If you’d like to talk through any concerns about this, or other similar situations, you can contact me or other members of the Community Health Team via our form.

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While Dawn claims it is "important" that Singer filed a demurrer rather than contesting factual allegations in court, no one should update on that legal strategy. Almost any rational litigant would have done the same thing given the procedural posture.

For background at the 10,000 foot level, at the very early stages of litigation, you can file a demurrer ("motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim" in federal court) claiming that even if everything in the complaint is true, it doesn't give rise to liability. You generally cannot ask the court to dismiss the case at that point because the alleged facts aren't true. The reason is that if the plaintiff's legal theory is sound, she should ordinarily have an opportunity to develop the facts through discovery (document production, depositions, etc.) before the court addresses factual issues.

Discovery is time consuming and expensive, so if you have an argument that "even if everything you say is true, there's no liability here" and an argument that "what you say isn't true," it is almost always better to present only the former argument at the demurrer stage. If you start disputing alleged facts, you're implicitly telling the court that there needs to be discovery of the facts before the legal sufficiency of the complaint can be determined. Most people would rather not pay tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, have to turn over documents, have to sit for a deposition, etc. Thus, they would file the demurrer even if they also think they could prove factual allegations in the complaint to be untrue.

In case anyone else is wondering, I think this lawsuit is claiming:

  1. Karen Dawn had an affair with Peter Singer
  2. This caused her to break up with the person she cheated on[1]
  3. Because they broke up, she had to move out of the $4 million house that the person she cheated on owned
  4. Therefore, she is suing Singer for $4 million in damages

I'm not 100% sure about this though; corrections appreciated. I'm referencing 79-82 here.

  1. ^

    Dawn describes it as an "affair" which I assume means that her partner viewed it as cheating?

That's also my read of the claims, fwiw.

There's an amended complaint in, I believe, January 2023 (on mobile).

There are other allegations about a 2018 interaction at a fundraiser and a 2020 e-mail from Singer resigning from the board of Dawn's organization.

The claim that Professor Singer appropriates women’s voices because his name appeared first on a couple of bylines seems belied by the fact that Helga Kuhse and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek (both women co-authors of his, in the 20th and 21st Century respectively) are listed first on all of the books they’ve written with him as far as I can tell. In his recent interview with Tyler Cowen, he assiduously mentioned Lazari-Radek whenever his work with her was mentioned.

Dawn claims:

Scopus says Singer has >600 co-authors, and I think that's only in academic publications. Claim (47) seems surprising.[1] [Edit: it's actually 77, see Pablo's comment below.]

  1. ^

    I don't know what "period relevant to this case" means, but I think hundreds of co-authors would be included if they mean 2002-2020.

Note that this is a different Peter Singer. Here is the entry for the relevant Peter Singer.  According to it, Singer had 77 co-authors.

Oops, good correction, thanks!

And Claim (46) seems plausible but uninteresting, given that "Scholars of the American movement find that [nonhuman animal rights] activists are overwhelmingly women at about 80 per cent (Gaarder 2011)."

Helga Kuhse and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek are both academic utilitarian philosophers and were probably more independently established than Dawn (e.g. tenure), so both the expectations and the power dynamics could have been pretty different.

The difference is also consistent with the newspaper context -- a generalist newspaper reader is likely to decide whether to read an newspaper article in a few seconds max, and "world-famous prof you've probably heard of at a top institution is lead author" plausibly helps.

The distinction between philosophers and animal activists might be relevant. For instance, his name was also listed last on a 2007 book he co-edited with two woman philosophers (Lori Gruen and Laura Grabel). In contrast, he was listed first on a 2006 book he co-authored with animal activist Jim Mason (a man). But the claim that he “appropriates” people’s voices is unsubstantiated, never mind the stronger claim that he appropriates some people’s voices simply because they are women.

Doesn't Dawn's own case substantiate the claim that he "appropriated" people's voices, or something similar, like "used their voices without giving fair credit"?

Did anyone claim he appropriated women's voices simply because they are women?

I think this is compatible with the possibility that he used women's (or anyone's) voices without giving them enough credit only when he thought he could get away with it.

Still, Dawn apparently agreed to have Singer's name first, based on the argument that it would do more good for animals. And it might have just been true that it would do more good, because it seems plausible on the more direct near-term effects by bringing more attention to the pieces. Singer also plausibly honestly believed it, and plausibly had good intentions.

However, this could also mean reducing the rise of these other animal advocates, compared to having them as first authors, which could be worse for the movement overall in the longer run. So, he might have been wrong to believe it was best overall.

Also, it's just misleading to put his name first when he's only editing.

The meaning of first authorship depends on the specific cultural context and norms. In law, this would be fine; in academia, I assume not.

For newspaper articles, at least those that are like op-eds . . . I don't assume that Senator So-and-So, a named CEO, or a similiar person who is not a professional journalist actually drafted the piece they signed. So "misleading" is too strong for me.

I would have assumed Singer wrote these pieces based on him appearing as first author, and him probably often writing his own pieces. He does write professionally.

Also, even if you have more context to avoid making this assumption, this doesn't mean the average reader does. Maybe the average person who might engage with Dawn professionally would understand this context, though, and maybe that's much more important for her career than what the average reader believes.

Reading through the complaint it's a bit of a mess, and her key demand ($4M because her partner broke up with her when he learned about the affair, and would otherwise have continued supporting her) doesn't follow. Still, I see three things here that are concerning:

The biggest one is the claim that Singer has a strong pattern of giving career advantage to people he's dating or hoping to date. That would be pretty bad!

Dawn claims Singer said he had (but didn't actually have) a "don't ask don't tell" arrangement with his wife about cheating. While this is primarily between Singer and his wife, it is (if true) not a demonstration of integrity.

Finally, and this is minor, joining the board of a non-profit run by your ex-lover is not a good idea. On the other hand, it sounds like maybe this was 12y later (2004-2016), but that still seems like something better to avoid?

This was a hard read, and CEA/EV haven’t investigated these claims, but I thought it was of interest to the community to share. 

I found this a very strange post for the CH team to write. Typically a judge, or prosecutor, or HR department (whose roles the CH team seem to combine) would not publicise an allegation they received prior to investigation, and any response to inquiries would be very perfunctory (e.g 'we are aware of the allegation and are investigating'). In fact I suspect that if a Judge decided to pro-actively share an allegation and described it as 'a hard read' they might be expected to recuse themselves from the case because it would raise questions about impartiality. If the issue is of interest, why don't you investigate first?

It's not clear there will be an "investigation." Among other things, Dawn says she will appeal, so this is a pending litigation matter in my book. As a general matter, CHSP should defer in the presence of active litigation, and I don't see a reason to deviate here.

Thank you for the thoughts. My team was pretty uncertain about whether to post this, and I could have done some things better. It seems helpful to clarify some of my intentions behind the original post: 

  • Various people had mentioned that they were concerned about this in casual conversation. It felt useful to link to a specific reference point for the already- existing discussion rather than have rumours escalate or warp. 
  • Given Peter Singer is someone with a significant influence in EA, and with the context of recent events in our community, I expected many people in EA would want to be aware if concerns had been raised about him, provided they were appropriately hedged. 
  • Given those conversations and considerations happening in private, making it public was the action that felt the most integrity-driven to me at the time.
  • I could have done better at framing the post. I do think it can be valuable from a community health perspective to link post to things of interest before we have all the facts in, but there’s a balance to get right here.

In case it's of interest to anyone, here are the court documents is Singer's attorney's demurral from Dawn's action against Singer, though the preview text is somewhat garbled and with lines omitted. It recounts some of the events referenced in the post, but I don't know whether it recounts Dawn's version of the events, or the court's best guess at how events transpired. (Edit: Rockwell comments below: "You linked to a document filed by the defendant's attorneys that is an objection to an earlier filing by the plaintiff's attorneys. It is the version of events Singer's attorneys are portraying to the court." Mea culpa.) It reads in part:

Dawn reveals in her Complaint that she met Singer at an animal rights conference in 2002 and knew him as the '"Father of the modern animal rights movement;" that she expressed anxiety at meeting him "because of his status, and because he was her hero"; that, nonetheless, she met Singer for lunch along with her "partner of three years" who provided her with "financial and emotional support"; that Singer thereafter called the plaintiff daily for a period of weeks and told her "he had sexual interest in her"; that she and Singer thereafter entered into a consensual sexual relationship [text missing] publications if you agree to have a sexual relationship with me.

Dawn doesn't allege any such bargain because no such bargain was ever made. It is clear that Dawn willingly involved herself in a sexual affair with Singer because she fell "deeply in love" with him. Nor does she allege any unwelcome sexual advances by Singer.


Singer's Demurrer to Dawn's Complaint must be sustained without leave to amend because: (1) California, as a matter of public policy, has barred litigation of affairs of the heart; (2) Insults, made in private, between quarreling former lovers, do not, as a matter of law, constitute "extreme and outrageous" conduct so as to satisfy the first essential element of a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (3) The intentional termination of a romantic and sexual relationship is not the type of "extreme and outrageous" conduct so as to satisfy the first essential element of a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Since I know some people will read this comment without reading the original post, here's what Dawn says in the linked post:

I filed under the single clause of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, because, as he well knows, I was unaware that California Civil Code Section 51.9 allows for sexual harassment outside of traditional employment situations. But that initial suit included the same facts as those in the amended complaint, which rightly included Sexual Harassment.

Singer’s counsel filed a demurrer, which is a motion to dismiss that says that even if the facts alleged in the complaint are true, no law has been broken. That is an important point because Peter Singer has publicly accused me of being untruthful. I hope that anybody who questions him will ask him to name any untruth in this essay or the lawsuit, for I am aware of none.


The Santa Barbara court has ruled against my sexual harassment claim and decided that Singer’s “vulgar and offensive” language during the private conversation at a 2018 fundraising dinner was not “severe harassing conduct,” and, inaccurately, that the 2020 letter contained nothing that could be construed as sexual harassment, and therefore my claim fell outside the three-year statute of limitations.

That ruling reflected the effect of my having no legal counsel in confronting Singer’s law firm. Importantly, my amended complaint did not refer to brand new case law, Judd vs Weinstein (2020), which is invaluable to my claim because it discusses the “retaliation” elements of a sexual harassment suit. Though my follow-up argument against Singer’s move to dismiss the claim did indeed include that case law, the judge’s decision missed it entirely.

I have formally objected, and will appeal, because it will be clear to a jury, based on the email to which Singer was responding, that, just like his professionally punishing dinner exit, his non-harassing but punishing letter was in fact retaliation for my refusal to continue to overlook the grave harm caused by his sexually outrageous conduct. The exit and the letter are the retaliation elements of my claim. Whether the professional harms he inflicted while we were discussing the hurt caused by his sexual abuse of power, were, in fact, retaliatory, is a triable matter for a jury, not a matter for dismissal of the claim at this stage.

The demurral says:

On December 15, 2018, Singer arranged a multiple-hour layover in Los Angeles in order to attend a fundraising dinner for DawnWatch. "During a private chat at that dinner," Dawn shared with Singer that she was doing well, to which Singer replied that Dawn had always had strong self-esteem. In response, "Dawn finally told Singer that her period of hospitalization had been for a facelift and resulting skin infection, which Dawn had undergone after her self-confidence was shattered when Singer had replaced her as his main love interest with a 30 year old woman. Feeling unjustly blamed for Dawn's pain, Singer attempted to put the blame for their relationship on Dawn, reminding her of a time she had flashed herself to him on a train, as she attempted to reignite his affection. He used the word "cunt" as he reminded her of the event. Singer left the dinner, with Dawn asking that they hug goodbye for appearances sake. Singer obliged with the hug, but also told Dawn, "You're crazy." None of the other diners had been aware of the altercation, until Dawn, for the sake of authenticity, shared that Singer had departed after an argument, though she did not elaborate.

There was no communication between Dawn and Singer from the evening of December 15, 2018, until May 9, 2020, when Dawn reached out via email to Singer to ''take his temperature," having no idea how he had been viewing the silence between them. A copy of that email is attached as Exhibit E to the Complaint. Dawn was, at that time, living in an RV in Santa Barbara. Singer's response to that e-mail, which is part of Exhibit E to the Complaint, stated the following with regard to the December 15, 2018 fundraising dinner: "You ask me to break my journey to Australia to speak at a fundraising event for DW, and when I am there, you harangue and abuse me in front of the few wealthy supporters - or was there only one wealthy supporter? - who actually came to the event. I go back to Australia, and over the next few days, check my inbox for some kind of apology. Nothing, weeks, months, go by ... It's true that I used to think your work was valuable. That's why I agreed to be a member of your board, and donated some money to you. I still think you have the talent to do valuable work for the movement, but I no longer think you have the consistency or perseverance required to do enough of it, so I cannot, in good conscience, support you or ask anyone to support you. I hereby resign my position as a member of the Board of Dawnwatch. (Want to prove me wrong? OK, for the rest of 2020, produce a regular DW email every week, on the same day of the week, summarizing what is happening about animals in the media, plus a supplementary special alert whenever there is a big breaking story that you want people to respond to ... When you've done that, you can ask me again for my support.)"

It recounts some of the events referenced in the post, but I don't know whether it recounts Dawn's version of the events, or the court's best guess at how events transpired.

You linked to a document filed by the defendant's attorneys that is an objection to an earlier filing by the plaintiff's attorneys. It is the version of events Singer's attorneys are portraying to the court.

For those less familiar, the US civil legal system is very messy and varies by state. I personally don't consider it a great way to understand a situation. But for those interested, it looks like this is the link to the full case docket (or at least what is public) and this is the initial complaint filed by the plaintiff (i.e. where Dawn's attorneys tell her version of events). You can tell which side filed something by the signatory in the upper left of the first page.

The actual court docket is at but is painfully slow.

I don't think it is quite correct to characterize the statement of facts in a demurrer as the "version of events Singer's attorneys are portraying to the court." With limited exceptions, the court has to treat the plaintiffs factual allegations as true when ruling on a demurrer, and the defendant can't bring in his own facts. Doubtless there is spin, but it's counterspin on plaintiff's own spin.

Oh thanks, I misunderstood that and have edited my comment.

"CEA/EV haven’t investigated these claims."

Does CEA plan on investigating the sexual harassment claim? Both her personal claim, and the larger claim that

"[Singer] slept with at least thirty women from the animal rights movement in the last few decades, and handed out prestigious paid co-writing assignments, in the period covered by the claim (2002-2020), to women only with whom he had been sexually involved or was trying to be, and that he professionally punished women who did not condone his behavior."

I'm curious what the disagreevotes are communicating here, since the comment is a question not a truth proposition.

Thanks for sharing this link Charlotte. - I think it's good for the community to be aware of what's happening, even if they are evolving events.

I think this post would have been more useful with some summary in your linkpost of what the OP claims were, since it was a long post that covered a lot. It seems like a few commenters summarized it, but it wasn't immediately relevant what the key concerns were and how one should view the situation.

There are many parts of this piece worth reading, especially for people who hold Singer in very high regard (and perhaps will stop seeing him that way after reading about his conduct with women*).

However, the part which is in my opinion most relevant to EA, and which sparked some doubts in me personally, is this:

[O]ne cannot always numerically calculate impact. Malcolm Gladwell spells that out in The Tipping Point, a book all activists should read. The Effective Altruism movement urges funders to donate to charities that can prove how many animals they help. One of the top recommendations is a group that urges food companies to stop using eggs from hens in battery cages. That effort will surely help end that one hideous farming practice and ease some of the suffering of billions of animals. But those approaching the companies would have no success if other activists weren’t changing public opinion, pushing the envelope, and putting societal pressure on those companies to at least make some improvements. Thanks to Effective Altruism, however, the guys negotiating the deals to get millions of animals bigger cages are grabbing the bulk of funding, while those changing the way society views animals, who can’t count the number of animals they have helped, are, by Effective Altruism standards, not worth funding.

Effective Altruism starves out the activists creating the sparks, and Peter Singer wonders why our movement isn’t lighting up the world.

*Edit: I don't know if the many down/disagreevotes are related to the "conduct with women" part or the "effective altruism" part, but I'll expand on the former: what I find especially damning, regardless of the exact details of his particular relationship with the author, is the accusation that he only gave important professional opportunities to women activists who had slept with him.

It's a fair argument, but not well supported as written. Corporate campaigns and changing public opinion are complements. The latter would have zero impact without public pressure; the former would have impact only insofar as members of the public took action on their own. That doesn't tell us much about the best split between funding these two complements, after non-EA funding is taken into account.

My sense is that many of the returns for improving general public opinion in this area accrue over a long period of time (i.e., the consumer's lifetime). If one thought, for instance, that cultured meat or other alternatives will be economically and otherwise competitive, and environmentally superior, within 20 years -- then a significant fraction of the returns on improving public opinion may not matter very much because economic and/or environmental issues will carry the day anyway.

It's true that it doesn't reveal the right split - but on the other hand, it shines a light on us in EA funneling money towards the easily measurable parts of complex interdependent systems, and neglecting to account for the less measurable parts.

I'm sadly skeptical about cultured meat, mostly because of reports I've read here on the forum but don't have the time to find at the moment.

That's fair, and I think at a very minimum the messaging toward the activist community could often be a little more charitable. "Although it is challenging to evaluate the impact of your work using our toolkit, we do not think that the level of generalized public support for animal welfare (of the sort we think your work is likely to produce) is currently the limiting factor to achieving more impact. We appreciate that much of the work we currently fund stands on the shoulders of activists who have worked over the past several decades, and we do not intend our allocation of very limited marginal funding to suggest otherwise."

While I ostensibly agree regarding the activist community, I think this problem is probably not unique to activism vs. interventions that 'tip the scales' after it had been done. Many systems have interdependent parts, some of which are easier to measure than others.

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