Kerry Vaughan


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Zoe Curzi's Experience with Leverage Research

The most directly 'damning' thing, as far as I can tell, is Geoff pressuring people to sign NDAs.

I received an email from a Paradigm board member on behalf of Paradigm and Leverage that aims to provide some additional clarity on the information-sharing situation here. Since the email specifies that it can be shared, I've uploaded it to my Google Drive (with some names and email addresses redacted). You can view it here.

The email also links to the text of the information-sharing agreement in question with some additional annotations.

[Disclosure: I work at Leverage, but did not work at Leverage during Leverage 1.0. I'm sharing this email in a personal rather than a professional capacity.]

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

Instead, what I'd be curious to know is whether they have the integrity to be proactively transparent about past mistakes, radically changed course when it comes to potentially harmful practices, and refrain from using any potentially harmful practices in cases where it might be advantageous on a Machiavellian-consequentialist assessment.

I think skepticism about nice words without difficult-to-fake evidence is warranted, but I also think some of this evidence is already available.

For example, I think it's relatively easy to verify that Leverage is a radically different organization today. The costly investments we've made in history of science research provide the clearest example as does the fact that we're no longer pursuing any new psychological research.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

This is a good point. I think I reacted too harshly. I've added an apology to the orthonormal to the original comment

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

Assuming something like this represents your views Freyja, then I think you’ve handled the situation quite well. 

I hope you can see how that is quite different from the comment I was replying to which is someone who appears to have met Geoff once. I'm sure you can similarly imagine how you would feel if people made comments like the one from orthonormal about friends of yours without knowing them.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

Leverage keeps coming up because Geoff Anders (and associates) emit something epistemically and morally corrosive and are gaslighting the commons about it. And Geoff keeps trying to disingenuously hit the reset button and hide it, to exploit new groups of people. That’s what people are responding to and trying to counteract in posts like the OP.

This seems pretty unfair to me and I believe we’re trying quite hard to not hide the legacy of Leverage 1.0. For example, we (1) specifically chose to keep the Leverage name; (2) are transparent about our intention to stand up for Leverage 1.0; and (3) Geoff’s association with Leverage 1.0 is quite clear from his personal website. Additionally, given the state of Leverage’s PR after Leverage 1.0 ended, the decision to keep the name was quite costly and stemmed from a desire to preserve the legacy of Leverage 1.0.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

I want to draw attention to the fact that "Kerry Vaughan" is a brand new account that has made exactly three comments, all of them on this thread. "Kerry Vaughan" is associated with Leverage. "Kerry Vaughan"'s use of "they" to describe Leverage is deliberately misleading.

I'm not hiding my connection to Leverage which is why I used my real name, mentioned that I work at Leverage in other comments, and used "we" in connection with a link to Leverage's case studies. I used "they" to refer to Leverage 1.0 since I didn't work at Leverage during that time.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

I don't think that's my account actually. It's entirely possible that I never created a LW account before now.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

This demand for secrecy is an blatant excuse used to obstruct oversight and to prevent peer review. What you're doing is the opposite of science.

Interestingly, "peer review" occurs pretty late in the development of scientific culture. It's not something we see in our case studies on early electricity, for example, which currently cover the period between 1600 and 1820. 

What we do see throughout the history is the norm of researchers sharing their findings with others interested in the same topics. It's an open question whether Leverage 1.0 violated this norm. On the one hand, they had a quite vibrant and open culture around their findings internally and did seek out others who might have something to offer to their project. On the other hand, they certainly didn't make any of this easily accessible to outsiders. I'm inclined to think they violated some scientific norms in this regard, but I think the work they were doing is pretty clearly science albeit early stage science.

Common knowledge about Leverage Research 1.0

I think the way the term cult (or euphemisms like “high-demand group”) has been used by the OP and by many commenters in this thread is extremely unhelpful and, I suspect, not in keeping with the epistemic standards of this community.

At its core, labeling a group as a cult is an out-grouping power move used to distance the audience from that group’s perspective. You don’t need to understand their thoughts, explain their behavior, form a judgment on their merits. They’re a cult. 

This might be easier to see when you consider how, from an outside perspective, many behaviors of the Rationality community that are, in fact, fine might seem cultish. Consider, for example, the numerous group houses, hero-worship of Eliezer, the tendency among Rationalists to hang out only with other Rationalists, the literal take over the world plan (AI), the prevalence of unusual psychological techniques (e.g., rationality training, circling), and the large number of other unusual cultural practices that are common in this community. To the outside world, these are cult-like behaviors. They do not seem cultish to Rationalists because the Rationality community is a well-liked ingroup and not a distrusted outgroup.  

My understanding is that historically the Rationality community has had some difficulty in protecting itself from parasitic bad actors who have used their affiliation with this community to cause serious harm to others. Given that context, I understand why revisiting the topic of early Leverage might be compelling. I would suggest that the cult/no cult question will not be helpful here because the answer depends so largely on whether people liked or didn’t like Leverage. I think past events should demonstrate that this is not a reliable indicator of parasitic bad actors.

Some questions I would ask instead include: Did this group represent that they were affiliated with Rationality in order to achieve their ends? If so, did they engage in activities that are contrary to the norms of the Rationality community? Were people harmed by this group? If so, was that harm abnormal given the social context? Was that harm individual or institutional? Did those involved act responsibly given the circumstances? Etc. 

Given my knowledge of Leverage 1.0 and my knowledge of the Rationality community, I am quite confident that Leverage was not the parasitic bad actor that you are looking for, but I think this is something the Rationality community should determine for itself and this seems like a fine time to do so.

However, I would also like to note that Leverage 1.0 has historically been on the receiving end of substantial levels of bullying, harassment, needless cruelty, public ridicule, and more by people who were not engaged in any legitimate epistemic activity. I do not think this is OK. I intend to call out this behavior directly when I see it. I would ask that others do so as well.

(I currently work at Leverage research but did not work at Leverage during Leverage 1.0 (although I interacted with Leverage 1.0 and know many of the people involved). Before working at Leverage I did EA community building at CEA between Summer 2014 and early 2019.)


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