EA, Sexual Harassment, and Abuse

Link post

Link-post for the article “Effective Altruism Promises to Do Good Better. These Women Say It Has a Toxic Culture Of Sexual Harassment and Abuse”

A few quotes:

Three times in one year, she says, men at informal EA gatherings tried to convince [Keerthana Gopalakrishnan] to join these so-called “polycules.” When Gopalakrishnan said she wasn’t interested, she recalls, they would “shame” her or try to pressure her, casting monogamy as a lifestyle governed by jealousy, and polyamory as a more enlightened and rational approach.

After a particularly troubling incident of sexual harassment, Gopalakrishnan wrote a post on an online forum for EAs in Nov. 2022. While she declined to publicly describe details of the incident, she argued that EA’s culture was hostile toward women. “It puts your safety at risk,” she wrote, adding that most of the access to funding and opportunities within the movement was controlled by men. Gopalakrishnan was alarmed at some of the responses. One commenter wrote that her post was “bigoted” against polyamorous people. Another said it would “pollute the epistemic environment,” and argued it was “net-negative for solving the problem.”

This story is based on interviews with more than 30 current and former effective altruists and people who live among them. Many of the women spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid personal or professional reprisals, citing the small number of people and organizations within EA that control plum jobs and opportunities.


Many of them asked that their alleged abusers not be named and that TIME shield their identities to avoid retaliation.

One recalled being “groomed” by a powerful man nearly twice her age who argued that “pedophilic relationships” were both perfectly natural and highly educational. Another told TIME a much older EA recruited her to join his polyamorous relationship while she was still in college. A third described an unsettling experience with an influential figure in EA whose role included picking out promising students and funneling them towards highly coveted jobs. After that leader arranged for her to be flown to the U.K. for a job interview, she recalls being surprised to discover that she was expected to stay in his home, not a hotel. When she arrived, she says, “he told me he needed to masturbate before seeing me.”

The women who spoke to TIME counter that the problem is particularly acute in EA. The movement’s high-minded goals can create a moral shield, they say, allowing members to present themselves as altruists committed to saving humanity regardless of how they treat the people around them. “It’s this white knight savior complex,” says Sonia Joseph, a former EA who has since moved away from the movement partially because of its treatment of women. “Like: we are better than others because we are more rational or more reasonable or more thoughtful.” The movement “has a veneer of very logical, rigorous do-gooderism,” she continues. “But it’s misogyny encoded into math.”

Several of the women who spoke to TIME said that EA’s polyamorous subculture was a key reason why the community had become a hostile environment for women. One woman told TIME she began dating a man who had held significant roles at two EA-aligned organizations while she was still an undergraduate. They met when he was speaking at an EA-affiliated conference, and he invited her out to dinner after she was one of the only students to get his math and probability questions right. He asked how old she was, she recalls, then quickly suggested she join his polyamorous relationship. Shortly after agreeing to date him, “He told me that ‘I could sleep with you on Monday,’ but on Tuesday I’m with this other girl,” she says. “It was this way of being a f—boy but having the moral high ground,” she added. “It’s not a hookup, it’s a poly relationship.” The woman began to feel “like I was being sucked into a cult,” she says.

Standard disclaimers apply about ‘not all polyamory’ - there are plenty of perfectly healthy polyamorous relationships out there—but its implementation in EA seems to play a significant role in many of the examples cited.

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the women would only speak under conditions of anonymity due to EA’s centralisation of power over funding and employment in a few (overwhelmingly male) hands.