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I appreciate this response and would love to dive into it more. I’m only loosely familiar with the dialogue format on this site but am definitely game, though I’d request an asynchronous one since I prefer having time to gather my thoughts and maintaining a bit of flexibility around each of our schedules.

I edited the original to "his collaborator." My apologies for the imprecision; I'll be more careful about attribution.

Ben refused to update his post at the time in dispute--the moment when the lawsuit threat was sent. That he was willing to update it after publishing false information, and remains willing to update it, is not material to that point. Spencer provided important context which, when seen in full, dramatically changed public understanding of one allegation in the final article. You and Ben refused to delay publication to update that allegation before the article went live. When considering whether a lawsuit threat was reasonable and whether the publication of that allegation as written was actionably defamatory, that moment of publication is the relevant one. Since I am responding to Gwern's criticism of my defense of that moment, I figured the context for that was clear.

As for whether my summary of the process is fair, I recognize we disagree here but stand by it and would say the same whether or not he included that disclaimer. The final article and the process that led to it was not totally normal by any stretch, an argument I present extensively in my post and throughout our conversations here. It is not normal to spend six months and hundreds of hours investigating negative information about people in your community, then publicizing it with a condemnation of those people to your whole community. I would definitely be keen to hear more about the actual process via DM, though, and could certainly see it changing my understanding of that process in important ways.

Since the /r/slatestarcodex comment section is unlikely to get the long-term traffic this mirror is, I want to copy my reply there over here as well.

I’m honestly really frustrated by your response to this post. The incident I describe is not trivial and it is not tangential to the purposes of the rationalist community. It directly damages the community’s credibility towards its core goals in a major way. You are about as trusted as a public figure gets among the rationalists, and when you see this whole thing, you vote it down and rebuke me because I don’t hate libel lawsuits as much as I hate libel.

Rationalists spend a lot of time criticizing poor journalistic practices from outside the community. It should raise massive alarms that someone can spend six months digging up dirt on another community member, provide scant time to reply and flat-out refuse to look at exculpatory evidence, and be praised by the great majority of the community who noticed while those who pointed out the issues with what was going on were ignored.

If a prominent person in your community spends six months working to gather material to destroy your reputation, then flat-out refuses to look at your exculpatory evidence or to update his post in response to exculpatory evidence from another trusted community member—evidence he his collaborator now admits overturns an allegation in the article—there is nothing at all disproportionate or inappropriate about a desperate lawsuit threat—not a threat if the post goes live, but a threat if they won’t even look at hard evidence against their claims—minutes before the reputation-destroying post goes live. That’s not the strong crushing the weak whistleblower, that’s a desperate response to reputational kamikaze.

It is not an issue with my post that I accurately defend that libel lawsuit threat as a sane response to an insane situation. It is an issue with the rationalist community as a whole that they nodded along to that insane situation, and an issue with you that your major takeaway from my post is that I’m wrong about lawsuits.

A six-month campaign to gather negative info about someone is not a truth-seeking process, it is not a rational process, and it is not a process to which the community should respond by politely arguing about whether lawsuits could possibly be justified as a response. It is a repudiation of the principles the rationalist community espouses and demands an equally vehement response, a response that nobody within the community gave until I stumbled over the post by happenstance three months later.

You are wrong. Your takeaway from my article is wrong. What happened during that investigation was wrong, and sufficiently wrong that I see no cause to reply by coming out swinging about the horrors of the legal system. You should be extinguishing the fire in your own community’s house, and the people cheering you on for responding to someone trying to put that fire out with a rebuke are helping you burn down your own community's credibility. You had no obligation to respond to the situation; having responded, though, you take on a duty to it which you are neglecting by responding in this way given your stature within this community and the gravity of the original error.

After Ben’s post, 38% of responses to Nathan’s poll disagreed that there should be a way for Nonlinear to continue doing charity work with the support of the community, while 22% agreed. It’s unclear to me that a six-month campaign to gather negative information and then warn people about a group in your community is any less divisive in that regard than a lawsuit.

I think I am also more skeptical than you about how much Nonlinear's counterclaims exonerate them

I mention this in the post and realize this is a frustrating frame for the Lightcone people who worked hard on this story, but I really just don't care a ton about Nonlinear qua Nonlinear. It's a small charity org with an unconventional structure working in a general area (AI safety) a lot of rationalists see as important and I have ambiguous feelings on in terms of the efficacy of charity work. I don't have a lot of weight as to where people should land on whether their claims "exonerate" them in a true sense, particularly because the stakes feel a lot more like "roommate drama" stakes than "FTX" ones to me.

What I do care very much about is that the rationalist/EA community not fall into the same callout/dogpiling/"cancel" cultural traps I've seen repeat in so many other subcultures. Spending six months to gather only negative information about someone -- particularly someone in your own community, where your opinion will carry a lot of weight -- before presenting it in public is bad, full stop. It works in a courtroom because there is a judge there, but the court of public opinion demands different norms. 

Doing so and then being in such a hurry to present it that you won't even pause when someone not under investigation brings in hard evidence against one of your claims and tells you you're making a mistake? That only compounds the issue. 

the risks of the adversarial slowdown, or threatening/pressuring witnesses into silence

Part of this feels like a byproduct of having spent six months gathering negative information about them. You all were in an extraordinarily adversarial frame towards them, where my sense is that you all (at least Ben) emotionally felt they were something akin to monsters wearing human skinsuits, some sort of caricature of cartoon villains. From my own outside-community view, you all seem like decent, flawed people with the same broadly praiseworthy, somewhat flawed philosophy. 

More than that, though: the witnesses were already not silent. They'd spent a year being anything but silent. They'd spent the better part of six months feeding information to Ben, who had it and could do what he felt he ought with it independent of Nonlinear's actions. "Please give us a week to present evidence" paired with reassurance that they're not trying to stop you from publishing altogether contains a clear hard deadline with a clear request and gives no reason to indicate an indefinite delay. 

I push towards publication a lot of things a lot of people would really rather we not publish (on BARPod). I don't have quite the proximity to them you guys had to Nonlinear (which goes both ways--you were more reachable by whatever their response was, but you also shared a great deal of context and had a lot more room for cooperation). They can't do anything to indefinitely delay publication. When we're satisfied with the story, we put it up. It is not in their control. When it comes to the publication of your own piece on your own site, you hold all the cards.

A lot of people have strong, competing opinions about this topic. The votes on my own comments have been all over the place, often careening wildly from one hour to the next.

That’s where the discussion prior to hiring is important for me, and there it was clearly laid out that the compensation would be $1k/month plus cost of living. If there were material inconsistencies between that and the actual contract, I’d be sympathetic, but I just didn’t see any.

I do agree that getting into writing earlier over later is better and that (inasmuch as we understand the timing) starting with no written agreement was imprudent, but it doesn’t sway me on the broader picture there.

If they refused to sign the contract presented to them at the start of work and then continued to perform that work, it would be a bizarre decision that would put them in a legally ambiguous spot. That is, since you are keen on getting a direct answer to a contrived hypothetical: yes, that strange sequence, for which neither you nor NL has provided any evidence, would decrease the likelihood that a court would find a legally enforceable contract existed, but acceptance in the form of continuing to do the work in question would weigh the other direction.

You’re straining at gnats on this and other points, and I don’t see much value to continuing this line of inquiry. I look forward to seeing Ben’s response to NL and appreciate the time you’ve taken to respond so far; inasmuch as you can provide hard evidence for points like this I will be keen to see it.

I am currently saying I am confident you a) have to meet a steep burden of proof to demonstrate any flaws you speculate in the contract as it stands, a burden I have intense doubts you can or will meet and b) do not know what you are talking about with contract law and are fixated on tangential details. Until and unless you can meet that burden of proof, you do not have a leg to stand on.

It is a totally normal term, yes, just not one that was germane to the question at hand. 

In terms of making a legal versus ethical argument, I think contracts should be seen primarily as legal tools to settle disputes, such that talking about "valid" contracts outside the legal sense is not particularly useful.

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