Added (11th Sept): Nonlinear have commented that they intend to write a response, have written a short follow-up, and claim that they dispute 85 claims in this post. I'll link here to that if-and-when it's published.

Added (11th Sept): One of the former employees, Chloe, has written a lengthy comment personally detailing some of her experiences working at Nonlinear and the aftermath.

Added (12th Sept): I've made 3 relatively minor edits to the post. I'm keeping a list of all edits at the bottom of the post, so if you've read the post already, you can just go to the end to see the edits.

Added (15th Sept): I've written a follow-up post saying that I've finished working on this investigation and do not intend to work more on it in the future. The follow-up also has a bunch of reflections on what led up to this post.

Epistemic status: Once I started actively looking into things, much of my information in the post below came about by a search for negative information about the Nonlinear cofounders, not from a search to give a balanced picture of its overall costs and benefits. I think standard update rules suggest not that you ignore the information, but you think about how bad you expect the information would be if I selected for the worst, credible info I could share, and then update based on how much worse (or better) it is than you expect I could produce. (See section 5 of this post about Mistakes with Conservation of Expected Evidence for more on this.) This seems like a worthwhile exercise for at least non-zero people to do in the comments before reading on. (You can condition on me finding enough to be worth sharing, but also note that I think I have a relatively low bar for publicly sharing critical info about folks in the EA/x-risk/rationalist/etc ecosystem.)

tl;dr: If you want my important updates quickly summarized in four claims-plus-probabilities, jump to the section near the bottom titled "Summary of My Epistemic State".

When I used to manage the Lightcone Offices, I spent a fair amount of time and effort on gatekeeping — processing applications from people in the EA/x-risk/rationalist ecosystem to visit and work from the offices, and making decisions. Typically this would involve reading some of their public writings, and reaching out to a couple of their references that I trusted and asking for information about them. A lot of the people I reached out to were surprisingly great at giving honest references about their experiences with someone and sharing what they thought about someone.

One time, Kat Woods and Drew Spartz from Nonlinear applied to visit. I didn't know them or their work well, except from a few brief interactions that Kat Woods seems high-energy, and to have a more optimistic outlook on life and work than most people I encounter.

I reached out to some references Kat listed, which were positive to strongly positive. However I also got a strongly negative reference — someone else who I informed about the decision told me they knew former employees who felt taken advantage of around things like salary. However the former employees reportedly didn't want to come forward due to fear of retaliation and generally wanting to get away from the whole thing, and the reports felt very vague and hard for me to concretely visualize, but nonetheless the person strongly recommended against inviting Kat and Drew.

I didn't feel like this was a strong enough reason to bar someone from a space — or rather, I did, but vague anonymous descriptions of very bad behavior being sufficient to ban someone is a system that can be straightforwardly abused, so I don't want to use such a system. Furthermore, I was interested in getting my own read on Kat Woods from a short visit — she had only asked to visit for a week. So I accepted, though I informed her that this weighed on my mind. (This is a link to the decision email I sent to her.)

(After making that decision I was also linked to this ominous yet still vague EA Forum thread, that includes a former coworker of Kat Woods saying they did not like working with her, more comments like the one I received above, and links to a lot of strongly negative Glassdoor reviews for Nonlinear Cofounder Emerson Spartz's former company “Dose”. Note that more than half of the negative reviews are for the company after Emerson sold it, but this is a concerning one from 2015 (while Emerson Spartz was CEO/Cofounder): "All of these super positive reviews are being commissioned by upper management. That is the first thing you should know about Spartz, and I think that gives a pretty good idea of the company's priorities… care more about the people who are working for you and less about your public image". A 2017 review says "The culture is toxic with a lot of cliques, internal conflict, and finger pointing." There are also far worse reviews about a hellish work place which are very worrying, but they’re from the period after Emerson’s LinkedIn says he left, so I’m not sure to what extent he is responsible he is for them.)

On the first day of her visit, another person in the office privately reached out to me saying they were extremely concerned about having Kat and Drew in the office, and that they knew two employees who had had terrible experiences working with them. They wrote (and we later discussed it more):

Their company Nonlinear has a history of illegal and unethical behavior, where they will attract young and naive people to come work for them, and subject them to inhumane working conditions when they arrive, fail to pay them what was promised, and ask them to do illegal things as a part of their internship. I personally know two people who went through this, and they are scared to speak out due to the threat of reprisal, specifically by Kat Woods and Emerson Spartz.

This sparked (for me) a 100-200 hour investigation where I interviewed 10-15 people who interacted or worked with Nonlinear, read many written documents and tried to piece together some of what had happened.

My takeaway is that indeed their two in-person employees had quite horrendous experiences working with Nonlinear, and that Emerson Spartz and Kat Woods are significantly responsible both for the harmful dynamics and for the employees’ silence afterwards. Over the course of investigating Nonlinear I came to believe that the former employees there had no legal employment, tiny pay, a lot of isolation due to travel, had implicit and explicit threats of retaliation made if they quit or spoke out negatively about Nonlinear, simultaneously received a lot of (in my opinion often hollow) words of affection and claims of familial and romantic love, experienced many further unpleasant or dangerous experiences that they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t worked for Nonlinear, and needed several months to recover with friends and family afterwards before they felt able to return to work.

(Note that I don’t think the pay situation as-described in the above quoted text was entirely accurate, I think it was very small — $1k/month — and employees implicitly expected they would get more than they did, but there was mostly not salary ‘promised’ that didn’t get given out.)

After first hearing from them about their experiences, I still felt unsure about what was true — I didn’t know much about the Nonlinear cofounders, and I didn’t know which claims about the social dynamics I could be confident of. To get more context, I spent about 30+ hours on calls with 10-15 different people who had some professional dealings with at least one of Kat, Emerson and Drew, trying to build up a picture of the people and the org, and this helped me a lot in building my own sense of them by seeing what was common to many people’s experiences. I talked to many people who interacted with Emerson and Kat who had many active ethical concerns about them and strongly negative opinions, and I also had a 3-hour conversation with the Nonlinear cofounders about these concerns, and I now feel a lot more confident about a number of dynamics that the employees reported.

For most of these conversations I offered strict confidentiality, but (with the ex-employees’ consent) I’ve here written down some of the things I learned.

In this post I do not plan to name most of the people I talked to, but two former employees I will call “Alice” and “Chloe”. I think the people involved mostly want to put this time in their life behind them and I would encourage folks to respect their privacy, not name them online, and not talk to them about it unless you’re already good friends with them.

Conversation with Kat on March 7th, 2023

Returning to my initial experience: on the Tuesday of their visit, I still wasn’t informed about who the people were or any details of what happened, but I found an opportunity to chat with Kat over lunch.

After catching up for ~15 mins, I indicated that I'd be interested in talking about the concerns I raised in my email, and we talked in a private room for 30-40 mins. As soon as we sat down, Kat launched straight into stories about two former employees of hers, telling me repeatedly not to trust one of the employees (“Alice”), that she has a terrible relationship with truth, that she's dangerous, and that she’s a reputational risk to the community. She said the other employee ("Chloe") was “fine”.

Kat Woods also told me that she expected to have a policy with her employees of “I don’t say bad things about you, you don’t say bad things about me”. I am strongly against this kind of policy on principle (as I told her then). This and other details raised further red flags to me (i.e. the salary policy) and I wanted to understand what happened.

Here’s an overview of what she told me:

  • When they worked at Nonlinear, Alice and Chloe had expenses covered (room, board, food) and Chloe also got a monthly bonus of $1k/month.
  • Alice and Chloe lived in the same house as Kat, Emerson and Drew. Kat said that she has decided to not live with her employees going forward. 
  • She said that Alice, who incubated their own project (here is a description of the incubation program on Nonlinear’s site), was able to set their own salary, and that Alice almost never talked to her (Kat) or her other boss (Emerson) about her salary.
  • Kat doesn’t trust Alice to tell the truth, and that Alice has a history of “catastrophic misunderstandings”.
  • Kat told me that Alice was unclear about the terms of the incubation, and said that Alice should have checked in with Kat in order to avoid this miscommunication.
  • Kat suggested that Alice may have quit in substantial part due to Kat missing a check-in call over Zoom toward the end.
  • Kat said that she hoped Alice would go by the principle of “I don’t say bad things about you, you don’t say bad things about me” but that the employee wasn’t holding up her end and was spreading negative things about Kat/Nonlinear.
  • Kat said she gives negative references for Alice, advises people “don't hire her” and not to fund her, and “she’s really dangerous for the community”.
  • She said she didn’t have these issues with her other employee Chloe, she said she was “fine, just miscast” for her role of “assistant / operations manager”, which is what led to her quitting. Kat said Chloe was pretty skilled but did a lot of menial labor tasks for Kat that she didn’t enjoy.
  • The one negative thing she said about Chloe was that she was being paid the equivalent of $75k[1] per year (only $1k/month, the rest via room and board), but that at one point she asked for $75k on top of all expenses being paid and that was out of the question.[2]

A High-Level Overview of The Employees’ Experience with Nonlinear


The core Nonlinear staff are Emerson Spartz, Kat Woods, and Drew Spartz. 

Kat Woods has been in the EA ecosystem for at least 10 years, cofounding Charity Science in 2013 and working there until 2019. After a year at Charity Entrepreneurship, in 2021 she cofounded Nonlinear with Emerson Spartz, where she has worked for 2.5 years.

Nonlinear has received $599,000 from the Survival and Flourishing Fund in the first half of 2022, and $15,000 from Open Philanthropy in January 2022.

Emerson primarily funds the project through his personal wealth from his previous company Dose and from selling (which he founded). Emerson and Kat are romantic partners, and Emerson and Drew are brothers. They all live in the same house and travel across the world together, jumping from AirBnb to AirBnb once or twice per month. The staff they hire are either remote, or live in the house with them.

My current understanding is that they’ve had around ~4 remote interns, 1 remote employee, and 2 in-person employees (Alice and Chloe). Alice was the only person to go through their incubator program.

Nonlinear tried to have a fairly high-commitment culture where the long-term staff are involved very closely with the core family unit, both personally and professionally. However they were given exceedingly little financial independence, and a number of the social dynamics involved seem really risky to me.

Alice and Chloe

Alice travelled with Nonlinear from November 2021 to June 2022 and started working for the org from around February, and Chloe worked there from January 2022 to July 2022. After talking with them both, I learned the following:

  • Neither were legally employed by the non-profit at any point.
  • Chloe’s and Alice’s finances (along with Kat's and Drew's) all came directly from Emerson's personal funds (not from the non-profit). This left them having to get permission for their personal purchases, and they were not able to live apart from the family unit while they worked with them, and they report feeling very socially and financially dependent on the family during the time they worked there.
  • Chloe’s salary was verbally agreed to come out to around $75k/year. However, she was only paid $1k/month, and otherwise had many basic things compensated i.e. rent, groceries, travel. This was supposed to make traveling together easier, and supposed to come out to the same salary level. While Emerson did compensate Alice and Chloe with food and board and travel, Chloe does not believe that she was compensated to an amount equivalent to the salary discussed, and I believe no accounting was done for either Alice or Chloe to ensure that any salary matched up. (I’ve done some spot-checks of the costs of their AirBnbs and travel, and Alice/Chloe’s epistemic state seems pretty reasonable to me.)
  • Alice joined as the sole person in their incubation program. She moved in with them after meeting Nonlinear at EAG and having a ~4 hour conversation there with Emerson, plus a second Zoom call with Kat. Initially while traveling with them she continued her previous job remotely, but was encouraged to quit and work on an incubated org, and after 2 months she quit her job and started working on projects with Nonlinear. Over the 8 months she was there Alice claims she received no salary for the first 5 months, then (roughly) $1k/month salary for 2 months, and then after she quit she received a ~$6k one-off salary payment (from the funds allocated for her incubated organization). She also had a substantial number of emergency health issues covered.[3]
  • Salary negotiations were consistently a major stressor for Alice’s entire time at Nonlinear. Over her time there she spent through all of her financial runway, and spent a significant portion of her last few months there financially in the red (having more bills and medical expenses than the money in her bank account) in part due to waiting on salary payments from Nonlinear. She eventually quit due to a combination of running exceedingly low on personal funds and wanting financial independence from Nonlinear, and as she quit she gave Nonlinear (on their request) full ownership of the organization that she had otherwise finished incubating.
  • From talking with both Alice and Nonlinear, it turned out that by the end of Alice’s time working there, since the end of February Kat Woods had thought of Alice as an employee that she managed, but that Emerson had not thought of Alice as an employee, primarily just someone who was traveling with them and collaborating because she wanted to, and that the $1k/month plus other compensation was a generous gift.
  • Alice and Chloe reported that Kat, Emerson, and Drew created an environment in which being a valuable member of Nonlinear included being entrepreneurial and creative in problem-solving — in practice this often meant getting around standard social rules to get what you wanted was strongly encouraged, including getting someone’s favorite table at a restaurant by pressuring the staff, and finding loopholes in laws pertaining to their work. This also applied internally to the organization. Alice and Chloe report being pressured into or convinced to take multiple actions that they seriously regretted whilst working for Nonlinear, such as becoming very financially dependent on Emerson, quitting being vegan, and driving without a license in a foreign country for many months. (To be clear I’m not saying that these laws are good and that breaking them is bad, I’m saying that it sounds to me from their reports like they were convinced to take actions that could have had severe personal downsides such as jail time in a foreign country, and that these are actions that they confidently believe they would not have taken had it not been due to the strong pressures they felt from the Nonlinear cofounders and the adversarial social environment internal to the company.) I’ll describe these events in more detail below.
  • They both report taking multiple months to recover after ending ties with Nonlinear, before they felt able to work again, and both describe working there as one of the worst experiences of their lives.
  • They both report being actively concerned about professional and personal retaliation from Nonlinear for speaking to me, and told me stories and showed me some texts that led me to believe that was a very credible concern.

An assortment of reported experiences

There are a lot of parts of their experiences at Nonlinear that these two staff found deeply unpleasant and hurtful. I will summarize a number of them below.

I think many of the things that happened are warning flags, I also think that there are some red lines, I’ll discuss my thoughts on which are the red lines in my takeaways at the bottom of this post.

My Level of Trust in These Reports

Most of the dynamics were described to me as accurate by multiple different people (low pay, no legal structure, isolation, some elements of social manipulation, intimidation), leading me to have high confidence in them, and Nonlinear themselves confirmed various parts of these accounts.

People whose word I would meaningfully update on about this sort of thing have vouched for Chloe’s word as reliable.

The Nonlinear staff and a small number of other people who visited during Alice and Chloe’s employment have strongly questioned Alice’s trustworthiness and suggested she has told outright lies. Nonlinear showed me texts where people who had spoken with Alice came away with the impression that she was paid $0 or $500, which is inaccurate (she was paid ~$8k on net, as she told me). 

That said, I personally found Alice very willing and ready to share primary sources with me upon request (texts, bank info, etc), so I don’t believe her to be acting in bad faith.

In my first conversation with her, Kat claimed that Alice had many catastrophic miscommunications, but that Chloe was (quote) “fine”. In general nobody questioned Chloe’s word and broadly the people who told me they questioned Alice’s word said they trusted Chloe’s.

Personally I found all of their fears of retaliation to be genuine and earnest, and in my opinion justified.

Why I’m sharing these

I do have a strong heuristic that says consenting adults can agree to all sorts of things that eventually hurt them (i.e. in accepting these jobs), even if I paternalistically might think I could have prevented them from hurting themselves. That said, I see clear reasons to think that Kat and Emerson intimidated these people into accepting some of the actions or dynamics that hurt them, so some parts do not seem obviously consensual to me.

Separate from that, I think it’s good for other people to know what they’re getting into, so I think sharing this info is good because it is relevant for many people who have any likelihood of working with Nonlinear. And most importantly to me, I especially want to do it because it seems to me that Nonlinear has tried to prevent this negative information from being shared, so I am erring strongly on the side of sharing things.

(One of the employees also wanted to say something about why she contributed to this post, and I've put it in a footnote here.[4])

Highly dependent finances and social environment

Everyone lived in the same house. Emerson and Kat would share a room, and the others would make do with what else was available, often sharing bedrooms.

Nonlinear primarily moved around countries where they typically knew no locals and the employees regularly had nobody to interact with other than the cofounders, and employees report that they were denied requests to live in a separate AirBnb from the cofounders.

Alice and Chloe report that they were advised not to spend time with ‘low value people’, including their families, romantic partners, and anyone local to where they were staying, with the exception of guests/visitors that Nonlinear invited. Alice and Chloe report this made them very socially dependent on Kat/Emerson/Drew and otherwise very isolated.

The employees were very unclear on the boundaries of what would and wouldn’t be paid for by Nonlinear. For instance, Alice and Chloe report that they once spent several days driving around Puerto Rico looking for cheaper medical care for one of them before presenting it to senior staff, as they didn’t know whether medical care would be covered, so they wanted to make sure that it was as cheap as possible to increase the chance of senior staff saying yes.

The financial situation is complicated and messy. This is in large-part due to them doing very little accounting. In summary Alice spent a lot of her last 2 months with less than €1000 in her bank account, sometimes having to phone Emerson for immediate transfers to be able to cover medical costs when she was visiting doctors. At the time of her quitting she had €700 in her account, which was not enough to cover her bills at the end of the month, and left her quite scared. Though to be clear she was paid back ~€2900 of her outstanding salary by Nonlinear within a week, in part due to her strongly requesting it. (The relevant thing here is the extremely high level of financial dependence and wealth disparity, but Alice does not claim that Nonlinear failed to pay them.)

One of the central reasons Alice says that she stayed on this long was because she was expecting financial independence with the launch of her incubated project that had $100k allocated to it (fundraised from FTX). In her final month there Kat informed her that while she would work quite independently, they would keep the money in the Nonlinear bank account and she would ask for it, meaning she wouldn’t have the financial independence from them that she had been expecting, and learning this was what caused Alice to quit.

One of the employees interviewed Kat about her productivity advice, and shared notes from this interview with me. The employee writes:

During the interview, Kat openly admitted to not being productive but shared that she still appeared to be productive because she gets others to do work for her. She relies on volunteers who are willing to do free work for her, which is her top productivity advice.

The employees report that some interns later gave strongly negative feedback on working unpaid, and so Kat decided that she would no longer have interns at all.

Severe downsides threatened if the working relationship didn’t work out

In a conversation between Emerson Spartz and one of the employees, the employee asked for advice for a friend that wanted to find another job while being employed, without letting their current employer know about their decision to leave yet. Emerson reportedly immediately stated that he now has to update towards considering that the said employee herself is considering leaving Nonlinear. He went on to tell her that he gets mad at his employees who leave his company for other jobs that are equally good or less good; he said he understands if employees leave for clearly better opportunities. The employee reports that this led them to be very afraid of leaving the job, both because of the way Emerson made the update on thinking the employee is now trying to leave, as well as the notion of Emerson being retaliative towards employees that leave for “bad reasons”.

For background context on Emerson’s business philosophy: Alice quotes Emerson advising the following indicator of work progress: "How much value are you able to extract from others in a short amount of time?"[5] Another person who visited described Emerson to me as “always trying to use all of his bargaining power”. Chloe told me that, when she was negotiating salaries with external partners on behalf of Nonlinear, Emerson advised her when negotiating salaries, to offer "the lowest number you can get away with".

Many different people reported that Emerson Spartz would boast about his business negotiations tactics to employees and visitors. He would encourage his employees to read many books on strategy and influence. When they read the book The 48 Laws of Power he would give examples of him following the “laws” in his past business practices.

One story that he told to both employees and visitors was about his intimidation tactics when involved in a conflict with a former teenage mentee of his, Adorian Deck. 

(For context on the conflict, here’s links to articles written about it at the time: Hollywood ReporterJacksonvilleTechnology & Marketing Law Blog, and Emerson Spartz’s Tumblr. Plus here is the Legal Contract they signed that Deck later sued to undo.)

In brief, Adorian Deck was a 16 year-old who (in 2009) made a Twitter account called “OMGFacts” that quickly grew to having 300,000+ followers. Emerson reached out to build companies under the brand, and agreed to a deal with Adorian. Less than a year later Adorian wanted out of the deal, claiming that Emerson had made over $100k of profits and he’d only seen $100, and sued to end the deal. 

According to Emerson, it turned out that there’s a clause unique to California (due to the acting profession in Los Angeles) where even if a minor and their parent signs a contract, it isn’t valid unless the signing is overseen by a judge, and so they were able to simply pull out of the deal.

But to this day Emerson’s company still owns the OMGfacts brand and companies and Youtube channels.

(Sidenote: I am not trying to make claims about who was “in the right” in these conflicts, I am reporting these as examples of Emerosn’s negotiation tactics that he reportedly engages in and actively endorses during conflicts.)

Emerson told versions of this story to different people who I spoke to (people reported him as ‘bragging’).

In one version, he claimed that he strong-armed Adorian and his mother with endless legal threats and they backed down and left him with full control of the brand. This person I spoke to couldn’t recall the details but said that Emerson tried to frighten Deck and his mother, and that they (the person Emerson was bragging to) found it “frightening” and thought the behavior was “behavior that’s like 7 standard deviations away from usual norms in this area.”

Another person was told the story in the context of the 2nd Law from “48 Laws of Power”, which is “Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies”. The summary includes 

“Be wary of friends—they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical… you have more to fear from friends than from enemies.”

For this person who was told the Adorian story, the thing that resonated most when he told it was the claim that he was in a close, mentoring relationship with Adorian, and leveraged knowing him so well that he would know “exactly where to go to hurt him the most” so that he would back off. In that version of the story, he says that Deck’s life-goal was to be a YouTuber (which is indeed Deck's profession until this day — he produces about 4 videos a month), and that Emerson strategically contacted the YouTubers that Deck most admired, and told them stories of Deck being lazy and trying to take credit for all of Emerson's work. He reportedly threatened to do more of this until Deck relented, and this is why Deck gave up the lawsuit. The person said to me “He loved him, knew him really well, and destroyed him with that knowledge.”[6]

I later spoke with Emerson about this. He does say that he was working with the top YouTubers to create videos exposing Deck, and this is what brought Deck back to the negotiating table. He says that he ended up renegotiating a contract where Deck receives $10k/month for 7 years. If true, I think this final deal reflects positively on Emerson, though I still believe the people he spoke to were actively scared by their conversations with Emerson on this subject. (I have neither confirmed the existence of the contract nor heard Deck’s side of the story.)

He reportedly told another negotiation story about his response to getting scammed in a business deal. I won’t go into the details, but reportedly he paid a high-price for the rights to a logo/trademark, only to find that he had not read the fine print and had been sold something far less valuable. He gave it as an example of the "Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability" strategy from The 48 Laws of Power:

Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

In that business negotiation, he (reportedly) acted unhinged. According to the person I spoke with, he said he’d call the counterparty and say “batshit crazy things” and yell at them, with the purpose of making them think he’s capable of anything, including dangerous and unethical things, and eventually they relented and gave him the deal he wanted.

Someone else I spoke to reported him repeatedly saying that he would be “very antagonistic” toward people he was in conflict with. He reportedly gave the example that, if someone tried to sue him, he would be willing to go into legal gray areas in order to “crush his enemies” (a phrase he apparently used a lot), including hiring someone to stalk the person and their family in order to freak them out. (Emerson denies having said this, and suggests that he was probably describing this as a strategy that someone else might use in a conflict that one ought to be aware of.)

After Chloe eventually quit, Alice reports that Kat/Emerson would “trash talk” her, saying she was never an “A player”, criticizing her on lots of dimensions (competence, ethics, drama, etc) in spite of previously primarily giving Chloe high praise. This reportedly happened commonly toward other people who ended or turned down working together with Nonlinear. 

Here are some texts between Kat Woods and Alice shortly after Alice had quit, before the final salary had been paid.

A few months later, some more texts from Kat Woods.

(I can corroborate that it was difficult to directly talk with the former employee and it took a fair bit of communication through indirect social channels before they were willing to identify themselves to me and talk about the details.)

Effusive positive emotion not backed up by reality, and other manipulative techniques

Multiple people who worked with Kat reported that Kat had a pattern of enforcing arbitrary short deadlines on people in order to get them to make the decision she wants e.g. “I need a decision by the end of this call”, or (in an email to Alice) “This is urgent and important. There are people working on saving the world and we can’t let our issues hold them back from doing their work.” 

Alice reported feeling emotionally manipulated. She said she got constant compliments from the founders that ended up seeming fake. 

Alice wrote down a string of the compliments at the time from Kat Woods (said out loud and that Alice wrote down in text), here is a sampling of them that she shared with me:

“You’re the kind of person I bet on, you’re a beast, you’re an animal, I think you are extraordinary"

"You can be in the top 10, you really just have to think about where you want to be, you have to make sacrifices to be on the top, you can be the best, only if you sacrifice enough"

"You’re working more than 99% because you care more than 99% because you’re a leader and going to save the world"

"You can’t fail if you commit to [this project], you have what it takes, you get sh*t done and everyone will hail you in EA, finally an executor among us."

Alice reported that she would get these compliments near-daily. She eventually had the sense that this was said in order to get something out of her. She reported that one time, after a series of such compliments, the Kat Woods then turned and recorded a near-identical series of compliments into their phone for a different person.

Kat Woods reportedly several times cried while telling Alice that she wanted the employee in their life forever and was worried that this employee would ever not be in Kat’s life.

Other times when Alice would come to Kat with money troubles and asking for a pay rise, Alice reports that Kat would tell them that this was a psychological issue and that actually they had safety, for instance they could move back in with their parents, so they didn’t need to worry.

Alice also reports that she was explicitly advised by Kat Woods to cry and look cute when asking Emerson Spartz for a salary improvement, in order to get the salary improvement that she wanted, and was told this was a reliable way to get things from Emerson. (Alice reports that she did not follow this advice.)

Many other strong personal costs

Alice quit being vegan while working there. She was sick with covid in a foreign country, with only the three Nonlinear cofounders around, but nobody in the house was willing to go out and get her vegan food, so she barely ate for 2 days. Alice eventually gave in and ate non-vegan food in the house. She also said that the Nonlinear cofounders marked her quitting veganism as a ‘win’, as they thad been arguing that she should not be vegan.

(Nonlinear disputes this, and says that they did go out and buy her some vegan burgers food and had some vegan food in the house. They agree that she quit being vegan at this time, and say it was because being vegan was unusually hard due to being in Puerto Rico. Alice disputes that she received any vegan burgers.)

Alice said that this generally matched how she and Chloe were treated in the house, as people generally not worth spending time on, because they were ‘low value’ (i.e. in terms of their hourly wage), and that they were the people who had to do chores around the house (e.g. Alice was still asked to do house chores during the period where she was sick and not eating).

By the same reasoning, the employees reported that they were given 100% of the menial tasks around the house (cleaning, tidying, etc) due to their lower value of time to the company. For instance, if a cofounder spilled food in the kitchen, the employees would clean it up. This was generally reported as feeling very demeaning.

Alice and Chloe reported a substantial conflict within the household between Kat and Alice. Alice was polyamorous, and she and Drew entered into a casual romantic relationship. Kat previously had a polyamorous marriage that ended in divorce, and is now monogamously partnered with Emerson. Kat reportedly told Alice that she didn't mind polyamory "on the other side of the world”, but couldn't stand it right next to her, and probably either Alice would need to become monogamous or Alice should leave the organization. Alice didn't become monogamous. Alice reports that Kat became increasingly cold over multiple months, and was very hard to work with.[7]

Alice reports then taking a vacation to visit her family, and trying to figure out how to repair the relationship with Kat. Before she went on vacation, Kat requested that Alice bring a variety of illegal drugs across the border for her (some recreational, some for productivity). Alice argued that this would be dangerous for her personally, but Emerson and Kat reportedly argued that it is not dangerous at all and was “absolutely risk-free”. Privately, Drew said that Kat would “love her forever” if she did this. I bring this up as an example of the sorts of requests that Kat/Emerson/Drew felt comfortable making during Alice’s time there.

Chloe was hired by Nonlinear with the intent to have them do executive assistant tasks for Nonlinear (this is the job ad they responded to). After being hired and flying out, Chloe was informed that on a daily basis their job would involve driving e.g. to get groceries when they were in different countries. She explained that she didn’t have a drivers’ license and didn’t know how to drive. Kat/Emerson proposed that Chloe learn to drive, and Drew gave her some driving lessons. When Chloe learned to drive well enough in parking lots, she said she was ready to get her license, but she discovered that she couldn’t get a license in a foreign country. Kat/Emerson/Drew reportedly didn’t seem to think that mattered or was even part of the plan, and strongly encouraged Chloe to just drive without a license to do their work, so she drove ~daily for 1-2 months without a license. (I think this involved physical risks for the employee and bystanders, and also substantial risks of being in jail in a foreign country. Also, Chloe basically never drove Emerson/Drew/Kat, this was primarily solo driving for daily errands.) Eventually Chloe had a minor collision with a street post, and was a bit freaked out because she had no idea what the correct protocols were. She reported that Kat/Emerson/Drew didn’t think that this was a big deal, but that Alice (who she was on her way to meet) could clearly see that Chloe was distressed by this, and Alice drove her home, and Chloe then decided to stop driving.

(Car accidents are the second most common cause of death for people in their age group. Insofar as they were pressured to do this and told that this was safe, I think this involved a pretty cavalier disregard for the safety of the person who worked for them.)

Chloe talked to a friend of hers (who is someone I know fairly well, and was the first person to give me a negative report about Nonlinear), reporting that they were very depressed. When Chloe described her working conditions, her friend was horrified, and said she had to get out immediately since, in their words, “this was clearly an abusive situation”. The friend offered to pay for flights out of the country, and tried to convince her to quit immediately. Eventually Chloe made a commitment to book a flight by a certain date and then followed through with that.

Lax on legalities and adversarial business practices

I did not find the time to write much here. For now I’ll simply pass on my impressions.

I generally got a sense from speaking with many parties that Emerson Spartz and Kat Woods respectively have very adversarial and very lax attitudes toward legalities and bureaucracies, with the former trying to do as little as possible that is asked of him. If I asked them to fill out paperwork I would expect it was filled out at least reluctantly and plausibly deceptively or adversarially in some way. In my current epistemic state, I would be actively concerned about any project in the EA or x-risk ecosystems that relied on Nonlinear doing any accounting or having a reliable legal structure that has had the basics checked.

Personally, if I were giving Nonlinear funds for any project whatsoever, including for regranting, I’d expect it’s quite plausible (>20%) that they didn’t spend the funds on what they told me, and instead will randomly spend it on some other project. If I had previously funded Nonlinear for any projects, I would be keen to ask Nonlinear for receipts to show whether they spent their funds in accordance with what they said they would.

This is not a complete list

I want to be clear that this is not a complete list of negative or concerning experiences, this is an illustrative list. There are many other things that I was told about that I am not including here due to factors like length and people’s privacy (on all sides). Also I split them up into the categories as I see them; someone else might make a different split.

Perspectives From Others Who Have Worked or Otherwise Been Close With Nonlinear

I had hoped to work this into a longer section of quotes, but it seemed like too much back-and-forth with lots of different people. I encourage folks to leave comments with their relevant impressions.

For now I’ll summarize some of what I learned as follows:

  • Several people gave reports consistent with Alice and Chloe being very upset and distressed both during and after their time at Nonlinear, and reaching out for help, and seeming really strongly to want to get away from Nonlinear.
  • Some unpaid interns (who worked remotely for Nonlinear for 1-3 months) said that they regretted not getting paid, and that when they brought it up with Kat Woods she said some positive sounding things and they expected she would get back to them about it, but that never happened during the rest of their internships.
  • Many people who visited had fine experiences with Nonlinear, others felt much more troubled by the experience.
  • One person said to me about Emerson/Drew/Kat:
    • "My subjective feeling is like 'they seemed to be really bad and toxic people'. And they at the same time have a decent amount of impact. After I interacted repeatedly with them I was highly confused about the dilemma of people who are mistreating other people, but are doing some good."
  • Another person said about Emerson:
    • “He seems to think he’s extremely competent, a genius, and that everyone else is inferior to him. They should learn everything they can from him, he has nothing to learn from them. He said things close to this explicitly. Drew and (to a lesser extent) Kat really bought into him being the new messiah.”
  • One person who has worked for Kat Woods (not Alice or Chloe) said the following:
    • I love her as a person, hate her as a boss. She’s fun, has a lot of ideas, really good socialite, and I think that that speaks to how she’s able to get away with a lot of things. Able to wear different masks in different places. She’s someone who’s easy to trust, easy to build social relationships with. I’d be suspicious of anyone who gives a reference who’s never been below Kat in power.
    • Ben: Do you think Kat is emotionally manipulative?
    • I think she is. I think it’s a fine line about what makes an excellent entrepreneur. Do whatever it takes to get a deal signed. To get it across the line. Depends a lot on what the power dynamics are, whether it’s a problem or not. If people are in equal power structures it’s less of a problem.

There were other informative conversations that I won’t summarize. I encourage folks who have worked with or for Nonlinear to comment with their perspective.

Conversation with Nonlinear

After putting the above together, I got permission from Alice and Chloe to publish, and to share the information I had learned as I saw fit. So I booked a call with Nonlinear, sent them a long list of concerns, and talked with Emerson, Kat and Drew for ~3 hours to hear them out.

Paraphrasing Nonlinear

On the call, they said their primary intention in the call was to convince me that Alice is a bald-faced liar. They further said they’re terrified of Alice making false claims about them, and that she is in a powerful position to hurt them with false accusations.

Afterwards, I wrote up a paraphrase of their responses. I shared it with Emerson and he replied that it was a “Good summary!”. Below is the paraphrase of their perspective on things that I sent them, with one minor edit for privacy. (The below is written as though Nonlinear is speaking, but to be clear this 100% my writing.)

  • We hired one person, and kind-of-technically-hired a second person. In doing so, our intention wasn't just to have employees, but also to have members of our family unit who we traveled with and worked closely together with in having a strong positive impact in the world, and were very personally close with.
  • We nomadically traveled the globe. This can be quite lonely so we put a lot of work into bringing people to us, often having visitors in our house who we supported with flights and accommodation. This probably wasn't perfect but in general we'd describe the environment as "quite actively social".
  • For the formal employee, she responded to a job ad, we interviewed her, and it all went the standard way. For the gradually-employed employee, we initially just invited her to travel with us and co-work, as she seemed like a successful entrepreneur and aligned in terms of our visions for improving the world. Over time she quit her existing job and we worked on projects together and were gradually bringing her into our organization.
  • We wanted to give these employees a pretty standard amount of compensation, but also mostly not worry about negotiating minor financial details as we traveled the world. So we covered basic rent/groceries/travel for these people. On top of that, to the formal employee we gave a $1k/month salary, and to the semi-formal employee we eventually did the same too. For the latter employee, we roughly paid her ~$8k over the time she worked with us.
  • From our perspective, the gradually-hired employees gave a falsely positive impression of their financial and professional situation, suggesting they'd accomplished more than they had and were earning more than they had. They ended up being fairly financially dependent on us and we didn't expect that.
  • Eventually, after about 6-8 months each, both employees quit. Overall this experiment went poorly from our perspective and we're not going to try it in future.
  • For the formal employee, we're a bit unsure about why exactly she quit, even though we did do exit interviews with her. She said she didn't like a lot of the menial work (which is what we hired her for), but didn't say that money was the problem. We think it is probably related to everyone getting Covid and being kind of depressed around that time.
  • For the other employee, relations got bad for various reasons. She ended up wanting total control of the org she was incubating with us, rather than 95% control as we'd discussed, but that wasn't on the table (the org had $250k dedicated to it that we'd raised!), and so she quit.
  • When she was leaving, we were financially supportive. On the day we flew back from the Bahamas to London, we paid all our outstanding reimbursements (~$2900). We also offered to pay for her to have a room in London for a week as she got herself sorted out. We also offered her rooms with our friends if she promised not to tell them lies about us behind our backs.
  • After she left, we believe she told a lot of lies and inaccurate stories about us. For instance, two people we talked to had the impression that we either paid her $0 or $500, which is demonstrably false. Right now we're pretty actively concerned that she is telling lots of false stories in order to paint us in a negative light, because the relationship didn't work out and she didn't get control over her org (and because her general character seems drama-prone).

There were some points around the experiences of these employees that we want to respond to.

  • First; the formal employee drove without a license for 1-2 months in Puerto Rico. We taught her to drive, which she was excited about. You might think this is a substantial legal risk, but basically it isn't, as you can see here, the general range of fines for issues around not-having-a-license in Puerto Rico is in the range of $25 to $500, which just isn't that bad.
  • Second; the semi-employee said that she wasn't supported in getting vegan food when she was sick with Covid, and this is why she stopped being vegan. This seems also straightforwardly inaccurate, we brought her potatoes, vegan burgers, and had vegan food in the house. We had been advising her to 80/20 being a vegan and this probably also weighed on her decision.
  • Third; the semi-employee was also asked to bring some productivity-related and recreational drugs over the border for us. In general we didn't push hard on this. For one, this is an activity she already did (with other drugs). For two, we thought it didn't need prescription in the country she was visiting, and when we found out otherwise, we dropped it. And for three, she used a bunch of our drugs herself, so it's not fair to say that this request was made entirely selfishly. I think this just seems like an extension of the sorts of actions she's generally open to.

Finally, multiple people (beyond our two in-person employees) told Ben they felt frightened or freaked out by some of the business tactics in the stories Emerson told them. To give context and respond to that:

  • I, Emerson, have had a lot of exceedingly harsh and cruel business experience, including getting tricked or stabbed-in-the-back. Nonetheless, I have often prevailed in these difficult situations, and learned a lot of hard lessons about how to act in the world.
  • The skills required to do so seem to me lacking in many of the earnest-but-naive EAs that I meet, and I would really like them to learn how to be strong in this way. As such, I often tell EAs these stories, selecting for the most cut-throat ones, and sometimes I try to play up the harshness of how you have to respond to the threats. I think of myself as playing the role of a wise old mentor who has had lots of experience, telling stories to the young adventurers, trying to toughen them up, somewhat similar to how Prof Quirrell[8] toughens up the students in HPMOR through teaching them Defense Against the Dark Arts, to deal with real monsters in the world.
  • For instance, I tell people about my negotiations with Adorian Deck about the OMGFacts brand and Twitter account. We signed a good deal, but a California technicality meant he could pull from it and take my whole company, which is a really illegitimate claim. They wouldn't talk with me, so I was working with top YouTubers to make some videos publicizing and exposing his bad behavior. This got him back to the negotiation table and we worked out a deal where he got $10k/month for seven years, which is not a shabby deal, and meant that I got to keep my company!
  • It had been reported to Ben that Emerson said he would be willing to go into legal gray areas in order to "crush his enemies" (if they were acting in very reprehensible and norm-violating ways). Emerson thinks this has got to be a misunderstanding, that he was talking about what other people might do to you, which is a crucial thing to discuss and model.

(Here I cease pretending-to-be-Nonlinear and return to my own voice.)

My thoughts on the ethics and my takeaways

Summary of My Epistemic State

Here are my probabilities for a few high-level claims relating to Alice and Chloe’s experiences working at Nonlinear.

  • Emerson Spartz employs more vicious and adversarial tactics in conflicts than 99% of the people active in the EA/x-risk/AI Safety communities: 95%
  • Alice and Chloe were more dependent on their bosses (combining financial, social, and legally) than employees are at literally every other organization I am aware of in the EA/x-risk/AI Safety ecosystem: 85%[9]
  • In working at Nonlinear Alice and Chloe were both took on physical and legal risks that they strongly regretted, were hurt emotionally, came away financially worse off, gained ~no professional advancement from their time at Nonlinear, and took several months after the experience to recover: 90%
  • Alice and Chloe both had credible reason to be very scared of retaliation for sharing negative information about their work experiences, far beyond that experienced at any other org in the EA/x-risk/AI Safety ecosystem: 85%[10]

General Comments From Me

Going forward I think anyone who works with Kat Woods, Emerson Spartz, or Drew Spartz, should sign legal employment contracts, and make sure all financial agreements are written down in emails and messages that the employee has possession of. I think all people considering employment by the above people at any non-profits they run should take salaries where money is wired to their bank accounts, and not do unpaid work or work that is compensated by ways that don’t primarily include a salary being wired to their bank accounts.

I expect that if Nonlinear does more hiring in the EA ecosystem it is more-likely-than-not to chew up and spit out other bright-eyed young EAs who want to do good in the world. I relatedly think that the EA ecosystem doesn’t have reliable defenses against such predators. These are not the first, nor sadly the last, bright-eyed well-intentioned people who I expect to be taken advantage of and hurt in the EA/x-risk/AI safety ecosystem, as a result of falsely trusting high-status people at EA events to be people who will treat them honorably.

(Personal aside: Regarding the texts from Kat Woods shown above — I have to say, if you want to be allies with me, you must not write texts like these. A lot of bad behavior can be learned from, fixed, and forgiven, but if you take actions to prevent me from being able to learn that the bad behavior is even going on, then I have to always be worried that something far worse is happening that I’m not aware of, and indeed I have been quite shocked to discover how bad people’s experiences were working for Nonlinear.)

My position is not greatly changed by the fact that Nonlinear is overwhelmingly confident that Alice is a “bald-faced liar”. From my current perspective, they probably have some legitimate grievances against her, but that in no way makes it less costly to our collective epistemology to incentivize her to not share her own substantial grievances. I think the magnitude of the costs they imposed on their employees-slash-new-family are far higher than I or anyone I know would have expected was happening, and they intimidated both Alice and Chloe into silence about those costs. If it were only Alice then I would give this perspective a lot more thought/weight, but Chloe reports a lot of the same dynamics and similar harms.

To my eyes, the people involved were genuinely concerned about retaliation for saying anything negative about Nonlinear, including the workplace/household dynamics and how painful their experiences had been for them. That’s a red line in my book, and I will not personally work with Nonlinear in the future because of it, and I recommend their exclusion from any professional communities that wish to keep up the standard of people not being silenced about extremely negative work experiences. “First they came for the epistemology. We don't know what happened after that.

Specifically, the things that cross my personal lines for working with someone or viewing them as an ally:

  • Kat Woods attempted to offer someone who was really hurting, and in a position of strong need, very basic resources with the requirement of not saying bad things about her.
  • Kat Woods’ texts that read to me as a veiled threat to destroy someone’s career for sharing negative information about her.
  • Emerson Spartz reportedly telling multiple people he will use questionably legal methods in order to crush his enemies (such as spurious lawsuits and that he would hire a stalker to freak someone out).
  • Both employees were actively afraid that Emerson Spartz would retaliate and potentially using tactics like spurious lawsuits and further things that are questionably legal, and generally try to destroy their careers and leave them with no resources. It seems to me (given the other reports I’ve heard from visitors) that Emerson behaved in a way that quite understandably led them to this epistemic state, and I consider that to be his responsibility to not give his employees this impression.

I think in almost any functioning professional ecosystem, there should be some general principles like:

  • If you employ someone, after they work for you, unless they've done something egregiously wrong or unethical, they should be comfortable continuing to work and participate in this professional ecosystem.
  • If you employ someone, after they work for you, they should feel comfortable talking openly about their experience working with you to others in this professional ecosystem.

Any breaking of the first rule is very costly, and any breaking of the second rule is by-default a red-line for me not being willing to work with you.

I do think that there was a nearby world where Alice, having run out of money, gave in and stayed at Nonlinear, begging them for money, and becoming a fully dependent and subservient house pet — a world where we would not have learned the majority of this information. I think we're not that far from that world, I think a weaker person than Alice might have never quit, and it showed a lot of strength to quit at the point where you have ~no runway left and you have heard the above stories about the kinds of things Emerson Spartz considers doing to former business partners that he is angry with.

I’m very grateful to the two staff members involved for coming forward and eventually spending dozens of hours clarifying and explaining their experiences to me and others who were interested. To compensate them for their courage, the time and effort spent to talk with me and explain their experiences at some length, and their permission to allow me to publish a lot of this information, I (using personal funds) am going to pay them each $5,000 after publishing this post.

I think that whistleblowing is generally a difficult experience, with a lot riding on the fairly personal account from fallible human beings. It’s neither the case that everything reported should be accepted without question, nor that if some aspect is learned to be exaggerated or misreported that the whole case should be thrown out. I plan to reply to further questions here in the comments, I also encourage everyone involved to comment insofar as they wish to answer questions or give their own perspective on what happened.


This is a list of edits made post-publication.

  1. "Alice worked there from November 2021 to June 2022" became "Alice travelled with Nonlinear from November 2021 to June 2022 and started working for the org from around February" 
  2. "using Lightcone funds" became "using personal funds"
  3. "I see clear reasons to think that Kat, Emerson and Drew intimidated these people" became "I see clear reasons to think that Kat and Emerson intimidated these people".
  1. ^

    In a later conversation, Kat clarified that the actual amount discussed was $70k.

  2. ^

    Comment from Chloe: 

    In my resignation conversation with Kat, I was worried about getting into a negotiation conversation where I wouldn’t have strong enough reasons to leave. To avoid this, I started off by saying that my decision to quit is final, and not an ultimatum that warrants negotiation of what would make me want to stay. I did offer to elaborate on the reasons for why I was leaving. As I was explaining my reasons, she still insisted on offering me solutions to things I would say I wanted, to see if that would make me change my mind anyway.  One of the reasons I listed was the lack of financial freedom in not having my salary be paid out as a salary which I could allocate towards decisions like choices in accommodation for myself, as well as meals and travel decisions. She wanted to know how much I wanted to be paid. I kept evading the question since it seemed to tackle the wrong part of the problem. Eventually I quoted back the number I had heard her reference to when she’d talk about what my salary is equivalent to, suggesting that if they’d pay out the 75k as a salary instead of the compensation package, then that would in theory solve the salary issue. There was a miscommunication around her believing that I wanted that to be paid out on top of the living expenses - I wanted financial freedom and a legal salary. I believe the miscommunication stems from me mentioning that salaries are more expensive for employers to pay out as they also have to pay tax on the salaries, e.g. social benefits, pension (depending on the country). Kat was surprised to hear that and understood it as me wanting a 75k salary before taxes. I do not remember that conversation concluding with her thinking I wanted everything paid for and also 75k.  

  3. ^

    Note that Nonlinear and Alice gave conflicting reports about which month she started getting paid, February vs April. It was hard for me to check as it’s not legally recorded and there’s lots of bits of monetary payments unclearly coded between them.

  4. ^

    Comment from one of the employees: 

    I had largely moved on from the subject and left the past behind when Ben started researching it to write a piece with his thoughts on it. I was very reluctant at first (and frightened at the mere thought), and frankly, will probably continue to be. I did not agree to post this publicly with any kind of malice, rest assured. The guiding thought here is, as Ben asked, "What would you tell your friend if they wanted to start working for this organization?" I would want my friend to be able to make their own independent decision, having read about my experience and the experiences of others who have worked there. My main goal is to create a world where we can all work together towards a safe, long and prosperous future, and anything that takes away from that (like conflict and drama) is bad and I have generally avoided it. Even when I was working at Nonlinear, I remember saying several times that I just wanted to work on what was important and didn't want to get involved in their interpersonal drama. But it's hard for me to imagine a future where situations like that are just overlooked and other people get hurt when it could have been stopped or flagged before. I want to live in a world where everyone is safe and cared for. For most of my life I have avoided learning about anything to do with manipulation, power frameworks and even personality disorders. By avoiding them, I also missed the opportunity to protect myself and others from dangerous situations. Knowledge is the best defense against any kind of manipulation or abuse, so I strongly recommend informing yourself about it, and advising others to do so too. 

  5. ^

    This is something Alice showed me was written in her notes from the time.

  6. ^

    I do not mean to make a claim here about who was in the right in that conflict. And somewhat in Emerson’s defense, I think some of people’s most aggressive behavior comes out when they themselves have just been wronged — I expect this is more extreme behavior than he would typically respond with. Nonetheless, it seems to me that there was reportedly a close, mentoring relationship — Emerson’s tumblr post on the situation says “I loved Adorian Deck” in the opening paragraph — but that later Emerson reportedly became bitter and nasty in order to win the conflict, involving threatening to overwhelm someone with lawsuits and legal costs, and figure out the best way to use their formerly close relationship to hurt them emotionally, and reportedly gave this as an example of good business strategy. I think this sort of story somewhat justifiably left people working closely with Emerson very worried about the sort of retaliation he might carry out if they were ever in a conflict, or he were to ever view them as an ‘enemy’.

  7. ^

    After this, there were further reports of claims of Kat professing her romantic love for Alice, and also precisely opposite reports of Alice professing her romantic love for Kat. I am pretty confused about what happened.

  8. ^

    Note that during our conversation, Emerson brought up HPMOR and the Quirrell similarity, not me.

  9. ^

    With the exception of some FTX staff.

  10. ^

    One of the factors lowering my number here is that I’m not quite sure what the dynamics are like at places like Anthropic and OpenAI — who have employees sign non-disparagement clauses, and are involved in geopolitics — or whether they would even be included. I also could imagine finding out that various senior people at CEA/EV are terrified of information coming out about them. Also note that I am not including Leverage Research in this assessment.


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On behalf of Chloe and in her own words, here’s a response that might illuminate some pieces that are not obvious from Ben’s post - as his post is relying on more factual and object-level evidence, rather than the whole narrative.

“Before Ben published, I found thinking about or discussing my experiences very painful, as well as scary - I was never sure with whom it was safe sharing any of this with. Now that it’s public, it feels like it’s in the past and I’m able to talk about it. Here are some of my experiences I think are relevant to understanding what went on. They’re harder to back up with chatlog or other written evidence - take them as you want, knowing these are stories more than clearly backed up by evidence. I think people should be able to make up their own opinion on this, and I believe they should have the appropriate information to do so.

I want to emphasize *just how much* the entire experience of working for Nonlinear was them creating all kinds of obstacles, and me being told that if I’m clever enough I can figure out how to do these tasks anyway. It’s not actually about whether I had a contract and a salary (even then, the issue wasn’t the amount or even the legali... (read more)

I confirm that this is Chloe, who contacted me through our standard communication channels to say she was posting a comment today.

Repost from EA forum:

Thank you very much for sharing, Chloe.

Ben, Kat, Emerson, and readers of the original post have all noticed that the nature of Ben's process leads to selection against positive observations about Nonlinear. I encourage readers to notice that the reverse might also be true. Examples of selection against negative information include:

  1. Ben has reason to exclude stories that are less objective or have a less strong evidence base. The above comment is a concrete example of this.
    1. There's also something related here about the supposed unreliability of Alice as a source: Ben needs to include this to give a complete picture/because other people (in particular the Nonlinear co-founders) have said this. I strongly concur with Ben when he writes that he "found Alice very willing and ready to share primary sources [...] so I don’t believe her to be acting in bad faith." Personally, my impression is that people are making an incorrect inference about Alice from her characteristics (that are perhaps correlated with source-reliability in a large population, but aren't logically related, and aren't relevant in this case).
  2. To the extent that you expect other people to have been sile
... (read more)
0Thoth Hermes13d
It seems like a big part of this story is mainly about people who have relatively strict preferences kind of aggressively defending their territory and boundaries, and how when you have multiple people like this working together on relatively difficult tasks (like managing the logistics of travel), it creates an engine for lots of potential friction.  Furthermore, when you add the status hierarchy of a typical organization, combined with the social norms that dictate how people's preferences and rights ought to be respected (and implicit agreements being made about how people have chosen to sacrifice some of those rights for altruism's sake), you add even more fuel to the aforementioned engine. I think complaints such as these are probably okay to post, as long as everyone mentioned is afforded the right to update their behavior after enough time has passed to reflect and discuss these things (since actually negotiating what norms are appropriate here might end up being somewhat difficult). Edit: I want to clarify that when there is a situation in which people have conflicting preferences and boundaries as I described, I do personally feel that those in leadership positions / higher status probably bear the responsibility of satisfying their subordinates' preferences to their satisfaction, given that the higher status people are having their own higher, longer-term preferences satisfied with the help of their subordinates.  I don't want to make it seem as though the ones bringing the complaints are as equally responsible for this situation as the ones being complained about. 

think about how bad you expect the information would be if I selected for the worst, credible info I could share


Alright. Knowing nothing about Nonlinear or about Ben, but based on the rationalist milieu, then for an org that’s weird but basically fine I’d expect to see stuff like ex-employees alleging a nebulously “abusive” environment based on their own legitimately bad experiences and painting a gestalt picture that suggests unpleasant practices but without any smoking-gun allegations of really egregious concrete behavior (as distinct from very bad effects on the accusers); allegations of nepotism based on social connections between the org’s leadership and their funders or staff; accusations of shoddy or motivated research which require hours to evaluate; sources staying anonymous for fear of “retaliation” but without being able to point to any legible instances of retaliation or concrete threats to justify this; and/or thirdhand reports of lying or misdirection around complicated social situations.

[reads post]

This sure has a lot more allegations of very specific and egregious behavior than that, yeah.

Great prediction, I'm pleased that you said it. I'd also be curious to know specific parts that were most surprising to you reading the post, that didn't match up with this prediction.

  1. Offering a specific amount of pay, in cash and in kind, and then not doing the accounting to determine whether or not that amount was actually paid out. If I’m charitable to the point of gullibility, then this is unethical and culpable negligence. Probably it’s just fraud. (Assuming this allegation is true, of course, and AFAIK it is not yet disputed.)
  2. Screenshots of threats to retaliate for speaking up.

Thank you for taking the time to preregister your thoughts. This was great, and helpful for me to read.

Kudos for doing the exercise!

Going forward I think anyone who works with Kat Woods, Emerson Spartz, or Drew Spartz, should sign legal employment contracts, and make sure all financial agreements are written down in emails and messages that the employee has possession of. I think all people considering employment by the above people at any non-profits they run should take salaries where money is wired to their bank accounts, and not do unpaid work or work that is compensated by ways that don’t primarily include a salary being wired to their bank accounts.


While I have no knowledge of or views on the situation above, this is just a good thing to do in general?  Like, most sentences that begin with the phrase 'my boss, whose house I live at and who I have only a handshake agreement with on pay...' are not going to end well.

I have worked without legal contracts for people in EA I trust, and it has worked well.

Even if all the accusation of Nonlinear is true, I still have pretty high trust for people in EA or LW circles, such that I would probably agree to work with no formal contract again.

The reason I trust people in my ingroup is that if either of us screw over the other person, I expect the victim to tell their friends, which would ruin the reputation of the wrongdoer. For this reason both people have strong incentive to act in good faith. On top of that I'm wiling to take some risk to skip the paper work.

When I was a teenager I worked a bit under legally very sketch circumstances. They would send me to work in some warehouse for a few days, and draw up the contract for that work afterwards. Including me falsifying the date for my signature. This is not something I would have agreed to with a stranger, but the owner of my company was a friend of my parents, and I trusted my parents to slander them appropriately if they screwed me over. 

I think my point is that this is not something very uncommon, because doing everything by the book is so much overhead, and sometimes not worth it.

It think being... (read more)

I don't think making sure that no EA every give paid work to another EA, with out a formal contract, will help much


I feel like people are talking about written records like it's a huge headache, but they don't need to be. When freelancing I often negotiate verbally, then write an email with terms to the client., who can confirm or correct them. I don't start work until they've confirmed acceptance of some set of terms.  This has enough legal significance that it lowers my business insurance rates, and takes seconds if people are genuinely on the same page. 

What my lawyer parent taught me was that contracts can't prevent people from screwing you over. (which is impossible). At my scale and probably most cases described here, the purpose of a contract is to prevent misunderstandings between people of goodwill. And it's so easy to do notably better than nonlinear did here. 

6Linda Linsefors11d
This is a good point. I was thinking in terms of legal vs informal, not in terms of written vs verbal.  I agree that having something written down is basically always better. Both for clarity, as you say, and because peoples memories are not perfect. And it have the added bonus that if there is a conflict, you have something to refer back to.

(This is Duncan Sabien, logging in with the old Conor Moreton account b/c this feels important.)

While I think Linda's experience is valid, and probably more representative than mine, I want to balance it by pointing out that I deeply, deeply, deeply regret taking a(n explicit, unambiguous, crystal clear) verbal agreement, and not having a signed contract, with an org pretty central to the EA and rationality communities.  As a result of having the-kind-of-trust that Linda describes above, I got overtly fucked over to the tune of many thousands of dollars and many months of misery and confusion and alienation, and all of that would've been prevented by a simple written paragraph with two signatures at the bottom.

(Such a paragraph would've either prevented the agreement from being violated in the first place, or would at least have made the straightforward violation that occurred less of a thing that people could subsequently spin webs of fog and narrativemancy around, to my detriment.)

As for the bit about telling your friends and ruining the reputation of the wrongdoer ... this option was largely NOT available to me, for fear-of-reprisal reasons as well as not wanting to fuck up... (read more)

6Rob Bensinger12d
I was going to ask if I could! I understand if people don't want to talk about it, but I do feel sad that there isn't some kind of public accounting of what happened there. (Well, I don't concretely understand why people don't want to talk about it, but I can think of possibilities!)
2Linda Linsefors11d
Thanks for adding your perspective.  I agree with this.
7Daniel Wyrzykowski12d
The contract is signed for when bad things and disagreements happen, not for when everything is going good. In my opinion “I had no contract and everything was good” is not as good example as “we didn’t have a contract, had major disagreement, and everything still worked out” would be. Even though I hate bureaucracy and admin work and I prefer to skip as much as reasonable to move faster, my default is to have a written agreement, especially if working with a given person/org for the first time. Generally, the weaker party should have the final say on forgoing a contract. This is especially true the more complex and difficult situation is (eg. living/travelling together, being in romantic relationships). I agree with the general view that both signing and not signing have prons and cons and sometimes it's better to not sign and avoid the overhead.
2Rob Bensinger12d
Can I cross-post this to the EA Forum? (Or you can do it, if you prefer; but I think this is a really useful comment.)
2Linda Linsefors11d
I'm glad you liked it. You have my permission to cross post.

Yeah, this post makes me wonder if there are non-abusive employers in EA who are nevertheless enabling abusers by normalizing behavior that makes abuse popular. Employers who pay their employees months late without clarity on why and what the plan is to get people paid eventually. Employers who employ people without writing things down, like how much people will get paid and when. Employers who try to enforce non-disclosure of work culture and pay.

None of the things above are necessarily dealbreakers in the right context or environment, but when an employer does those things they are making it difficult to distinguish themself from an abusive employer, and also enabling abusive employers because they're not obviously doing something nonstandard. This is highlighted by:

I relatedly think that the EA ecosystem doesn’t have reliable defenses against such predators.

If EAs want to have defenses, against these predators, they have to act in such a way that the early red flags here (not paid on time, no contracts just verbal agreements) are actually serious red flags by having non-abusive employers categorically not engage in them, and having more established EA employees react in horror if they hear about this happening.

9Rob Bensinger16d
Do any of those things happen much in EA? (I don't think I've ever heard of an example of one of those things outside of Nonlinear, but maybe I'm out of the loop.)

CEA was pretty bad at this a few years ago, although I'm told they've improved. Things like forgetting to pay contractors, inconsistent about what expenses were reimbursable, even having people start trials without settling on salary.

Last year SERI MATS was pretty late on many people’s stipends, though my understanding is they were just going through some growing pains during that time, and they’re on the ball nowadays.

4Leon Lang16d
(Fwiw, I don’t remember problems with stipend payout at seri mats in the winter program. I was a winter scholar 2022/23.)
8Garrett Baker16d
Yes. This was mats 2.0 in the summer of 2022.
Yeah, to be clear I don't have any information to suggest that the above is happening—I don't work in EA circles—except for the fact that Ben said the EA ecosystem doesn't have defenses against this happening, and that is one of the defenses I expect to exist.

Haha, I like your edit. I do think there are exceptions — for instance if you are independently wealthy, you might take no salary, and I expect startups cofounders have high-trust non-legal agreements while they're still getting started. But I think that trust is lost for Kat/Emerson/Drew and I would expect anyone in that relationship to regret it. And in general I agree it's a good heuristic.

Why include Drew?

I think if you are a cofounder of a organization and have a front row seat, that even if you were not directly doing the worst things, I want hold you culpable for not noticing or intervening.

Just FYI Drew is not a cofounder of Nonlinear. That is another inaccurate claim from the article. He did not join full time until April 2022.

Which part of the post claims that? The post seems to say the opposite:  There might be another part that does refer to Drew as a co-founder, but I can't find anything of that sort.

"Alice quit being vegan while working there. She was sick with covid in a foreign country, with only the three Nonlinear cofounders around, but nobody in the house was willing to go out and get her vegan food, so she barely ate for 2 days."

Seems like other people besides Ruby are confused about this too, maybe also because Ben sometimes says "the Nonlinear cofounders" and Emerson/Kat/Drew

A source of terminological confusion here is that Lightcone team often internally uses the word cofounder to mean ‘person with a very strong investment and generalist skill set, who takes responsibility in a particular way’. Ie have used it to refer to multiple people on the Lightcone team who didn’t literally found the org but are pretty deeply involved. The crux for me with Drew, and I assume with Ruby/Ben, is ‘does he have that kind of relationship with the org?’, rather than ‘did he literally cofound the org’. I do think this terminology is probably confusing for other readers, and seems good to correct, although I would guess not actually misleading in an way that’s particularly relevant for most people's assessment of the situation.

I think it is not correct to refer to a person of a "cofounder" of an org because they seem to be a generalist taking responsibility for the org, if they did not actually co-found the org and are not referred to as a cofounder by the org.

This seems like a simple error / oversight, rather than a deliberate choice. 

But I definitely don't feel like the assessment of "this person was in a defacto cofounder role, in practice, so it's not a big deal if we call them a cofounder" holds water. 

FWIW, I also don't think this holds water, and at least I don't use co-founder this way these days (though maybe Ray does). The LessWrong/Lightcone team developed very gradually, and I think it's reasonable to call the people who came on board in like the first 1-2 years of existence of the project co-founders, since it grew gradually and as a fiscally sponsored nonprofit we never went through a formal incorporation step that would have formalized equity shares in the same clear way, but I think while it might make sense to call anyone coming on later than that some title that emphasizes that they have a lot of responsibility and stake in the organization, it doesn't IMO make sense to refer to them as a "co-founder".

I’m not arguing that this usage is good, I just think it’s the usage Ben and Ruby were implicitly using. I’m guessing Drew is in a role that is closer to me, Jim or Ruby, which was a time period you were explicitly calling us cofounders. Which it sounds like you still endorse?
(To be clear I agree the word is misleading here, and Ben should probably edit the word to something clearer. I also don’t really think it made sense for the Lightcone team to talk about itself having 5 cofounders, which I think we explicitly did at the time. I was just noting the language-usage-difference. But also this doesn’t seem cruxy to me about the substance of the claim that “Drew was involved enough that he had some obligation to notice if fishy things were going on, even if they weren’t explicitly his responsibility”)
I don't think I would call Jim or Ruby cofounders, especially in any public setting. I do think to set expectations for what it's like to work with me on LessWrong, back then, I would frequently say something like "cofounder level stake and responsibility", though I think that has definitely shifted over time.
In practice I don’t think there was any pump against linguistic drift to abbreviate ‘cofounder level responsibility’ to ‘cofounder’.
7Joel Becker13d
I have this opposing consideration. I think it does speak to your point -- I gather that part of the reason Alice and Chloe feel this way is that Drew did try to be helpful with respect to their concerns, at least to whatever degree was required for them to ask for him to be shielded from professional consequences. Here's another (in my view weaker, but perhaps more directly relevant to your point) consideration. To the extent you believe that Nonlinear has been a disfunctional environment, in significant part due to domineering characteristics of senior staff, I think that you should also believe that a junior family member beginning to work in this environment is going to have a hard time reasoning through and pushing back against it. Happy to expand.
As I understand it – with my only source being Ben's post and a couple of comments that I've read – Drew is also a cofounder of Nonlinear. Also, this was reported: So, based on what we're told, there was romantic entanglement between the employers – Drew included – and Alice, and such relationships, even in the best-case scenario, need to be handled with a lot of caution, and this situation seems to be significantly worse than a best-case scenario.

My understanding (definitely fallible, but I’ve been quite engaged in this case, and am one of the people Ben interviewed) has been that Alice and Chloe are not concerned about this, and in fact that they both wish to insulate Drew from any negative consequences. This seems to me like an informative and important consideration. (It also gives me reason to think that the benefits of gaining more information about this are less likely to be worth the costs.)

This seems like a potentially downstream issue of rationalist/EA organizations ignoring a few Chesterton Fences that are really important, and one of those Chesterton Fences is not having dating/romantic relationships in the employment context if there is any power asymmetry issues. These can easily lead to abuse or worse issues. In general, one impression I get from a lot of rationalist/EA organizations is that there are very few boundaries between work, romantic/dating and potentially living depending on the organization, and the ones it does have are either much too illegible and high context, especially social context, and/or are way too porous, in that they can be easily violated. Yes, there are no preformed Cartesian boundaries that we can use, but that doesn't stop us from at least forming approximate boundaries and enforcing them, and while legible norms are never fun and have their costs, I do think that the benefits of legible norms, especially epistemically legible norms in the dating/romantic scene, especially in an employment context are very, very high value, so much that I think the downsides aren't enough to say that it's bad overall to enforce legible norms around dating/romantic relationships in the employment context. I'd say somewhat similar things around legible norms on living situations, pay etc.

Seems like some rationalists have a standard solution to Chesterton's Fence: "Yes, I absolutely understand why the fence is there. It was built for stupid people. Since I am smart, the same rules obviously do not apply to me."

And when later something bad happens (quite predictably, the outside view would say), the lesson they take seems to be: "Well, apparently those people were not smart enough or didn't do their research properly. Unlike me. So this piece of evidence does not apply to me."


I actually often agree with the first part. It's just that it is easy to overestimate one's own smartness. Especially because it isn't a single thing, and people can be e.g. very smart at math, and maybe average (i.e. not even stupid, just not exceptionally smart either) in human relations. Also, collective wisdom can be aware of rare but highly negative outcomes, which seem unlikely to you, because they are, in fact, rare.

What makes my blood boil is the second part. If you can't predict ahead who will turn out "apparently not that smart" and you only say it in hindsight after the bad thing has already happened, it means you are just making excuses to ignore the evidence. Even if, hypothetically speaking, you are the smartest person and the rules truly do not apply to you, it is still highly irresponsible to promote this behavior among rationalists in general (because you know that a fraction of them will later turn out to be "not that smart" and will get hurt, even if that fraction may not include you).

2Eli Tyre15d
What are you imagining when you say "promote this behavior"? Writing lesswrong posts in favor? Choosing to live that way yourself? Privately recommending that people do that? Not commenting when other people say that they're planning to do something that violates the Chesterton's fence?

The example I had mostly in mind was experimenting with drugs. I think there were no posts on LW in favor of this, but it gets a lot of defense in comments. Like when someone mentions in some debate that they know rationalists who have overdosed, or who went crazy after experimenting with drugs, someone else always publicly objects against collectively taking the lesson.

If people do stupid things in private, that can't (and arguably shouldn't) be prevented.

-2Adam Zerner12d
There were various suspicious/bad things Drew did. Viewed in isolation, that could have a wide spectrum of explanations. Maybe we could call it weak-to-moderate evidence in favor of him being "bad". But then we have to factor in the choice he's made to kinda hang around Emerson and Kat for this long. If we suppose[1] that we are very confident that Emerson and Kat are very bad people who've done very bad things, then, well, that doesn't reflect very favorably on Drew. I think it is moderate-to-strong evidence that Drew is "bad". 1. ^ If you don't believe this, then of course it wouldn't make sense to view his hanging around Emerson and Kat as evidence of him being "bad".

To "there were various suspicious/bad things Drew did," I would reply:

I have this opposing consideration. [...] I gather that part of the reason Alice and Chloe feel this way is that Drew did try to be helpful with respect to their concerns, at least to whatever degree was required for them to ask for him to be shielded from professional consequences.

and, to "the choice he's made to kinda hang around Emerson and Kat for this long," I would reply:

To the extent you believe that Nonlinear has been a disfunctional environment, in significant part due to domineering characteristics of senior staff, I think that you should also believe that a junior family member beginning to work in this environment is going to have a hard time reasoning through and pushing back against it.

0Adam Zerner11d
Successfully pushing back against is certainly difficult. Instead, I would expect, in general, Good Person to not have a very strong relationship with their brother, Bad Person, in the first place, and either not end up working with them or quitting once they started working with them and observed various bad things.

FWIW I’ve never known a character of high integrity who I could imagine writing the phrase “your career in EA would be over with a few DMs”.

While I guess I will be trying to withhold some judgment out of principle, I legitimately cannot imagine any plausible context which will make this any different.

Since I was curious and it wasn't ctrl-F-able, I'll post the immediate context here:

Maybe it didn't seem like it to you that it's shit-talking, but others in the community are viewing it that way. It's unprofessional - companies do not hire people who speak ill of their previous employer - and also extremely hurtful 😔. We're all on the same team here. Let's not let misunderstandings escalate further.

This is a very small community. Given your past behavior, if we were to do the same to you, your career in EA would be over with a few DMs, but we aren't going to do that because we care about you and we need you to help us save the world.

3Emerson Spartz17d
Indeed, without context that is a cartoon villain thing to say. Not asking you to believe us, yet just asking you to withhold judgment until you've seen the evidence we have which will make that message seem very different in context.
How complicated is providing context for that without a week of work on your side? The only plausible exculpatory context I can imagine is something akin to: "If somebody sent me a text like this, I would sever all contact with them, so I'm providing it as an example of what I consider to be unacceptable." I fail to see how hard it is to explain why the claims are false now and then provide detailed receipts within the week. I don't know any of the parties involved here, but the Nonlinear side seems pretty fishy so far.

So, I'm new here, and apparently, I've misunderstood something. My comment didn't seem all that controversial to me, but it's been down-voted by everybody who gave it a vote. Can somebody pass me a clue as to why there is strong disagreement with my statement? Thanks.

6Adam Zerner16d
I think that if a comment gets lots and lots of eyes on it, the upvotes and agreement votes will end up being reasonable enough. But I think there are other situations (not uncommon) where there are not enough eyes on it and the vote counts are unreasonable. I also think that there is a risk of unreasonable vote counts even once there are lots of eyes on the comment in question in situations like these where the dynamics are particularly mind-killing. For your comment, I don't see anything downvote worthy. My best guess is that the downvoters didn't think you were being charitable enough. Personally I think the belief that you were being uncharitable enough to justify a downvote is pretty unreasonable.
As of now, the votes are positive. I guess it sometimes happens that some people like your comment, some people don't like it, and the ones who don't like it just noticed it first. (By the way, I mostly agree with the spirit of your comment, but I think you used too strong words. So I didn't vote either way. For example, as mentioned elsewhere, a good reason to wait for a week might be that the "context" is someone else's words, and you want to get their consent to publish the record. Also, the conclusion that "the Nonlinear side seems pretty fishy" is like... yeah, I suppose that most readers feel the same, but the debate is precisely about whether Nonlinear can produce in a week some context that will make it seem "less fishy". They would probably agree that the text as it is written now does not put them in good light.)
-5Adam Zerner16d

This is a pretty complex epistemic/social situation. I care a lot about our community having some kind of good process of aggregating information, allowing individuals to integrate it, and update, and decide what to do with it.

I think a lot of disagreements in the comments here and on EAF stem from people having an implicit assumption that the conversation here is about "should [any particular person in this article] be socially punished?". In my preferred world, before you get to that phase there should be at least some period focused on "information aggregation and Original Seeing."

It's pretty tricky, since in the default, world, "social punishment?" is indeed the conversation people jump to. And in practice, it's hard to have words just focused on epistemic-evaluation without getting into judgment, or without speech acts being "moves" in a social conflict. 

But, I think it's useful to at least (individually) inhabit the frame of "what is true, here?" without asking questions like "what do those truths imply?".

With that in mind, some generally useful epistemic advice that I think is relevant here:

Try to have Multiple Hypotheses

It's useful to have at least two, and preferably ... (read more)

Try to have Multiple Hypotheses

This section is begging for a reference to Duncan's post on Split and Commit.

IIRC Duncan has also written lots of other stuff about topics like how to assess accusations, community health stuff, etc. Though I'm somewhat skeptical to which extent his recommendations can be implemented by fallible humans with limited time and energy.

2M. Y. Zuo13d
I agree, there is the possibility that both sides are somewhat unscrupulous and not entirely forthright. At best it could be because the environment/stress/etc. is causing them to behave like this, at worst it's because they have delusions of grandeur without the substance to back that up. 
I'm going to have to work the phrase "delusions of grandeur without the substance to back that up" into my repertoire. Sort of like Churchill's comment about Clement Atlee: "A modest man with much to be modest about."

One example of the evidence we’re gathering

We are working hard on a point-by-point response to Ben’s article, but wanted to provide a quick example of the sort of evidence we are preparing to share:

Her claim:  “Alice claims she was sick with covid in a foreign country, with only the three Nonlinear cofounders around, but nobody in the house was willing to go out and get her vegan food, so she barely ate for 2 days.” 

The truth (see screenshots below):

  1. There was vegan food in the house (oatmeal, quinoa, mixed nuts, prunes, peanuts, tomatoes, cereal, oranges) which we offered to cook for her.
  2. We picked up vegan food for her.

Months later, after our relationship deteriorated, she went around telling many people that we starved her. She included details that depicted us in a maximally damaging light - what could be more abusive than refusing to care for a sick girl, alone in a foreign country? And if someone told you that, you’d probably believe them, because who would make something like that up?


  • The screenshots below show Kat offering Alice the vegan food in the house (oatmeal, quinoa, cereal, etc), on the first day she was sick. Then, when she wasn’t inte
... (read more)

Cross posting from the EA Forum: 

It could be that I am misreading or misunderstanding these screenshots, but having read through them a couple of times trying to parse what happened, here's what I came away with:

On December 15, Alice states that she'd had very little to eat all day, that she'd repeatedly tried and failed to find a way to order takeout to their location, and tries to ask that people go to Burger King and get her an Impossible Burger which in the linked screenshots they decline to do because they don't want to get fast food. She asks again about Burger King and is told it's inconvenient to get there.  Instead, they go to a different restaurant and offer to get her something from the restaurant they went to. Alice looks at the menu online and sees that there are no vegan options. Drew confirms that 'they have some salads' but nothing else for her. She assures him that it's fine to not get her anything.

It seems completely reasonable that Alice remembers this as 'she was barely eating, and no one in the house was willing to go out and get her nonvegan foods' - after all, the end result of all of those message exchanges was no food being obtained for Alice and ... (read more)

These texts have weird vibes from both sides. Something is off all around.  

That said, what I'm seeing: A person failed to uphold their own boundaries or make clear their own needs. Instead of taking responsibility for that, they blame the other person for some sort of abuse. 

This is called playing the victim. I don't buy it. 

I think it would generally be helpful if people were informed by the Drama Triangle when judging cases like these. 

Alternative theory: Alice felt on thin ice socially + professionally. When she was sick she finally felt she had a bit of leeway and therefore felt even a little willing to make requests of these people who were otherwise very "elitist" wrt everyone, somewhat including her. She tries to not overstep. She does this by stating what she needs, but also in the same breath excusing her needs as unimportant, so that the people with more power can preserve the appearance of not being cruel while denying her requests. She does this because she doesn't know how much leeway she actually has.

Unfortunately this is a hard to falsify theory. But at a glance it seems consistent, and I think it's also totally a thing that happens.

+1 I think it's important to keep in context the other claims about employees being treated poorly/low status. Abuse can be hard to judge from the outside because it can revolve around each individual incident being basically okay in isolation. A difficult and unfortunately common case is where both experiences are basically true. A person genuinely had an experience of abuse while the purported abuser genuinely had an experience of things seeming okay/copacetic in day to day interactions. Eg "we'll destroy our enemies haha" can unfortunately be in a grey zone between lightheartedness, abuse, or the latter masked as the former.

After reading more of the article, I have a better sense of this context that you mention. It would be interesting to see Nonlinear's response to the accusations because they seem pretty shameful, as is.  I would actively advise against anyone working with Kat / Emerson, not without serious demonstration of reformation and, like, values-level shifts.  If Alice is willing to stretch the truth about her situation (for any reason) or outright lie in order to enact harsher punishment on others, even as a victim of abuse, I would be mistrustful of her story. And so far I am somewhat mistrustful of Alice and very mistrustful of Kat / Emerson.  Also, even if TekhneMakre's take is what in fact happened, it doesn't give Alice a total pass in that particular situation, to me. I get that it's hard to be clear-headed and brave when faced with potentially hostile or adversarial people, but I think it's still worth trying to be. I don't expect anyone to be brave, but I also don't treat anyone as totally helpless, even if the cards are stacked against them. 
Neither here nor there:  I am sympathetic to "getting cancelled." I often feel like people are cancelled in some false way (or a way that leaves people with a false model), and it's not very fair. Mobs don't make good judges. Even well-meaning, rationalist ones. I feel this way about basically everyone who's been 'cancelled' by this community. Truth and compassion were never fully upheld as the highest virtue, in the end. Justice was never, imo, served, but often used as an excuse for victims to evade taking personal responsibility for something and for rescuers to have something to do. But I still see the value in going through a 'cancelling' process, for everyone involved, and so I'm not saying to avoid it either. It just sucks, and I get it. That said, the people who are 'cancelled' tend to be stubborn hard-heads about it, and their own obstinacy tends to lead further to an even more extreme downfall. It's like some suicidal part of them kicks in, and drives the knife in deeper without anyone's particular help.  I agree it's good to never just give into mob justice, but for your own souls to not take damage, try not to clench. It's not worth protecting it, whatever it happens to be.  Save your souls. Not your reputation. 

Crossposted from the EA Forum:

We definitely did not fail to get her food, so I think there has been a misunderstanding - it says in the texts below that Alice told Drew not to worry about getting food because I went and got her mashed potatoes. Ben mentioned the mashed potatoes in the main post, but we forgot to mention it again in our comment - which has been updated

The texts involved on 12/15/21:

I also offered to cook the vegan food we had in the house for her.

I think that there's a big difference between telling everyone "I didn't get the food I wanted, but they did get/offer to cook me vegan food, and I told them it was ok!" and "they refused to get me vegan food and I barely ate for 2 days".

Also, re: "because of this professional/personal entanglement" - at this point, Alice was just a friend traveling with us. There were no professional entanglements.

I think that there's a big difference between telling everyone "I didn't get the food I wanted, but they did get/offer to cook me vegan food, and I told them it was ok!" and "they refused to get me vegan food and I barely ate for 2 days".


This also updates me about Kat's take (as summarized by Ben Pace in the OP):

Kat doesn’t trust Alice to tell the truth, and that Alice has a history of “catastrophic misunderstandings”.

When I read the post, I didn't see any particular reason for Kat to think this, and I worried it might be just be an attempt to dismiss a critic, given the aggressive way Nonlinear otherwise seems to have responded to criticisms.

With this new info, it now seems plausible to me that Kat was correct (even though I don't think this justifies threatening Alice or Ben in the way Kat and Emerson did). And if Kat's not correct, I still update that Kat was probably accurately stating her epistemic state, and that a lot of reasonable people might have reached the same epistemic state.


It also seems totally reasonable that no one at Nonlinear understood there was a problem. Alice's language throughout emphasizes how she'll be fine, it's no big deal [...] I do not think that these exchanges depict the people at Nonlinear as being cruel, insane, or unusual as people.

100% agreed with this. The chat log paints a wildly different picture than what was included in Ben's original post.

Given my experience with talking with people about strongly emotional events, I am inclined towards the interpretation where Alice remembers the 15th with acute distress and remembers it as 'not getting her needs met despite trying quite hard to do so', and the Nonlinear team remembers that they went out of their way that week to get Alice food - which is based on the logs from the 16th clearly true! But I don't think I'd call Alice a liar based on reading this

Agreed. I did update toward "there's likely a nontrivial amount of distortion in Alice's retelling of other things", and toward "normal human error and miscommunication played a larger role in some of the Bad Stuff that happened than I previously expected". (Ben's post was still a giant negative update for me about Nonlinear, but Kat's comment is a smaller update in the opposite direction.)

Cross-posted from the EA Forum thread, mainly because it seems to be a minority opinion and I want to be clear that there are different ways to read these texts: I think it's telling, that Kat thinks that the texts speak in their favor. Reading them was quite triggering for me because I see a scared person, who asks for basic things, from the only people she has around her, to help her in a really difficult situation, and is made to feel like she is asking for too much, has to repeatedly advocate for herself (while sick) and still doesn't get her needs met. On one hand, she is encouraged by Kat to ask for help but practically it's not happening. Especially Emerson and Drew in that second thread sounded like she is difficult and constantly pushed to ask for less or for something else than what she asked for. Seriously, it took 2.5 hours the first day to get a salad, which she didn't want in the first place?! And the second day it's a vegetarian, not vegan, burger.  The way Alice constantly mentioned that she doesn't want to bother them and says that things are fine when they are clearly not, is very upsetting. I can't speak to how Alice felt but it's no wonder she reports this as not being helped/fed when she was sick. To me, this is accurate, whether or not she got a salad and a vegetarian burger the next day.   Honestly, the burger-gate is a bit ridiculous. Ben did report in the original article that you disputed these claims (with quite a lot of detail) so he reported it accurately. To me, that was enough to not update too much based on this. I don't think it warranted the strongly worded letter to the Lightcone team and the subsequent dramatic claims about evidence that you want to provide to clear your name.

The claim in the post was “Alice claims she was sick with covid in a foreign country, with only the three Nonlinear cofounders around, but nobody in the house was willing to go out and get her vegan food, so she barely ate for 2 days.”. (Bolding added)

If you look at the chat messages, you’ll see we have screenshots demonstrating that:

1. There was vegan food in the house, which we offered her. 

2. I personally went out, while I was sick myself, to buy vegan food for her (mashed potatoes) and cooked it for her and brought it to her.

I would be fine if she told people that she was hungry when she was sick, and she felt sad and stressed. Or that she was hungry but wasn’t interested in any of the food we had in the house and we didn't get her Burger King. 

But I think that there's a big difference between telling everyone "I didn't get the food I wanted, but they did get/offer to cook me vegan food, and I told them it was ok!" and "they refused to get me vegan food and I barely ate for 2 days"

I have sympathy for Alice. She was hungry (because of her fighting with a boyfriend [not Drew] in the morning and having a light breakfast) and she was sick. That sucks, and I feel for her. ... (read more)

There are certain claims here that are concretely bad, but they're also mixed in confusingly with what seem like nonsense complaints that are just... the reality of people spending extended time with other people, like:

  • "My roommates didn't buy me vegan food while I was sick"
  • "Someone gives a lot of compliments to me but I don't think they're being genuine"
  • "I feel 'low-value'"

If someone is being defrauded, yeah that's one thing, but I'd rather not litigate "Is Kat/Emerson an asshole" in the court of public opinion.

2Adam Zerner16d
I disagree. I think the less central complaints that were included in the post provide meaningful context and thus are worth including.

Several ex-employees have shared positive experiences with Nonlinear or Kat Woods on LW or EAF. I would like to ask those employees for some specifics:

  1. how explicit were salary negotiations (yours or those you heard about)? It seems like one of the things that went wrong here was extremely informal ~employment agreements, and I'd like to know if that was common practice. 
  2. If negotiations were informal or after the fact (which isn't uncommon in EA), what happened when there was a disagreement? Did it feel like Kat/Emerson/Nonlinear went out of their way to be generous (as this person describes in their explicit negotiations with Kat at Charity Science Health), or was it very stressful to get even basic needs met (like Ben describes getting medical attention in PR).
    1. I can imagine some of the problem lived in Alice and Chloe, and people who were better at advocating for their own needs would have been fine. I would never work in the conditions described here specifically because they would make me bad at getting my own needs met. I would still think this represented a problem on Nonlinear's part, but it's a much smaller problem than if they were deliberately exploitative. 
  3. When
... (read more)

Ben, I want to say thank you for putting in a tremendous amount of work, and also for being willing to risk attempts at retaliation when that's a pretty clear threat. 

You're in a reasonable position to take this on, having earned the social standing to make character smears unlikely to stick, and having the institutional support to fight a spurious libel claim. And you're also someone I trust to do a thorough and fair job.

I wish there were someone whose opportunity cost were lower who could handle retaliation-threat reporting, but it's pretty likely that anyone with those attributes will have other important opportunities.

7Ben Pace17d
You're welcome! I think it was the right thing to do. I'll see whether I regret it all in a month from now...

Hi all, I wanted to chime in because I have had conversations relevant to this post with just about all involved parties at various points. I've spoken to "Alice" (both while she worked at nonlinear and afterward), Kat (throughout the period when the events in the post were alleged to have happened and afterward), Emerson, Drew, and (recently) the author Ben, as well as, to a much lesser extent, "Chloe" (when she worked at nonlinear). I am (to my knowledge) on friendly terms with everyone mentioned (by name or pseudonym) in this post. I wish well for everyone involved. I also want the truth to be known, whatever the truth is.

I was sent a nearly final draft of this post yesterday (Wednesday), once by Ben and once by another person mentioned in the post.

I want to say that I find this post extremely strange for the following reasons:

(1) The nearly final draft of this post that I was given yesterday had factual inaccuracies that (in my opinion and based on my understanding of the facts) are very serious despite ~150 hours being spent on this investigation. This makes it harder for me to take at face value the parts of the post that I have no knowledge of. &nb... (read more)

I don't have all the context of Ben's investigation here, but as someone who has done investigations like this in the past, here are some thoughts on why I don't feel super sympathetic to requests to delay publication: 

In this case, it seems to me that there is a large and substantial threat of retaliation. My guess is Ben's sources were worried about Emerson hiring stalkers, calling their family, trying to get them fired from their job, or threatening legal action. Having things be out in the public can provide a defense because it is much easier to ask for help if the conflict happens in the open. 

As a concrete example, Emerson has just sent me an email saying: 

Given the irreversible damage that would occur by publishing, it simply is inexcusable to not give us a bit of time to correct the libelous falsehoods in this document, and if published as is we intend to pursue legal action for libel against Ben Pace personally and Lightcone for the maximum damages permitted by law. The legal case is unambiguous and publishing it now would both be unethical and gross negligence, causing irreversible damage.

For the record, the threat of libel suit and use of statements like ... (read more)

This case seems to me to be fairly clearly covered by the second paragraph, and also, Nonlinear's response to "I am happy to discuss your concerns publicly in the comments" was to respond with "I will sue you if you publish these concerns"


7Emerson Spartz17d
In case it wasn't clear,  we didn't say 'don't publish', we said 'don't publish until we've had a week to gather and share the evidence we have':

I'm trying to support two complementary points:

  • The norm I've been pushing of sharing things with EA organizations ahead of time is only intended for cases where you have a neutral or better relationship with the organization, and not situations like this one where there are allegations of mistreatment, or you don't trust them to behave cooperatively.

  • A threat to sue if changes are not made to the text of the post is not cooperative.

You say "if published as is", not "if published now". Is what you're saying in the comment that, if Ben had waited a week and then published the same post, unedited, you would not want to sue? That is not what is conveyed in the email.

7Emerson Spartz17d
Yes, that is what I intended to communicate here, and I was worried people might think I was trying to suppress the article so I bolded this request to ensure people didn't misunderstand:

For what it's worth, I also interpreted the "if published as is" as "if you do not edit the post to no longer be libelous" and not "if you do not give us a week to prepare a contemporaneous rebuttal".

I think if you wanted to reliably communicate that you were not asking for changes to the text of the post, you would have needed to be explicit about that?

3Martin Randall15d
Please don't post screenshots of comments that include screenshots of comments. It is harder to read and to search and to reply. You can just quote the text, like habryka did above.
7Said Achmiz15d
Consider that making it harder to search for the text may be the whole point of posting a screenshot.
0Emerson Spartz18d
There is a reason courtrooms give both sides equal chances to make their case before they ask the jury to decide.  It is very difficult for people to change their minds later, and most people assume that if you’re on trial, you must be guilty, which is why judges remind juries about “innocent before proven guilty”.  This is one of the foundations of our legal system, something we learned over thousands of years of trying to get better at justice. You’re just assuming I’m guilty and saying that justifies not giving me a chance to present my evidence. Also, if we post another comment thread a week later, who will see it? EAF/LW don’t have sufficient ways to resurface old but important content.  Re: “my guess is Ben’s sources have received dozens of calls” - well, your guess is wrong, and you can ask them to confirm this. You also took my email strategically out of context to fit the Emerson-is-a-horned-CEO-villain narrative. Here’s the full one:

Also, if we post another comment thread a week later, who will see it? EAF/LW don’t have sufficient ways to resurface old but important content. 

This doesn't seem like an issue. You could instead write a separate post a week later which has a chance of gaining traction.

Yep. Posts critical of Less Wrong are often highly upvoted on Less Wrong, so I'd say a good defense (one containing factual statements, not just "this is 100% wrong and I will sue you") has like 80% chance to get 100 or more karma.

I didn't understand the part about "resurfacing old content", but one can simply link the old article from the new one, and ask moderators to link the new article from the old one. (The fact that the new article will be on the front page but the old one will no longer be there, seems to work in favor of the new article.) Even if moderators for some mysterious reason refused to make the link, a comment under the old article saying "there is a response from Nonlinear" with a link would probably be highly upvoted.

Oli's comment is a good summary of my relevant concerns! And I'm definitely happy to link prominently to any response by Nonlinear, and make edits if things are shown to be false.

As well as a bunch of other reasons already mentioned (and some not), another one is that most of the things they proposed to show me didn't seem that cruxy to me? Maybe a few of stories are wrong, but I believe the people were really very hurt by their time at Nonlinear, and I believe both were quite credibly intimidated, and I'm pretty sure a lot of folks in the relevant ecosystems would like to know if I believe that. When we talked Nonlinear mostly wanted to say that Alice told lies about things like why she quit being vegan, but even if that's true tons of my evidence doesn't come from Alice or from her specific stories, so the delay request didn't seem like it would likely change my mind. Maybe it will, but I think it's more important to say when I believe that terrible behavior has occurred, so I didn't feel beholden to delay for them.

Yes, we intend to. But given that our comments just asking for people to withhold judgment are getting downvoted, that doesn’t bode well for future posts getting enough upvotes to be seen. It's going to take us at least a week to gather all the evidence, then it will take a decent amount of time to write up.  In the meantime, people have heard terrible things about us and nobody's a perfect rationalist who will simply update. Once you've made up your mind about somebody, it can be really hard to change.  Additionally, once things are on the internet, they're usually there for good. Now it might be that the first thing people find when looking up Nonlinear is this post, even if we do disprove the claims. A post that would most likely have been substantially different if he'd seen all of our evidence first. He already made multiple updates to the post based on the things we shared, and he would have made far more if he had given us the chance to actually present our evidence.  Not to mention that now that he's published this and sent them money, it's psychologically difficult for him to update. 

I think a comment "just asking for people to withhold judgement" would not be especially downvoted. I think the comments in which you've asked people to withhold judgement include other incredibly toxic behavior.

You could possibly do a more incremental version of this, e.g. link to a Google Drive where you upload the pieces of evidence as you find them? That way people could start updating right away rather than waiting until everything's been put together.  And then you could add a comment linking to the write-up when it's done.

I want to note a specific pattern that I've noticed. I am not commenting on this particular matter overall; the events with Nonlinear may or may not be an instance of the pattern. It goes like this:

  1. Fred does something unethical / immoral.
  2. People start talking about how Fred did something bad.
  3. Fred complains that people should not be talking the way they are talking, and Fred specifically invokes the standard of the court system, saying stuff like "there's a reason courts presume innocence / allow the accused to face the accuser / give a right to a defense attorney / have discovery / have the right to remain silent / right to avoid incriminating oneself / etc. etc.".

Fred's implication is that people shouldn't be talking the way they're talking because it's unjust.

... Of course, this pattern could also happen when step 1 is Fred not doing something bad; and either way, maybe Fred is right... But I suspect that in reality, Fred uses this as a way of isolated demands for rigor.

4Adam Zerner16d
I don't get that impression. Nothing in the full one stands out to me as important context that would really change anything non-trivially.
0Adam Zerner16d
You seem to be disregarding other considerations at play here. Zooming out, if we forget about the specifics of this situation and instead think about the more general question of whether or not one should honor requests to delay such publications, one consideration is wanting to avoid unjustifiably harming someones reputation (in this case yours, Kat's, and Nonlinear's). But I think habryka lists some other important considerations too in his comment: * Guarding against retaliation * Guarding against lost productivity * Guarding against reality-distortion fields Personally, I don't have strong feelings about where the equilibrium should be here. However, I do feel strongly that the discussion needs to look at the considerations on both sides. Also, I raise my eyebrow a fair bit at those who do have strong feelings about where the equilibrium should be. At least if they haven't thought about it for many hours. It strikes me as a genuinely difficult task to enumerate and weigh the considerations at play.
If we want to look at general principles rather than specific cases, if the original post had not contained a bunch of serious misinformation (according to evidence that I have access to) then I would have been much more sympathetic to not delaying. But the combination of serious misinformation + being unwilling to delay a short period to get the rest of the evidence I find to be a very bad combination. I also don’t think the retaliation point is a very good one, as refusing to delay doesn’t actually prevent retaliation. I don’t find the lost productivity point is particularly strong given that this was a major investigation already involving something like 150 hours of work. In that context, another 20 hours carefully reviewing evidence seems minimal (if it’s worth ~150 hours to investigate it’s worth 170 to ensure it’s accurate presumably) Guarding against reality distortion fields is an interesting point I hadn’t thought of until Oliver brought it up. However, it doesn’t seem (correct me if I’m wrong) that Ben felt swayed away from posting after talking to nonlinear for 3 hours - if that’s true then it doesn’t seem like much of a concern here. I also think pre-committing to a release date helps a bit with that.

The nearly final draft of this post that I was given yesterday had factual inaccuracies that (in my opinion and based on my understanding of the facts) are very serious

Could you share examples of these inaccuracies?

Spencer responded to a similar request in the EA forum. Copy-pasting the response here in quotes, but for further replies etc. I encourage readers to follow the link:

Yes, here two examples, sorry I can’t provide more detail:

-there were claims in the post made about Emerson that were not actually about Emerson at all (they were about his former company years after he left). I pointed this out to Ben hours before publication and he rushed to correct it (in my view it’s a pretty serious mistake to make false accusations about a person, I see this as pretty significant)!

-there was also a very disparaging claim made in the piece (I unfortunately can’t share the details for privacy reasons; but I assume nonlinear will later) that was quite strongly contradicted by a text message exchange I have

You are not directly vouching for anyone here, but as a general point I'd like to argue that friendship is a poor predictor of ethical behavior. 

It may be tempting to consider positive social experiences and friendship as evidence that someone behaves generally ethically and with high standards, but when dealing with more capable people, it's not. Maintaining ethical behavior and building trust in low-stakes settings like friendship with few temptations to try and exploit for profit is trivially easy. Especially if you are socially skilled and capable of higher level power games and manipulation. The cutthroat moves are saved exclusively for situations where the profits are large enough. 

(And a skilled manipulator will rarely engage in obviously cutthroat moves anyways, because the cost of being outed as an unethical cutthroat is high enough to outweight the potential profit of most situations..)

Because you're someone with influence in the community, anyone with a manipulative bent and any smarts will absolutely give you their best impression. You have more value as an ally, and probably provide few opportunities for direct profit otherwise.

Following this tangent, I would say that judging other people is a skill. Some people are better at it, some are worse, and the Dunning–Kruger effect very likely applies. Learning this skill is both explicit (what to notice) and implicit (you get burned -- you learn what to fear).

Examples of explicit lessons:

  • Notice how the person treats people other than you -- very likely, they will treat you the same in the future, when they no longer need to impress you. Similarly, if the person tells you to treat other people badly, in the future they will probably do the same to you, or tell other people to do it.
  • Sometimes there are good excuses for seemingly bad behavior, but you should make a factual list of what the person actually did (not what they said; not what other people did) and seriously consider the hypothesis that this is what they actually are, and everything else is just bullshit you want to believe.

I also think that manipulators are often repetitive and use relatively simple strategies. (No disrespect meant here; a flawless execution of a simple strategy is a powerful weapon.) For example, they ask you what is the most important thing you want to achieve in your life, and late... (read more)

So, Nonlinear-affiliated people are here in the comments disagreeing, promising proof that important claims in the post are false. I fully expect that Nonlinear's response, and much of the discussion, will be predictably shoved down the throat of my attention, so I'm not too worried about missing the rebuttals, if rebuttals are in fact coming.

But there's a hard-won lesson I've learned by digging into conflicts like this one, which I want to highlight, which I think makes this post valuable even if some of the stories turn out to be importantly false:

If a story is false, the fact that the story was told, and who told it, is valuable information. Sometimes it's significantly more valuable than if the story was true. You can't untangle a web of lies by trying to prevent anyone from saying things that have falsehoods embedded in them. You can untangle a web of lies by promoting a norm of maximizing the available information, including indirect information like who said what.

Think of the game Werewolf, as an analogy. Some moves are Villager strategies, and some moves are Werewolf strategies, in the sense that, if you notice someone using the strategy, you should make a Bayesian update in the direction of thinking the person using that strategy is a Villager or is a Werewolf.

As I mentioned to you before, I suspect werewolf/mafia/avalon is a pretty bad analogy for how to suss out the trustworthiness of people irl:

  • in games, the number of werewolves etc is often fixed and known to all players ahead of time; irl a lot of the difficulty is figuring out whether (and how many) terminally bad actors exist, vs honest misunderstandings, vs generically suss people. 
  • random spurious accusations with zero factual backing are usually considered town/vanilla/arthurian moves in werewolf games; irl this breeds chaos and is a classic DARVO tactic.
  • In games, the set of both disputed and uncontested facts are discrete and often small; this is much less the case irl.
  • in games, bad guys have a heavy incentive to be uncorrelated (and especially to be seen as being uncorrelated); irl there are very few worlds where regularly agreeing with the now-known-to-be-bad-actors is a positive update on your innocence.
  • In games, the set of actions available to both good and bad actors are well-defined and often known in advance; irl does not have this luxury.
  • etc

All these points, but especially the second one, means that people should be very hesitant to generalize hard-won lessons about macrolevel social dynamics from social deception games to real life.

8Elias Schmied14d
In my experience this is only true for beginner play (where werewolves are often too shy to say anything), and in advanced play it is a bad guy tactic for the same reasons as IRL. Eg I think in advanced Among Us lobbies it's an important skill to subtly push an unproductive thread of conversation without making it obvious that you were the one who distracted everybody. It's not clear/concrete to me in what ways points 3 and 5 are supposed to invalidate the analogy. I don't understand this - it reads to me like you're saying a similar thing is true for the game and real life? But that goes against your position.

Eg I think in advanced Among Us lobbies it's an important skill to subtly push an unproductive thread of conversation without making it obvious that you were the one who distracted everybody.

I'm not much of an avid Among Us player, but I suspect this only works in Among Us because of the (much) heavier-than usual time pressures. In the other social deception games I'm aware of, the structural incentives continue to point in the other direction, so the main reason for bad guys to make spurious accusations is for anti-inductive reasons (if everybody knows that spurious accusations are a vanilla tactic, then obviously spurious accusation becomes a good "bad guy" play to fake being good). 

Sorry that was awkwardly worded. Here's a simplified rephrase: Put in a different way, because of the structure of games like Avalon (it's ~impossible for all the bad guys to not be found out, minions know who each other are, all minions just want their "team" to win so having sacrificial lambs make sense, etc), there are often equilibria where in even slightly advanced play, minions (bad guys) want to be seen as disagreeing with other minions earlier on. So if you find someone disagreeing with minions a lot (in voting history etc), especially in non-decision-relevant ways, this is not much evidence one way or another (and in some cases might even be negative evidence on your goodness). Similarly, if Mildred constantly speaks highly of you, and we later realize that Mildred is a minion, this shouldn't be a negative update on you (and in some cases is a positive), because minions often have structural reasons to praise/bribe good guys. At higher levels obviously people become aware of this dynamic so there's some anti-inductive play going on, but still. Frequently the structural incentives prevail. In real life there's a bit of this dynamic but the level one model ("birds of a feather flock together") is more accurate, more of the time. 
This is very tangential, but: if that's your experience with e.g. one night ultimate werewolf, then I strongly recommend changing the mix of roles so that the numbers on each side are random and the werewolf side ends up in the majority a nontrivial fraction of the time. Makes the game a lot more fun/interesting IMO, and negates some of the points you list about divergence between such games and real life.
Thanks, I haven't played ONUW much,  Avalon is the main game I play, also more classic mafia, werewolf, secret hitler and Quest.

The game theory behind Werewolf goes deeper than that. Werewolf is an iterated game, if you play it at least once on a friday you're probably playing at least four more times in succession. A good way to pick up whether someone is a Villager or a Baddie is to notice how their behavior during the game correlates with their revealed role at the end of the game.

Alice is a noob player and is always quiet when she's a Baddie and talkative and open when she's a Villager. She's giving off easy tells that an observant player like Bob picks up on. He can then notice these tells while in the middle of a game and exploit them to win more against Alice.

Declan is a more skilled but somewhat new player. He is open and talkative regardless of his role. This makes it very easy for him to play Villager but he struggles to win when a Baddie because his open behavior leads to him often being caught out on provable lies.

Carol is a sophisticated Werewolf player. Each game she is maximizing not just to win that game, but to also win future games against the same players. Carol knows that she is the most sophisticated player in her group. When she's a Villager she can figure out which other players are B... (read more)

Errol is a Logical Decision Theorist. Whenever he's playing a game of Werewolf, he's trying to not just win that game, but to maximize his probability of winning across all versions of the game, assuming he's predictable to other players. Errol firmly commits to reporting whether he's a werewolf whenever he gets handed that role, reasoning that behind the veil of ignorance, he's much more likely to land as villager than as werewolf, and that villager team always having a known villager greatly increases his overall odds of winning. Errol follows through with his commitments. Errol is not very fun to play with and has since been banned from his gaming group.

This sounded really wrong to me. Like, what is the analogy in real life? I am a good guy today, but I predict that I may become a criminal tomorrow, so I am already optimizing to make it difficult to figure out? But I suppose, in real life, circumstances also change, so things that are not criminal today may become criminal tomorrow, so you can be a good guy today and also optimize to make yourself safe when the circumstances change, even if your values won't.
the werewolf vs villager strategy heuristic is brilliant. thank you!
Credit to Benquo's writing for giving me the idea.

I'm surprised (unless I've missed it) that nobody has explicitly pointed out the most obvious reason to take the responses of the form "Kat/Emerson/Drew have been really good to me personally" as very weak evidence at best.

The allegations imply that in the present situation, Kat/Emerson/Drew would immediately tell anyone in their orbit to come and post positive testimonials of them under promises of reward or threat of retaliation (precisely as the quoted Glassdoor review says).

P(generic positive testimonials | accusation true) ≈ P(generic positive testimonials | accusation false).

The only thing that would be strong evidence against the claims here would be direct counterevidence to the claims in the post. Everything else so far is a smokescreen.

The currently top comment on the EA Forum copy of this post says that at least one person who wrote a positive testimonial was asked to leave a comment by Nonlinear (but they didn’t say it had to be positive)

I was confused by the disagree votes on this comment, so I looked—the comment in question is highest on the default "new and upvoted" sorting, but it isn't highest on the "top" sorting.
A loyal friend would also post positive testimonials, without promises or threats. (But I agree that this is weak evidence about allegations regarding behavior towards other people.)
Which is why I said that the probabilities are similar, rather than claiming the left side exceeds the right side.

I generally got a sense from speaking with many parties that Emerson Spartz and Kat Woods respectively have very adversarial and very lax attitudes toward legalities and bureaucracies, with the former trying to do as little as possible that is asked of him


Could you give more detail here? I feel like "viewing bureaucracies as obstacles to be maneuvered around" is not particularly uncommon in EA and rationality, including at Lightcone, so I assume you mean something more than that. 

A brief note on defamation law:

The whole point of having laws against defamation, whether libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation), is to hold people to higher epistemic standards when they communicate very negative things about people or organizations -- especially negative things that would stick in the readers/listeners minds in ways that would be very hard for subsequent corrections or clarifications to counter-act.

Without making any comment about the accuracy or inaccuracy of this post, I would just point out that nobody in EA should be shocked that an organization (e.g. Nonlinear) that is being libeled (in its view) would threaten a libel suit to deter the false accusations (as they see them), to nudge the author(e.g. Ben Pace) towards making sure that their negative claims are factually correct and contextually fair. 

That is the whole point and function of defamation law: to promote especially high standards of research, accuracy, and care when making severe negative comments. This helps promote better epistemics, when reputations are on the line. If we never use defamation law for its intended purpose, we're being very naive about the profound costs of... (read more)

(Copying my response from the EA Forum)

I agree there are some circumstances under which libel suits are justified, but the net-effect on the availability of libel suits strikes me as extremely negative for communities like ours, and I think it's very reasonable to have very strong norms against threatening or going through with these kinds of suits. Just because an option is legally available, doesn't mean that a community has to be fine with that option being pursued.

That is the whole point and function of defamation law: to promote especially high standards of research, accuracy, and care when making severe negative comments. This helps promote better epistemics, when reputations are on the line.

This, in-particular, strikes me as completely unsupported. The law does not strike me as particularly well-calibrated about what promotes good communal epistemics, and I do not see how preventing negative evidence from being spread, which is usually the most undersupplied type of evidence already, helps "promote better epistemics". Naively the prior should be that when you suppress information, you worsen the accuracy of people's models of the world.

As a concrete illustration of this, lib... (read more)

IMO, both U.S. and UK libel suits should both be very strongly discouraged, since I know of dozens of cases where organizations and individuals have successfully used them to prevent highly important information from being propagated, and I think approximately no case where they did something good (instead organizations that frequently have to deal with libel suits mostly just leverage loopholes in libel law that give them approximate immunity, even when making very strong and false accusations, usually with the clarity of the arguments and the transparency of the evidence taking a large hit).

(Unavoidably political, as lawsuits often are)

A central example of the court system broadly, and libel lawsuits narrowly, promoting better epistemics are the allegations that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

It is certainly not true that there are always loopholes that give immunity, see e.g. Fox News' very expensive settlement in Dominion v. Fox News.

More broadly: "Trump, his attorneys, and his supporters falsely asserted widespread election fraud in public statements, but few such assertions were made in court." The false allegations of fraud were dependent on things like hearsay, false clai... (read more)

The whole point of having laws against defamation, whether libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation), is to hold people to higher epistemic standards when they communicate very negative things about people or organizations

This might be true of some other country's laws against defamation, but it is not true of defamation law in the US. Under US law, merely being wrong, sloppy, and bad at reasoning would not be sufficient to make something count as defamation; it only counts if the writer had actual knowledge that the claims were false, or was completely indifferent to whether they were true or false.

Jim - I didn't claim that libel law solves all problems in holding people to higher epistemic standards. Often, it can be helpful just to incentivize avoiding the most egregious forms of lying and bias -- e.g. punishing situations when 'the writer had actual knowledge that the claims were false, or was completely indifferent to whether they were true or false'. 
4Rob Bensinger17d
Jim's point here is compatible with "US libel laws are a force for good epistemics", since a law can be aimed at lying+bullshitting and still disincentivize bad reasoning (to some degree) as a side-effect. But I do think Jim's point strongly suggests that we should have a norm against suing someone merely for reasoning poorly or getting the wrong answer. That would be moving from "lawsuits are good for norm enforcement" to "frivolous lawsuits are good for norm enforcement", which is way less plausible.

Without making any comment about the accuracy or inaccuracy of this post, I would just point out that nobody in EA should be shocked that an organization (e.g. Nonlinear) that is being libeled (in its view) would threaten a libel suit to deter the false accusations (as they see them), to nudge the author(e.g. Ben Pace) towards making sure that their negative claims are factually correct and contextually fair. 

Wikipedia claims: "The 1964 case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, however, radically changed the nature of libel law in the United States by establishing that public officials could win a suit for libel only when they could prove the media outlet in question knew either that the information was wholly and patently false or that it was published 'with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not'."

Spartz isn't a "public official", so maybe the standard is laxer here?

If not, then it seems clear to me that Spartz wouldn't win in a fair trial, because whether or not Ben got tricked by Alice/Chloe and accidentally signal-boosted others' lies, it's very obvious that Ben is neither deliberately asserting falsehoods, nor publishing "with reckless disregard".

(Ben says he spent... (read more)

Spartz isn't a "public official", so maybe the standard is laxer here?

The relevant category (from newer case law than New Your Times Co v. Sullivan) is public figure, not public official, which is further distinguished into general-purpose and limited-purpose public figures. I haven't looked for case law on it, but I suspect that being the cofounder of a 501(c)(3) is probably sufficient by itself to make someone a limited-purpose public figure with respect to discussion of professional conduct within that 501(c)(3).

Also, the cases specifically call out asymmetric access to media as a reason for their distinctions, and it seems to me that in this case, no such asymmetry exists. The people discussed in the post are equally able to post on LessWrong and the EA Forum (both as replies and as a top-level post), and, to my knowledge, neither Ben nor anyone else has restricted or threatened to restrict that.

Wikipedia claims: "The 1964 case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, however, radically changed the nature of libel law in the United States by establishing that public officials could win a suit for libel only when they could prove the media outlet in question knew either that the information was wholly and patently false or that it was published 'with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not'."

This is typically referred to as showing "actual malice." But as you correctly surmised, this case law is irrelevant. Sullivan has been extended to cover public figures as well, but Spartz is not a public figure.[1]

I am not a California attorney, but the caselaw says that the elements of a libelous statement are that it is:

  1. false,
  2. defamatory,
  3. unprivileged,
  4. and has a natural tendency to injure or causes special damage.

Libel only applies to statements of fact or mixed statements of fact and opinion, but not exclusive statements of opinion.[2] This post clearly has many direct statements of fact.[3] Many of these statements of fact have a natural tendency to injure Spartz's and Nonlinear's reputation. I'm certain that them being published has already cause Spartz and Nonlinear a sub... (read more)

Public figures are typically those who have general fame or notoriety in the community.

He very obviously is one. As habryka points out, he has a WP entry backed by quite a few sources about him, specifically. He has an entire 5400-word New Yorker profile about him, which is just one of several you can grab from the WP entry (eg. Bloomberg). For comparison, I don't think even Eliezer has gotten an entire New Yorker profile yet! If this is not a 'public figure', please do explain what you think it would take. Does he need a New York Times profile as well? (I regret to report that he only has 1 or 2 paragraphs thus far.)

Now, I am no particular fan of decreeing people 'public figures' who have not particularly sought out fame (and would not appreciate becoming a 'public figure' myself); however, most people would say that by the time you have been giving speeches to universities or agreeing to let a New Yorker journalist trail you around for a few months for a profile to boost your fame even further, it is safe to say that you have probably long since crossed whatever nebulous line divides 'private' from 'public figure'.

Emerson Spartz has a Wikipedia article, and the critique is highly relevant to him in-particular. My best understanding is that Emerson is a public figure for the purpose of this article (though not necessarily for the purpose of all articles), but it doesn't seem super clear cut to me.
Rob - you claim 'it's very obvious that Ben is neither deliberately asserting falsehoods, nor publishing "with reckless disregard'. Why do you think that's obvious? We don't know the facts of the matter. We don't know what information he gathered. We don't know the contents of the interviews he did. As far as we can tell, there was no independent editing, fact-checking, or oversight in this writing process. He's just a guy who hasn't been trained as an investigative journalist, who did some investigative journalism-type research, and wrote it up. Number of hours invested in research does not necessarily correlate with objectivity of research -- quite the opposite, if someone has any kind of hidden agenda. I think it's likely that Ben was researching and writing in good faith, and did not have a hidden agenda. But that's based on almost nothing other than my heuristic that 'he seems to be respected in EA/LessWrong circles, and EAs generally seem to act in good faith'.  But I'd never heard of him until yesterday. He has no established track record as an investigative journalist. And I have no idea what kind of hidden agendas he might have. So, until we know a lot more about this case, I'll withhold judgment about who might or might not be deliberately asserting falsehoods.

Why do you think that's obvious?

I know Ben, I've conversed with him a number of times in the past and seen lots of his LW comments, and I have a very strong and confident sense of his priorities and values. I also read the post, which "shows its work" to such a degree that Ben would need to be unusually evil and deceptive in order for this post to be an act of deception.

I don't have any private knowledge about Nonlinear or about Ben's investigation, but I'm happy to vouch for Ben, such that if he turns out to have been lying, I ought to take a credibility hit too.

He's just a guy who hasn't been trained as an investigative journalist

If he were a random non-LW investigative journalist, I'd be a lot less confident in the post's honesty.

Number of hours invested in research does not necessarily correlate with objectivity of research

"Number of hours invested" doesn't prove Ben isn't a lying sociopath (heck, if you think that you can just posit that he's lying about the hours spent), but if he isn't a lying sociopath, it's strong evidence against negligence.

So, until we know a lot more about this case, I'll withhold judgment about who might or might not be deliberately asserting falsehood

... (read more)
Fair enough. Thanks for replying. It's helpful to have a little more background on Ben. (I might write more, but I'm busy with a newborn baby here...)
3Rob Bensinger16d
(But insofar as you continue to be unsure about Ben, yes, you should be open to the possibility that Emerson has hidden information that justifies Emerson thinking Ben is being super dishonest. My confidence re "no hidden information like that" is downstream of my beliefs about Ben's character.)
Yes, the standard is different for private individuals than public officials, where it is merely "negligence" rather than "actual malice". (

What you described was perhaps the intent behind the law, but that's not necessarily how it is used in practice. You can use the law to intimidate people who have less money than you, simply by giving the money to a lawyer... and then the other side needs to spend about the same money on their lawyer... or risk losing the case. "The process is the punishment."

(I have recently contributed money to a defense fund of a woman who exposed a certain criminal organization in my country. The organization was disbanded, a few members were convicted, one of them ended up in prison, but the boss is politically well-connected and keeps avoiding punishment. In turn, the boss filed five lawsuits against her for "damaging a good reputation of a legal entity". He already lost one of the lawsuits, and is likely to lose all of them, but he has lots of money so he probably doesn't care. Meanwhile, the legal expenses have almost ruined the woman, so she needs to ask people for contributions. non-English link)

The 'whole point of libel suits' is to weaponize the expensive brokenness of the legal system to punish people for saying mean things about you.

(Crossposted from EA Forum)

On an earlier discussion of Nonlinear's practices, I wrote:

I worked closely with Kat for a year or so (2018-2019) when I was working at (and later leading) Charity Science Health. She's now a good friend.  

I considered Kat a good and ethical leader. I personally learned a lot from working with her. In her spending and life choices, she has shown a considerable moral courage: paying herself only $12K/year, dropping out of college because she didn't think it passed an impact cost-benefit test. Obviously that doesn't preclude the possibility that she has willfully done harmful things, but I think willfully bad behavior by Kat Woods is quite unlikely, a priori. 

I would also like to share my experience negotiating my salary with Kat when I first joined Charity Science Health, i.e., before we were friends. It was extremely positive. She was very committed to frugality, and she initially offered me the position of Associate Director at a salary of $25K/year, the bottom end of the advertised salary range. We exchanged several long emails discussing the tradeoffs in a higher or lower salary (team morale, risk of value drift, resources available for the c... (read more)

For me your comment is a red flag.

It implies at least a 2x multiplier on salaries for equivalent work. This practice is linked with gender pay gaps, favoritism, and a culture of pay secrecy. It implies that other similar matters, such as expenses, promotions, work hours, and time-off, may be similarly unequal. And yes, there is a risk to team morale.

It risks discriminating against people on characteristics that are, or should be, protected from discrimination. My risk of value drift is influenced by my political and religious views. My need for retirement savings is influenced by my age. My baseline for frugal living is influenced by my children and my spouse and my health.

It shows poor employer-employee boundaries. I would be concerned that if I were to ask for time off from my employer, the answer would depend on management's opinion of what I was planning to do with the time, rather than on company policy and objective factors.

In general, if some employees are having extremely positive experiences, and other employees are having extremely negative experiences, that is not reassuring. Still, I am glad you had a good experience.

Thanks for writing this post.

I've heard enough bad stuff about Nonlinear from before, that I was seriously concerned about them. But I did not know what to do. Especially since part of their bad reputation is about attacking critics, and I don't feel well positioned to take that fight.

I'm happy some of these accusations are now out in the open. If it's all wrong and Nonlinear is blame free, then this is their chance to clear their reputation. 

I can't say that I will withhold judgment until more evidence comes in, since I already made a preliminary judgment even before this post. But I can promise to be open to changing my mind. 

Note that during our conversation, Emerson brought up HPMOR and the Quirrell similarity, not me.

Began laughing hysterically here.

The "give us a week" message appears either misleading or overly optimistic. Unless there have been replies from Nonlinear in a separate thread, I don't think they have explained anything beyond their initial explanation of getting food. Coupled with the fact that it's hard to imagine a valid context or explanation for some of the things they confirm to have happened (drug smuggling, driving without a license or much experience), I have to conclude that they're not likely to change my mind at this point. I realize that probably doesn't matter to them since I'm just a random person on the internet, but it's disappointing that they haven't made a better effort to explain or atone.

Thanks, @Ben Pace, for doing the initial work on this. I agree with your other message stating that you're done with this; you don't need to get sucked further down this hole than you already are.

It's probably too late to do this for the OP, but in the future, I propose having two separate posts in situations like these.

  1. One discussing any general thoughts on things like communication cultures and community norms.
  2. And a second discussing any things specific to the particular incident. Which in this case would be discussions about Kat, Emerson, Alice and Chloe.

Why? Because as discussed here, I think most people shouldn't spend more than a few minutes paying attention to (2). On the other hand, (1) seems like a perfectly good conversation for most people to spend time on.

And as a bonus, I pretty strongly suspect that firmly factoring out (1) from (2) would be quite helpful in making progress on (2).

This is honestly really weird and typical of what I expect from the people who spend their time being business-side community members in EA.

I (using Lightcone funds) am going to pay them each $5,000 after publishing this post.

I don't think you understand just what this means. You're paying your sources to contribute to muckraking.

Nonlinear seems like the standard rationalist org that does weird stuff commercially, hires weird people, and has weird rules about social and sexual stuff. The disgruntled, former friend-employee was sleeping with one of the bosses. Like, why should I care that one of the other bosses told stupid stories about what a badass negotiator he is? Once your workplace devolves into the employees sleeping with the bosses, the regular standards of workplace decorum are out the window.

I think in general, the sense I get from this post is just that, you're applying a regular standard of workplace decorum to a clearly unusual and non-standard workplace. Like what's really weird to me is how little play the whole "intern is sleeping with the head boss's brother and the boss's girlfriend is maybe trying to sleep with the same intern" situation gets from this post. ... (read more)

Being asked to... not hang out with low value people... is just one more thing that is consistent with the office environment.

Maybe I'm naive, but I don't think there's approximately any normal relationship in which it's considered acceptable to ask someone to not associate with ~anyone other than current employees. The closest example I can think of is monasticism, but in that context (a) that expectation is clear and (b) at least in the Catholic church there's a higher internal authority who can adjudicate abuse claims.

7Emerson Spartz17d
Just FYI, the original claim is a wild distortion of the truth.  We'll be providing evidence in our upcoming post.
This is within the context of me saying that the office environment is incredibly weird and atypical.

Plenty of "weird and atypical" things aren't red flags; this one, however, is a well-known predictor of abusive environments.

Sorry, I was using "normal" to mean "not abusive". Even in weird and atypical environments, I find it hard to think of situations where "don't hang out with your family" is an acceptable ask (with the one exception listed in my comment).

Is your point that "being asked to not hang out with low value people" is inherently abusive in a way worse than everything else going on in that list? Like maybe it's terrible, but I don't put it in it's own separate category apart from "sleeping with my boss." That's kind of my general point: none of the stuff said in this post is unusual for an environment where the employee lives and sleeps with their boss.

According to the post, the employees actively wanted to live somewhere else and were in a practical sense prevented from doing so. They also weren't willing to work for next to no pay - that is again specifically one of the issues that was raised. It's also plausible to me that the romantic attraction component was endogenous to the weirdness they were objecting to. It seems like the gist of your argument is 'weird things they were happy to do' >= 'weird things they say they weren't happy to do', but a significant proportion of the components on the LHS should actually be on the RHS. That doesn't mean that any of it is true, but your argument seems like a misreading of the post.

I agree that the payment does create some suboptimal incentives, but I'm operating under the assumption that Ben decided on giving the sources money after hearing about the bulk of what happened, and that they didn't predict he would do so, rather than something like (to make it more extreme) 'if you tell me enough crazy stuff to make this worth a forum post, I'll reimburse you for your trouble'.

I indeed only brought up that I would like to compensate them after they had spent many many hours processing their experiences, explaining them, writing long docs about the hurt they had experienced, and expressed a great deal of fear/intimidation.

Sure, but wasn't there some previous occasion where Lightcone made a grant to people after they shared negative stories about a former employer (maybe to Zoe Curzi? but I can't find that atm)? If so, then presumably at some point you get a reputation for doing so.

Yep, Oli gave Zoe Curzi $15k. I do think the reputation-for-it is relevant, and will probably change the dynamics the next time that someone comes to me/Lightcone with reports of terrible behavior, but in this case Alice and Chloe (and others) spent the majority of the time I'm referring to talking to CEA, who has no such reputation.

Notably, one way to offset the reputational issue is to sometimes give people money for saying novel positive things about an org. The issue is less "people receive money for updating us" and more "people receive money only if they updated us in a certain direction", or even worse "people receive money only if they updated us in a way that fits a specific narrative (e.g., This Org Is Culty And Abusive)".

5Ben Pace17d
I'm especially excited about giving money to people who have been credibly silenced and intimidated. I think this is good, but will systematically spread info about wrongdoing. If it's money for "credible signs of intimidation" maybe that's less gameable.
2Rob Bensinger16d
Actually, I do know of an example of y'all offering money to someone for defending an org you disliked and were suspicious of. @habryka, did that money get accepted? (The incentive effects are basically the same whether it was accepted or not, as long as it's public knowledge that the money was offered; so it seems good to make this public if possible.)

That summary is inaccurate, so I don't think there is any org for which that is true. I offered money to both Zoe Curzi and to Cathleen for doing info-gathering on Leverage stuff, but that was explicitly for both positive and negative information (and happens to have been offered in roughly equal measure, with Zoe writing a quite negative piece and Cathleen writing a relatively positive piece).

No not really, they weren't prevented from living where they so chose. To me living in fun, exotic locations, but you have to live with your boss sounds simply like a trade-off that the employees were willing to make. I don't see anything in the post to suggest that they were prevented from doing otherwise. Just that to do otherwise they would probably have had to pick a different job! Like, why did they do it then? Were they forced to? Was someone making them take this job? I don't see allegations of this nature in the post. Are you saying that Kat and Emerson have some obligation to accede to their employees requests for higher pay? I can see that the employees wanted higher pay, but the fact remains that they worked for Kat and Emerson and earned next to no pay. What I see is that the bosses were making an offer, come work for us and we'll pay for your expenses and let you live with us rent free. But they weren't making an offer to, come work for us and we'll pay you a salary. Yes, employees often prefer to get paid more and to get paid in different ways. This doesn't mean an employer who offers them a worse deal is preventing them from taking the better deal. Your response suggests that if Bob presents Charles options A and B, Charles doesn't really have a free choice if he prefers unoffered option C. If the employees thought they could get a job that pays more somewhere else they could have taken that other job.[1] I'm not saying "happy to do" I'm saying "chose to do freely and willingly without any undue coercion." This seems wrong on it's face to me from the body of the post. Ben says: And I honestly don't see any of the clear reasons Ben suggests. I see intimidation designed to prevent the employees from badmouthing Kat and Emerson, but not any intimidation to keep working for them. Ben just cites to Emerson's comment that, "he gets mad at his employees who leave his company for other jobs that are equally good or less good." Which sounds weird to me, b

I don't think the post fully conveyed it, but I think the employees were quite afraid of leaving and expected this to get them a lot of backlash or consequences. A particularly salient for people early in EA careers is what kind of reference they'll get.

Think about the situation of leaving your first EA job after a few months. Option 1: say nothing about why you left, have no explanation for leaving early, don't really get a reference. Option 2: explain why the conditions were bad, risk the ire of Nonlinear (who are willing to say things like "your career could be over in a couple of DMs"). It's that kind of bind that gets people to keep persisting, hope it'll get better.

The agreement was $75k, which is very much not next to nothing, and regardless of the split of expenses/cash, it doesn't seem like they added up to close to that?

Just to clear up a view things:

  1. It was $70k in approximate/expected total compensation. The $1k a month was just a small part of the total compensation package.
  2. Despite false claims to the contrary, it wasn't just verbally agreed, we have written records.
  3. Despite false claims to the contrary, we were roughly on track to spend that much. This is another thing we will show evidence for ASAP, but there is a lot of accounting/record keeping etc to do to organize all the spending information, etc.

I believe that a commitment to transparently reward whistleblowers, in cases where you conclude they are running a risk of retaliation, is a very good policy when it comes to incentivizing true whistleblowing.

To share some anecdotal data: I personally have had positive experiences doing regular coaching calls with Kat this year and feel that her input has been very helpful. 

I would encourage us all to put off updating until we also get the second side of the story - that generally seems like good practice to me whenever it is possible.

(also posted this comment on the EA forum)

I strongly disagree with the premise that we haven't gotten the second side of the story.

I actually believe that the Bayesian evidence for what the second side of the story is is quite strong.

  • As Ben explains, Nonlinear was given three hours to provide their side of the story. I would strongly expect there to be a Pareto Principle thing that applies here. In the first hour, I'd expect that -- let's just make up numbers -- 70% of the thrust (ie. the big idea, not necessarily every little detail) of the "second side of the story" would be provided. Then in the next two hours, 90% of the thrust would have been provided. And from there, there continue to be diminishing returns.
  • Emerson did say that Ben's paraphrasing was a "Good summary!". There are caveats and more details discussed here, but even after taking those caveats and details into account, I still believe that Nonlinear's response to their opinion of the paraphrase would have been very different if there were in fact important things about the paraphrase that were wrong or omitted.
  • Similarly, I would expect that, if there were important things here that were wrong or omitted, Nonlinear would write a comment expressing this with
... (read more)

So there's a danger of: "I read the accusation, the response comes out and for whatever reason I don't see it or I put it on my to-read list and forget, and I come out believing the false accusation".

There's also a danger of: "I don't read the accusation, or read it and withhold judgment, pending the response. Then the response doesn't come out when it was promised, and I think oh, these things sometimes take longer than expected, it'll be here soon. And at some point I just forget that it never came out at all." Or: "Then when the response comes out, it's been long enough since I read the original that I don't notice it's actually a pretty weak response to it."

So I dunno what good policy is in general.