Jonas Vollmer

7600 karmaJoined Oct 2014Berkeley, CA, USA


I’ve helped set up the Atlas Fellowship, a program that researches talent search and scholarships for exceptional students.

Previously, I ran EA Funds and the Center on Long-Term Risk. My background is in medicine (BMed) and economics (MSc). See my LinkedIn.

You can best reach me at jonas@atlasfellowship.org.

I appreciate honest and direct feedback: https://admonymous.co/vollmer

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, opinions are my own, not my employer's. (I think this is generally how everyone uses the EA Forum; others who don't have such a disclaimer likely think about it similarly.)


Topic contributions

I worry 'wholesomeness' overemphasizes doing what's comfortable and convenient and feels good, rather than what makes the world better:

  • As mentioned, wholesomeness could stifle visionaries, and this downside wasn't discussed further.
  • Fighting to abolish slavery wasn't a particularly wholesome act, in fact it created a lot of unwholesome conflict. Protests aren't wholesome. I expect a lot of important future work to look and feel unwholesome. (I'm aware you could fit it into the framework somehow, but it's an awkward fit.)
  • I worry it'll make EA focus even more on creating a cushy environment for its own members (further expanding its parental leave policy and mental health benefits for the third time and running wonderful team retreats in fancy retreat centers), rather than on getting important things done in the world.

Things like virtues and integrity in my opinion do a better job at addressing the naïve consequentialist failure modes that wholesomeness is supposed to address.

If someone else had written my comment, I would ask myself how good that person's manipulation detection skills are. If I judge them to be strong, I would deem the comment to be significant evidence, and think it more likely that Owen has a flaw that he healed, and less likely that he's a manipulator. If I judge them to be weak (or I simply don't have enough information about the person writing the comment), I would not update. 

If there are a lot of upvotes on my comment, that may indicate that readers are naïvely trusting me and making an error, or have good reason to trust my judgment, or have independently reached similar conclusions. I think it's most likely a combination of all of these three factors.

Yeah, I think there's a lot more to be said about this topic, and I'm glad that your said some of it - thanks!

Over the years, I’ve done a fair amount of community building, and had to deal with a pretty broad range of bad actors, toxic leadership, sexual misconduct, manipulation tactics and the like. Many of these cases were associated with a pattern of narcissism and dark triad spectrum traits, self-aggrandizing behavior, manipulative defense tactics, and unwillingness to learn from feedback. I think people with this pattern rarely learn and improve, and in most cases should be fired and banned from the community even if they are making useful contributions (and I have been involved with handling several such cases over the last decade). I think it’s important that more people learn to recognize this; I encourage you to read the two above-linked articles.

I feel worried that some readers of this Forum might think Owen matches that pattern. Knowing him professionally and to some degree personally, I think he clearly does not. I’ve collaborated and talked with him for hours in all kinds of settings, and based on my overall impression of his character, I understand his problematic behavior to have arisen from an inability to model others’ emotions, an inability to recognize that he was in a position of power and influence, and moral scrupulosity (obsession about whether he’s a bad person or not for inappropriately feeling attracted to someone). 

This obviously doesn’t make his past behavior any less bad and doesn’t excuse any of it. But it makes it more likely that he makes a real effort to learn and improve, and based on some conversations I’ve had with Owen, I believe this learning has indeed happened. I think Owen is unlikely to repeat his mistakes, and his document seems honest and he’s not just trying to tell us what we want to hear (in fact, I think his moral scrupulosity makes him unusually honest in this situation).[1]

Personally, I hope Owen can be involved in the community soon again. I think a temporary ban is important, both as an incentive against bad behavior and as a precaution so the harms don’t continue. That said, two years are a long time, and I hope other EA orgs won't take his loss too lightly and will consider inviting him to participate again. I think we would benefit a lot from his participation, both in terms of ensuring the community is safe and welcoming for everyone (where I've seen him go out of his way in the past), and in terms of getting more of his contributions to the causes we all care about.

(This comment is intended as sharing my impression from knowing Owen personally, which I figured might be helpful context for some readers. I welcome others sharing different perspectives, especially if you disagree. By default I won’t engage in much discussion due to lack of time.)

  1. ^

    I think a significant share of sexual misconduct or unwelcome sexual attention in EA is caused by the broad cluster of poor theory of mind and autism-spectrum / OCD-spectrum personality traits, as opposed to the more broadly publicized manipulative/sociopathic/narcissistic spectrum. The latter seems characterized by not caring sufficiently about the victim’s experience, whereas the former seems characterized by a lack of understanding of the effects of one’s actions, which makes it more tractable. I think Owen’s example could be instructive and hope it helps others avoid similar mistakes.

I've talked to some people who are involved with OpenAI secondary markets, and they've broadly corroborated this.

One source told me that after a specific year (didn't say when), the cap can increase 20% per year, and the company can further adjust the cap as they fundraise.

If you're running an event and Lighthaven isn't an option for some reason, you may be interested in Atlantis: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ya5Aqf4kFXLjoJeFk/atlantis-berkeley-event-venue-available-for-rent 

(FYI, Atlas won't be ending up with a budget shortfall as a result of this.)

This seems the most plausible speculation so far, though probably also wrong: https://twitter.com/dzhng/status/1725637133883547705

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(Shorting TLT seems a reasonably affordable way to implement this strategy I guess, though you're only going short nominal interest rates.)

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