I believe the consensus last time was "Give 'Em Hell" September 10, 2011 11:48 PM   Subscribe

Dear Givewell: You're kidding, right?

For the uninitiated: previously.
posted by Phire to MetaFilter-Related at 11:48 PM (196 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Give a man a bucket, and he'll drink for a day. But give a man a well, and he'll drink for a while depending on drought conditions, and whether or not you let him keep the bucket.
posted by doublehappy at 11:55 PM on September 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Good thing that Google put that disclaimer up front.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I see their Wikipedia article minimizes their previous shenanigans:
The company has made errors, and lists them publicly on its website on a page called `Shortcomings`. "This page logs mistakes we've made, strategies we should have planned and executed differently, and lessons we've learned." Examples include inappropriate Internet marketing strategies during 2007
Has that always been the case, or did they scrub it? I seem to remember it giving a fuller account, though that might have been the Mefi Wiki.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:18 AM on September 11, 2011


What with being lazy and not feeling any particular urge to waste an hour of my time listening to this Givewell fellow talk, I am hoping someone else with more patience for this sort of thing will come by and sum it all up for us. Does the speaker address the MetaFilter situation? If so, at what mark?

I know I could just suck it up and watch the talk, but ... is there any compelling reason to?
posted by brina at 12:20 AM on September 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Look. dude's a dickhead, and a hedgefund douchebag, and a shameless self-promoter, and kinda sleazy, and I know we have a hate-on for him, but can we at least agree that the world is a slightly better place when dickish, sleazy, self-promoting hedgefund douchebags decide to run non-profits instead of hedgefunds? Seriously, we need to get over this givewell shit alreay.
posted by dersins at 12:21 AM on September 11, 2011 [31 favorites]


Agreed, brina.

Not knowing a whole lot about this except that apparently MetaFilter doesn't like GiveWell, it seems the shortcomings page is pretty up front about things, and links to a board meeting which I really can't be bothered with, but which I assume goes into some detail about whatever it is they did. The "Mistakes" link is reasonably prominent on the givewell homepage.
How we fell short: As part of an effort to gain publicity, GiveWell's staff (Holden and Elie) posted comments on many blogs that did not give adequate disclosure of our identities (though we did use our real first names); in a smaller number of cases, we posted comments and sent emails that deliberately concealed our identities. Our actions were wrong and rightly damaged GiveWell's reputation. More detail is available via the page for the board meeting that we held in response.

Given the nature of our work, it is essential that we hold ourselves to the highest standards of transparency in everything we do. Our poor judgment caused many people who had not previously encountered GiveWell to become extremely hostile to it.

Steps we have taken to improve: We issued a full public disclosure and apology, and directly notified all existing GiveWell donors of the incident. We held a Board meeting and handed out penalties that were publicly disclosed, along with the audio of the meeting. We increased the Board's degree of oversight over staff, particularly with regard to public communications.
So yeah, move on?
posted by doublehappy at 12:25 AM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Hackneyed catchword "paradigm" employed within the first 60 seconds?
Check!
posted by blueberry at 12:30 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


dersins: "but can we at least agree that the world is a slightly better place when dickish, sleazy, self-promoting hedgefund douchebags decide to run non-profits instead of hedgefunds? "

It wasn't just astroturfing, it was a worrying lack of transparency that made it difficult to ascertain exactly how effective GiveWell was at directing money to good causes as opposed to pocketing it (which is especially problematic since Karnofsky's astroturfing was attempting to pull money away from other, proven organizations).
posted by Rhaomi at 12:31 AM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


No way that guy didn't edit their own wikipedia page, or have someone else do it. It looks like a press release.
posted by delmoi at 1:12 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


So I did take the hour and watch the whole thing. It was actually quite interesting in terms of what their metric is for judging a charity a success and how it differs from the norm. There was lots of emphasis on transparency and I thought, hey, maybe they actually are doing a good thing and they seem to be working earnestly.

And then there was this chart put up at about 29:38 titled "Web Visits". It showed a flat-at-zero spot in 2008 labeled "missing data" and I thought hmm, that's an interesting time to be having data missing.

Maybe there's a good reason for it, or it's completely normal, or?
posted by lunaazul at 1:14 AM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]




Crikey it was four years ago, it's highly possible that the organisation, and the people involved have changed and moved on. I honestly wish we could; I think it's kinda immature and very torches-and-pitchforky to have another go on the merry-go-round every time GiveWell does something.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of problems with GiveWell, what they do (currently) and how they do it, but for goodness' sake, can't we stick to substantive criticisms about current activities?

There are plenty of mefites past, present and no doubt future who have been total dicks, but as a community we seem quite capable of not judging the whole by that behaviour. We even have Brand New Day for particularly problematic mefites, many of whom have returned and make great and valuable contributions to the community nowadays. If it's good enough for us, we should be willing to extend a Brand New Day to GiveWell.
posted by smoke at 1:52 AM on September 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


Sooo the video linked to in the post is from April of this year. The second link shows there was a kind of "whatever happened to Givewell" thread around that same time . . so what is this post about exactly? Did something new happen? I think it's September now.
posted by chaff at 2:05 AM on September 11, 2011


I'm glad you posted this. Mostly because of the subsequent comments it's inspired. On a day like today, it's got me thinking about time, charity, forgiveness and letting go in a new way.

Some of the other threads, sites, news outlets, etc. are like staring at the sun for me.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:15 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have nothing in particular against the guy; I wasn't trying to inspire any sort of vendetta with this post. (If anything I'm grateful for the many hours of entertainment the original debacle has inspired.) But I do consider him to be, for better or for worse, part of 'Metafilter History', and thought that an update regarding what he's up to now might've been of interest to the community.

The video itself is of some merit, if only for enabling a meta-analysis of how organizations spin themselves. It was uploaded three weeks ago and I only came across it today - hence the post.
posted by Phire at 3:06 AM on September 11, 2011


I wasn't trying to inspire any sort of vendetta with this post.

Respectfully, that seems to directly contradict the title of the post, namely: "I believe the consensus last time was "Give 'Em Hell", followed the "Dear GiveWell, you're kidding, right?"

I'm not trying to make a big deal about it, but that's not exactly likely to enable the meta-analysis, is it?
posted by smoke at 3:41 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, that's totally fair. It was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the first-ever MeTa about GiveWell but I've definitely written less fighty titles in my life.
posted by Phire at 3:50 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


dersins: the world is a slightly better place when dickish, sleazy, self-promoting hedgefund douchebags decide to run non-profits instead of hedgefunds?

I thought the point of Givewell was to insert themselves as middlemen between donors and the organizations that actually help people, whilst paying themselves monstrous salaries to fill Internet forums with attacks on competing non-profits and justifications for their own high overheads.

Not as harmful as hedge funds, of course, but not in any way making the world a better place.
posted by nowonmai at 4:47 AM on September 11, 2011 [24 favorites]


Hackneyed catchword "paradigm" employed within the first 60 seconds?

Brother, can you paradigm?*

*yet another little pun I thought I'd just made up, but a Google search disavows me of that notion. sigh...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 AM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


puns like that are a digm a dozen.
posted by taz at 5:42 AM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Do you ever think there will be a time when we'll forgive and forget this guy?
posted by crunchland at 5:44 AM on September 11, 2011


"Do you ever think there will be a time when we'll forgive and forget this guy?"

Sure, it could happen....watch this.....

Hitler who?
posted by tomswift at 6:00 AM on September 11, 2011


Forgive, yes. Forget, never.

One day at the rest home, an old man and woman are talking. Out of nowhere the woman says, "I can guess your age."

The man doesn't believe her, but tells her to go ahead and try.

"Pull down your pants," she says.

He doesn't understand but does it anyway. She inspects his rear end for a few minutes and then says, "You're 84 years old."

"That's amazing," the man says. "How did you know?"

"You told me yesterday."
posted by netbros at 6:01 AM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


This thread is kind of weird and stalkery.
posted by empath at 6:25 AM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Holden and the Givewell dudes survived a self inflicted wound that would have put away a less resourceful entity. They have influential backing and are parlaying that into influence just as children of the influential have been doing for 1000's years. It is nothing more than human nature. I participate on a couple of weblogs where Holden is held in higher esteem than anybody on metafilter save Matt and Jessamyn and Cortex. He is like a Miko or a languagehat in some parts.

When the wikipedia got edited I was surprised, still. Apparently he has completely lived it down. If he fucks up again we can all have a really big laugh!
posted by bukvich at 6:29 AM on September 11, 2011


I'm happy to see most comments here are skeptical of continuing the hate. I don't know enough about their practises over the last 4 years to voice an opinion one way or another on their current status but everyone deserves to allowed to move on. The did bad/stupid things but that shouldn't be a permanent yoke if they grow and improve.
posted by peacay at 6:32 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not watching the entire video, but I would suggest that keeping an ongoing hate-on for these people actually serves to minimize the depth of the shitty things that they did way back when because it makes us look vaguely like people who can't let things go and who might be overreacting.

I do not think people are overreacting. I think GiveWell remains suspect. However the extent to which that is a MetaFilter concern as that event fades into the distance is an open question. People feel how they feel, that's totally fine, but we may need to find constructive ways to engage with this past problem.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:54 AM on September 11, 2011 [20 favorites]


Talk about never forget.
posted by nola at 6:59 AM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


For those who could not stomach watching the video, my take on the first two minutes:

1. he has a preppy accent
2. two of the charities he mentions in his intro are "an opera house" and the "United States Golf Association".

(These people are above most of our pay grades.)

3. two minutes was enough for me, but I am biased after reading the sleep deprivation thread.
posted by bukvich at 7:08 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Good for a whole two minutes
posted by Blasdelb at 7:33 AM on September 11, 2011


Wow, on Wikipedia's behalf, let me say: that's not what an encyclopedia article is supposed to look like. I've cleaned it up as much as I could, but given that the article is sourced entirely to GiveWell's own website...yeesh.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 7:39 AM on September 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, on Wikipedia's behalf, let me say: that's not what an encyclopedia article is supposed to look like

And yet so many do.
posted by spitbull at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2011


jessamyn: "because it makes us look vaguely like people who can't let things go and who might be overreacting."

So, you're saying it shows a lot of MeFites' true colors.
posted by mkultra at 7:51 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


NEVAR FORGET
posted by hermitosis at 7:53 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, you're saying it shows a lot of MeFites' true colors.

I'm saying it reflects what I know of human nature in general and not something that I think of as more specfic to MeFi than any place else. That said, it's maybe not our best foot forward.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:53 AM on September 11, 2011


the world is a slightly better place when dickish, sleazy, self-promoting hedgefund douchebags decide to run non-profits instead of hedgefunds?

They're running a non-profit like Bialystock & Bloom were producing a Broadway show.
posted by LionIndex at 7:58 AM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


fill Internet forums with attacks on competing non-profits

This seems the worst part, perhaps, and it was never really addressed by them or their "board" when they "came clean". Still, we're the bad guys, right?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:04 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


> it was never really addressed by them

That is not the way I remember it. My recollection is they addressed exactly that by the code of modern public relations method. Bill Clinton apologized for banging Monica and lying to the prosecuter &c, but after he did so millions of people were of the opinion that he never really addressed the real issues or never really apologized.

At some point you just got to let it roll and let karma forces take care of it.
posted by bukvich at 8:12 AM on September 11, 2011


That was a fun Christmas break. I thought the "self-inflicted" discipline that arose from the event amounted to an unrepentant mea culpa based out of the irritation that the activities of some random website had managed to result in a NY Times article which required damage control (to allow things to keep operating as normal).
posted by Atreides at 8:13 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


For anyone who is troubled by the Wikipedia page, those pages can be edited or disputed. There are many charities to give to, and many ways to research charities. Bringing Givewell's sleazy practices back to light is fine by me. MetaFilter has pretty good Google cred, but we're not quite the center of the Web. A discussion here is not exactly a vendetta, and it's on MeTa, not the front of the NYTimes. This was big news here, and a followup is of interest to MeFi.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on September 11, 2011


We need to make a peace offering to Givewell. Maybe we can fix up their Wikipedia page?
posted by LarryC at 8:18 AM on September 11, 2011


jessamyn: "I'm saying it reflects what I know of human nature in general and not something that I think of as more specfic to MeFi than any place else."

I generally agree, though I'd narrow it a bit to "online discourse" in general. It's a thoroughly obnoxious byproduct of the web's ability to keep everything around more or less forever, and enable anyone with a grudge to pick through the endless details of the past and treat it like the present.

That said, it's on full display in this thread, which IMO should be closed because it's turned into little more than unsubstantiated "I think GiveWell is still awful" comments.
posted by mkultra at 8:19 AM on September 11, 2011


While I found the original astroturfing thing irritating, what really made me leery of them was their premise that charities are not transparent; that Givewell would be the first organization to evaluate how they operate; that charities themselves don't know how to evaluate the effectiveness of their programs.

These were two hedge fund guys who admitted upfront that they had never worked at a nonprofit and had virtually no idea of how they operated. They seemed completely unaware that nonprofits make much of their financial data available (the IRS says they have to), and that in applying for grants, nonprofits must demonstrate what they'll use the money for, and then later, how effective its use was.

I haven't watched to video (and I don't know that I'm so desperate to avoid 9/11 stuff that I will), but from their website: "We obtain information about charities by (a) reviewing materials posted on an organization's website, (b) contacting an organization directly, or (c) conducting applications for direct grants (charities share information with us in the hopes of being awarded a grant)."

In other words, they're not doing anything that other longstanding organizations (grantmakers, Charity Navigator) don't already do. They also talk in a hand-wavy sort of way about a "website scanning heuristic" as an aid to evaluating what information charities make available, but I can't see where they define what that heuristic is. They link to a pdf that they say explains a similar heuristic, but the link is a 404.
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on September 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


I generally agree, though I'd narrow it a bit to "online discourse" in general. It's a thoroughly obnoxious byproduct of the web's ability to keep everything around more or less forever, and enable anyone with a grudge to pick through the endless details of the past and treat it like the present.

You have not been to dinner with my family if you think this requires a website.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:44 AM on September 11, 2011 [17 favorites]


At some point you just got to let it roll and let karma forces take care of it.

I guess I just don't think it makes us bad people for noting what happened beyond the astroturfing. Further, the probability that some GiveWell stooge cleaned up their company's Wikipedia entry seems high. I'm not joining in a witch hunt, but I don't feel that brushing it under the carpet has done much good, either. Just one person's opinion.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:08 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


While I really dislike Holden, Givewell, and all of their activities, now that I think back to it I can't believe I wasted the New Year's Eve of 2007 caring about it by constantly reloading that thread. I bored the shit out of my friends that night.

If there is anything that still troubles me about GiveWell, it is that a bad situation brought the worst out of me.
posted by localhuman at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


bukvich: For those who could not stomach watching the video, my take on the first two minutes:

1. he has a preppy accent
2. two of the charities he mentions in his intro are "an opera house" and the "United States Golf Association".

(These people are above most of our pay grades.)

3. two minutes was enough for me, but I am biased after reading the sleep deprivation thread.


He was talking about how the administrative percentage metric is not a good way to distinguish between charities, because it tells you nothing about what they do or how well they do it.

Also, "a preppy accent"? I have no words.
posted by found missing at 9:10 AM on September 11, 2011


he has a preppy accent --- I didn't watch the whole thing, but I watched snippets, and didn't detect anything like that. Then again, I grew up in Connecticut, so I probably have the same accent, too.
posted by crunchland at 9:12 AM on September 11, 2011


What an odd thread.

Somehow, I think that these people will survive a mildly snarky metatalk post. You'd think we were kicking kittens over here.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:54 AM on September 11, 2011


What a pointless, inflammatory thread. This needs to be closed up.
posted by babby╩╝); Drop table users; -- at 10:04 AM on September 11, 2011


Somehow, I think that these people will survive a mildly snarky metatalk post. You'd think we were kicking kittens over here.

It's not that we have the power to take Givewell down or cause them a lot of embarrassment. It's more that this type of thread makes us look bad and won't accomplish anything. Kinda like looking through facebook profiles and laughing at the people who used to make fun of us or something.
posted by Think_Long at 10:11 AM on September 11, 2011


More like Takepoorly, amirite?

I got nuthin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:12 AM on September 11, 2011


Looks like badgermushroomSNAKE's edits were reverted within the hour, manually, not only removing the controversy detail but restoring the brochure-like content. It has the feel of an article being curated by a stakeholder, but that's just a guess on my part.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:21 AM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Crikey it was four years ago, it's highly possible that the organisation, and the people involved have changed and moved on. I honestly wish we could; I think it's kinda immature and very torches-and-pitchforky to have another go on the merry-go-round every time GiveWell does something.

Yeah, it becomes "Oh you know that Metafilter site hates him".

OTOH, there's something to be said for people who know what went down giving a fuck whether the event is erased from history. If anyone is looking for more than accountability, I'm not seeing it in this thread, and the wikipedia edit is deeply suspicious, because given the nature of the original deception(s), it can't help but call into question who's responsible.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2011


That was the day metafilter died. His confession and casual gift offer prompted a frenzy of sorts, as the crowd perceived insult to the realm, prompting their own approval seeking in the face of obvious and weak prey. Nothing wrong yet, merely distasteful. But some wrongs were done to innocent and articulate others who came from the outside in defense of Givewell. Because we heaped so much blind praise on those who had sleuthed out the real identities of astroturfers (assumed to have been done in good faith and not out some benefit to a competitor), other posters were suddenly trying to sleuth one of these defender's identities from other websites, effectively running them off. I get a dizzy spell every time it is considered a feather in our collective cap.
posted by Brian B. at 10:34 AM on September 11, 2011


It's more that this type of thread makes us look bad and won't accomplish anything.

It makes us look how we look and what it accomplishes (besides informing me of a history of which I was unaware) is sort of transparency. But now I'm curious about the unspecified "financial penalties" that were inflicted on Mr. Karnofsky. I wonder if transparancy includes that information anywhere.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:37 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I get a dizzy spell every time it is considered a feather in our collective cap.

What you may want is some nuance. I do not believe it was a feather in our collective cap. It was some damn entertaining internet shenanigans. There is something about seeing hypocrisy getting a petard hoist which is gratifying along a certain physical reward dimension.
posted by bukvich at 10:40 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with bukvich. Us discussing it from time to time does not constitute torches and pitchforks. The episode was utterly bizarre. Remember how when we lifted the rock that was Givewell we encountered the wriggling worms and bugs that was GiftHub, that bizarre site that presented itself as a masqued ball with Phil Cubeta talking about how to inflict pain on the rich through charitable donations? And remember the idiosyncratic positions taken by Givewell, such as the "don't worry about the overheard or exorbitant salaries drawn by charity members ... what matters is how well the left-over pennies on the dollar of your gift are used?"

It was pretty crazy, entertaining, bizarre, and shudder-making, and I enjoy being kept up to date on these bozos from time to time.
posted by jayder at 11:17 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was the day metafilter died.

So you've been commenting and making fpps on a zombie site for the last 4 years?

Talk about histrionic.
posted by rtha at 11:22 AM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


At some point you just got to let it roll and let karma forces take care of it.

What if I don't believe in karma?
posted by rhizome at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


At one level, Givewell is an ordinary manifestation of what passes for the entrepreneurial spirit these latter days: identify a money flow and figure out a way of dipping into it.

But it has ambitions to be much more than that.

Wealthy elites effectively control most governments, including the US government, but the non-profit sector has shown surprising resistance to that kind of takeover so far.

If Givewell succeeds, that resistance will be a thing of the past.

And if you think I'm exaggerating the pernicious influence an apparently innocuous rating system can have on a huge and seemingly invulnerable sector of our society, take a look at what the US News and World Report ratings have done to American colleges and universities.
posted by jamjam at 11:26 AM on September 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


So you've been commenting and making fpps on a zombie site for the last 4 years?

I consider you among the worst posters, yet I freely talk to you.
posted by Brian B. at 11:28 AM on September 11, 2011


*faints with relief*
posted by rtha at 11:33 AM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


I reserve the majority of my Vintage Metafilter Loathing for Scott Adams.

Seriously, fuck that guy.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I consider you among the worst posters, yet I freely talk to you.

Knock this off.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:58 AM on September 11, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm getting a little dizzy myself.
posted by box at 12:00 PM on September 11, 2011


Wealthy elites effectively control most governments, including the US government, but the non-profit sector has shown surprising resistance to that kind of takeover so far.

Wait, what? Historically, non-profits tend to be founded and run by one of two groups: religions and the wealthy elite (and yes, there is often considerable overlap between the two). While this is of course not 100% the case across the board, it is still largely true even today.
posted by dersins at 12:09 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wealthy elites effectively control most governments, including the US government, but the non-profit sector has shown surprising resistance to that kind of takeover so far.

Where do you think non-profit funding comes from? Who are the foundations named after? Who is on the board of directors? The very term "non-profit" shows that these organizations are part of the structure of a capitalist system, they're not in opposition to it.
posted by Think_Long at 12:31 PM on September 11, 2011


That was the day metafilter died. His confession and casual gift offer prompted a frenzy of sorts, as the crowd perceived insult to the realm, prompting their own approval seeking in the face of obvious and weak prey. Nothing wrong yet, merely distasteful. But some wrongs were done to innocent and articulate others who came from the outside in defense of Givewell. Because we heaped so much blind praise on those who had sleuthed out the real identities of astroturfers (assumed to have been done in good faith and not out some benefit to a competitor), other posters were suddenly trying to sleuth one of these defender's identities from other websites, effectively running them off. I get a dizzy spell every time it is considered a feather in our collective cap.

Was this the Givewell incident or the French Revolution?

I followed the events pretty well at the time and this seems to be a rather over dramatic statement of what happened. In the above narrative, its as if the members of a Utopia forsook the ideals of their wonderful existence to organize a lynch mob. That didn't happen. I believe it's fair to say that there was indignation, but it was not righteous nor overstated. Metafilter, generally, remains the same as today as was the day before an employee at Givewell posted in AskMe.
posted by Atreides at 12:37 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Strange that it is a-ok to impersonate John Isner but pimping a charity is verboten.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:04 PM on September 11, 2011


George_Spiggott: "Looks like badgermushroomSNAKE's edits were reverted within the hour, manually, not only removing the controversy detail but restoring the brochure-like content. It has the feel of an article being curated by a stakeholder, but that's just a guess on my part."

While the user in question has done a lot of editing on the Givewell article, s/he is also a pretty prolific Wikipedia editor on other articles, so I wouldn't automatically assume there is a conflict of interest. S/he probably has the article on their watchlist, hence the quick response.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:21 PM on September 11, 2011


Strange that it is a-ok to impersonate John Isner but pimping a charity is verboten.

You seem unclear what is and is not okay. If someone were legitimately acting like they were John Isner in any but the most lulzy way then yeah that might be a problem. In fact, when cortex realized he had unintentionally hoodwinked some people, he apologized. Pretending to be someone who doesn't work for a company in order to pimp that company is known as astroturfing, is completely forbidden here and is a bannable offense if we catch you.

I'm not sure why it's not clear to you that a jokey sock puppet account to make a few throwaway snarks [along the lines of George Clooney or Paris Hilton] is an entirely different animal than a very real company concerned about their public image and nominally quite concerned about "transparency" who goes astroturfing on a bunch of websites right around holiday time and then only-sort-of apologizes.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Strange that it is a-ok to impersonate John Isner but pimping a charity is verboten.

Seriously, I can't even believe anyone's wasting time talking about Givewell or 9/11 instead of ISNERGATE 2011: History's Greatest Crime, or the Day the Children Cried.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:26 PM on September 11, 2011


Oops.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 1:27 PM on September 11, 2011


Thanks for clearing that up.

I don't care who does what, the mods can post, for lulz, under whatever fake name they want. John Isner, Paris Hilton, George Clooney, whatever. I get it, it is for the lulz. I don't even care that people got excited enough to tell people irl that John Isner was posting, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke right? And hey, cortex apologized.

I think you guys gotta give GiveWell a pass though, they were propably just lulzing.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:34 PM on September 11, 2011


...

You really can't tell the difference there? Really?
posted by kmz at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2011


So, I watched the entire presentation. It's about 30 minutes long before the Q&A starts. He sounds pretty reasonable about his approach, and maintains that GiveWell is the best at charity evaluation. For the academic chart-based approach they use, that might be true. They at least seem to recognize, more than before, that they are newbies to the nonprofit sector.

Interesting: they move the entire org to India for 4 months and looked at some programs there.

It leaves a bad taste how they downplay the shenanigans they engaged in, but they seem to be genuinely interested in doing something good.
posted by zennie at 1:48 PM on September 11, 2011


In my mind, these guys were, and no doubt still are, utter douchecanoes, disingenuous, manipulative bourgeois shits. I have no fucking use for them at all; I hope that I never have to run into their plastic asses in real life.

All the same, I don't think that holding on to this grudge and posting angry Metatalk threads every time they do whatever the fuck it is that poor little rich boys who can't make it in high finance do with their time is the best way course of conduct. It's unseemly. It makes us look a little obsessive, a little stalkerish.

Narcissistic rage should not be the public face of MetaFilter.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2011


Sure I can tell the difference between mods commenting as well known people and a guys pushing a charity under fake names. I guess I just don't care about the difference. If people can just straight up bamboozle, or hoodwink, people so be it.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2011


they were propably just lulzing.

I do not give a shit if they were lulzing. Their lulzing is indistinguishable from astroturfing which is 100% not okay here and also not okay in the industry they're in. This is a consistent community guideline to the extent that we can enforce it. Remember this wasn't one person pimping something, this was a softball AskMe question asked specifically to get someone else to step up and turf for GiveWell, a charity that is "all about transparency" so it was a two-person knowing grift. This isn't some "street team" working to do back channel SEO for yet another t-shirt company, this was the director of a non-profit charity. Big differences. Not okay.

And as I said before, I don't really bring this up unless people ask or bring it up themselves, but the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth as someone who really encourages people to be real and genuine with each other and believes you don't have to fuck people over to survive. Other people don't care, totally fine, I like to think MeFi has more integrity than that, on balance.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


I guess I just find it incredibly hard to believe how anybody could have believed it was actually him.
posted by kmz at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2011


I really do believe a lot of the hatred (as clearly articulated in this thread) is just class related and I wasn't into that back when it happened and still think in the grand scheme of things this isn't that big a deal. Exxon < Givewell, yeah?
posted by the mad poster! at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2011


let me be clearer, I don't mean "class related" I mean more like "how can someone so inexperienced with a bunch of money just saunter into this field" related, like irritation at them breaching a meritocratic notion of seniority and capacity.
posted by the mad poster! at 2:03 PM on September 11, 2011


Wow, a two person grift? I get it, it is not cool per community guidelines, I am just saying let's not go around impersonating people. Can we get a guideline about that? It really isn't cool.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:05 PM on September 11, 2011


In my opinion, I know it isn't worth much and I am going to drop it after this, some if the things metafilter gets het up about, astroturfing, deleted posts on boing boing, pale in comparison to posting under well known peoples names. I'd actually like to see the lulzy comments deleted or disclaimed, sure we know it isn't a famous person posting, but what happens when someone googles John Isner and finds those comments? Metafilter may even be opening itself to legal action.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:17 PM on September 11, 2011


Can we get a guideline about that? It really isn't cool.

I don't really know what sort of line you're asking to have drawn.

No maliciously impersonating someone for manipulative reasons? That's already pretty firmly in the bounds of the general "don't fuck with the site" approach to the guidelines.

No ever making a joke about the implausible presence of someone on the site? There's a pretty big difference in kind between that and intentional identity deception.

Like Jess said in the recent Isner-joke Metatalk, if we saw actually-deceptively-pretending-to-be-someone-else become a thing on the site, we'd deal with it at that point and make sure it was not something that happened. To a lesser degree, we're also not okay with people using alternate accounts as a smokescreen for weird interpersonal reactions on the site. But lumping obvious jokes in with stuff like astroturfing in a policy sense doesn't really make any sense to me, and it's not clear whether you disagree with that or we're just not understanding what, exactly, you're trying to get at.

but what happens when someone googles John Isner and finds those comments?

Hopefully they proceed to make any effort at all to figure out that the comments aren't by Isner? Maybe, in the worst case scenario, they don't make that effort, use it as a reference to For Real John Isner, and then look a bit silly when someone points out the naked impossibility of Isner typing comments out of the blue on some website while he's actually on television, live, playing tennis?

There's a certain amount of basic leeway we grant folks here with their accounts as long as they aren't actually doing something weird and abusive. Cross that line and we'll definitely be talking to you, yes. In practice I can't recall a case of someone posing fraudulently as a famous person in some credible way here.

And much as I meant my apology about the Isner confusion sincerely to the few folks in that thread who seemed on the fence, the man did not secretly text comments about pooping scale models of himself from the tennis court in front of all the world's cameras. I feel bad for accidentally perpetuating some confusion, not for attempting in any meaningful way to convince anyone that John Isner could join metafilter with the power of his mind in the middle of a three-day-long tennis match.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:31 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If someone googles my username I hope they think an actual red-tailed hawk is posting on Metafilter.
posted by rtha at 2:34 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


QUIS MODERABIT IPSOS MODERATES, CORTEX???
posted by villanelles at dawn at 2:38 PM on September 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


If someone googles my username I hope they think an actual red-tailed hawk is posting on Metafilter.

Wait you're just another person? Man I thought this day couldn't get any more disappointing.

More seriously since this discussion was misbegotten in the first place and has since gotten terribly stupid maybe it could get closed up and people could go work on trying to think of something to brood over that actually mattered.
posted by nanojath at 2:39 PM on September 11, 2011


I really do believe a lot of the hatred (as clearly articulated in this thread) is just class related and I wasn't into that back when it happened and still think in the grand scheme of things this isn't that big a deal. Exxon < Givewell, yeah?
posted by the mad poster! at 17:02 on September 11 [+] [!]


let me be clearer, I don't mean "class related" I mean more like "how can someone so inexperienced with a bunch of money just saunter into this field" related, like irritation at them breaching a meritocratic notion of seniority and capacity.
posted by the mad poster! at 17:03 on September 11 [+] [!]


O_o


Unbelievable.
posted by odinsdream at 2:45 PM on September 11, 2011


Ad hominem: "In my opinion, I know it isn't worth much and I am going to drop it after this, some if the things metafilter gets het up about, astroturfing, deleted posts on boing boing, pale in comparison to posting under well known peoples names. I'd actually like to see the lulzy comments deleted or disclaimed, sure we know it isn't a famous person posting, but what happens when someone googles John Isner and finds those comments? Metafilter may even be opening itself to legal action."

Allow me to put on my publicist's hat for a moment. Astroturfing is a hugely dishonest practice. You're talking about companies/corporations and organizations that masquerade as regular consumers to promote themselves, without revealing that they stand to benefit financially and in many possible other ways from promoting a positive image of themselves online. Worse, astroturfing campaigns often target public officials, to dupe them into thinking that the public wants something -- a deceitful and unethical lobbying tactic.

But worst of all, those tactics are now being used by military agencies and governments, to promote support and good will where it may not be deserved.

Astroturfing has been used to minimize criminal activity and unfair business practices. It has been used to mask / alter the truth and defraud the public.

Honesty for MeFi's readers is a huge part of what the spammer ban here on MeFi is about. Spammers do not get to promote their businesses here or use the site to further their efforts. If they work through normal channels (Projects) that guarantee transparency, then great. But if they pretend to be someone else, that's a bannin'.

It's worth getting het up about, imo. On every level.
posted by zarq at 2:56 PM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


Also, I really need a Publicist's Robe. That would be cool. Or supremely dorky.
posted by zarq at 2:57 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really don't understand why the Wikipedia GiveWell article continues to be so carefully curated to eliminate anything but brochure elements -- that is, irrelevant pictures of needy people, and sanitized hand-wavey treatments of controversies.

The Wikipedia standard for inclusion is supposedly notability, and the astroturfing is clearly notable. Even if GiveWell does excellent charitable work -- which it may, for all I know, and if it does that is praiseworthy -- its charitable work is not yet notable. That is, there are no sources outside the organization itself to say that it is. Howard Dean is someone I admire greatly, and it is maddening to me that he should be notable for that yell -- but he is, and I'd not going to scrub his Wikipedia article of relevant, if unflattering and trivializing, information, or add random pictures of sick people to show who a physician, like Howard Dean, might help. But that is exactly what editor Green Cardamom continues to do for GiveWell.

I do assume good faith, but when we have a Wikipedia article that breaks many of Wikipedia's guidelines, and all edits to correct them get reverted by the same editor -- what then? Has Wikipedia no way to ensure that one person -- however well-respected -- cannot permanently determine the contents of a page?

I know some Mefites are very active in Wikipedia -- what on Earth is going on here?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:19 PM on September 11, 2011 [8 favorites]


I know some Mefites are very active in Wikipedia -- what on Earth is going on here?

I'm on and off active in Wikipedia and I'm on the advisoy board of the Wikimedia Foundation. Usually the trick here is to either take advantage of the 3RR otherwise known as a three revert rule. That is, one editor can't make three reverts to content changes within a day (I think, I can't recall exactly how it happened) without it being a bannable type offense. Realistically, it's probably a good idea to do this in steps

1. re-include the information and put a note up on the discussion page explaining why you are doing it and try to engage the editor in a discusison there there. Often this involves settling on some sort of compromise wording, but people who just want to totally remove "controversy" sections are usually scrutinized a little more than the average editor.
2. Involve your favorite Wikipedia admin and point out the issue if you do not get any engagement on the discussion page. You can find admins here. It's usually a good idea if you have a few people who share your concern and if you can be pretty clear why you think the thing you are trying to include meets all qualifications for inclusion and is pretty well-cited, more or less neutral sounding, etc
3. You could also do things a little sideways and add this whole thing as a datapoint in the Astroturfing page, properly cited of course

Wikipedia is imperfect in many ways but they do have processes for this. You can see this playing out on some other pages like the Whole Foods discussion page for a look at how people deal with this sort of thing. Basically since the controversy made the Times, I think it's clear that this is notable and I think a case can be made from that alone. Let me know if you could use some more help with untangling this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:36 PM on September 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


"They at least seem to recognize, more than before, that they are newbies to the nonprofit sector."

Part of my issue with them is that comes across as rather disingenuous; sort of "Oh, don't be too hard on us, we're just newbies stumbling along trying to do the right thing!"

But they've been at it for a long time now, and they've been using that line since the start. It formed a big part of both Holden's mea culpa and the corporate response. You'd think after four years they have a bit more of a handle on how to operate in the non-profit sector.
posted by Pinback at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


To say nothing of the fact that it's a stance diametrically in conflict with their entire purpose: you cannot beg indulgence for your conduct as a nonprofit due to your callow, neophyte ignorance of the sphere while being in the business of rating the performance of nonprofits. On the face of it that's the most extraordinary and laughable example I've ever seen of trying to have it both ways.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:23 PM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wait, so Wikipedia depends on the New York Times to determine important content? Revenge of the old media!

For me, the nut of the Givewell episode wasn't (mostly) that the guys were Ivy league hedge fund types, although there was some class schadenfreude for sure. The point was that they were setting themselves up to evaluate the worthiness (which really comes down to integrity and not just efficiency) of other non-profit organizations, many of which do good work, using a narrowly econometric view of efficiency. Donor advocacy is one thing. Setting yourselves up as the brokers between donors and charities on the basis of a very narrow range of experience, a very untested and limited model for evaluation, and an astroturfy push to develop your clientele (that in the case of this site, gamed AskMe in a specifically obnoxious and forbidden way, encouraging earnest discussion in order to appear to be an earnest discussant while making a plug for your own project) -- well, that's all another thing. And it comes across as superbly arrogant and not a little hypocritical when you assert the right and ability to rank others on a scale that is, ultimately, ethical (because any waste of charitable giving is immoral, not just inefficient, especially given the extent to which western style philanthropy depends on emotional appeals and long-term trust relationships) if you yourselves are dishonest in dealing with potential clients.

They set themselves up for this in a way that would have been unremarkable had they continued evaluating hedge funds rather than developing world-focused charities.

They also asserted the superiority of their abilities in a market where there are established competitors with honorable track records and methods, deprecating those competitors unfairly by deceiving potential users of their service on AskMe *and* elsewhere.

They seemed to have learned something from all of this. Of course, they were terribly clumsy astroturfers, and so one has to wonder if they simply learned to do it more carefully in the future. Such is the nature of even one act of significant dishonesty in this particular realm of our culture.

And so should it be.

Many years ago, I was speaking with a group of folks in a very poor developing world setting. The details don't matter. But as I was explaining how an enterprise that had benefited from exploiting the cultural resources of this community was not so bad, since it was a "non profit" organization, one of the Elder women in the community asked to see the beautifully produced item this non-profit corporation had produced up close. I gave it to her, and she inspected the lavish quality of its packaging and presentation.

"I bet these people drive nice cars and have nice houses," she remarked.
posted by spitbull at 4:25 PM on September 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


I know some Mefites are very active in Wikipedia -- what on Earth is going on here?

My limited experience with wikipedia is that this reaction is very typical for the majority of pages. Zealous wikipedia types assume "ownership" for a page and then ferociously defend their right to be the only person who makes edits to it and to be the sole arbiter of what does or doesn't belong on it.

Simple logic and a normal cogent argument is not enough for these small-minded Kafkaesque types; attempt to mount a defense for your (small) changes and they will WP:EBP (Eleventy Billion Policies) you to the death. They care more than you do, log in more than you do, and will revert - however many times it takes.

Personally the only changes I've made on wikipedia (probably fifteen or so) that have stuck are ones removing vandalism or adding a line to a page that clearly didn't have an "owner". None of the changes have been substantive - all have been referenced - and all bar one were reverted or removed within a matter of days by people whose egos are woven very tightly indeed into wikipedia.
posted by smoke at 4:44 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I agree with spitbull that what bugged me was them purporting to evaluate NGOs' performance by superior metrics as though they were the first to discover matrices or nonprofit performance evaluation.
posted by salvia at 5:16 PM on September 11, 2011


Wait, so Wikipedia depends on the New York Times to determine important content? Revenge of the old media!

I've spent an awful lot of time in the trenches of Wikipedia and while I know that many people have very strong opinions of it, I'm also aware that those may not be from people who have spent a lot of time there. Wikipedia has an image problem but, like MetaFilter, it does have a set of guidelines and hard and fast rules and if there's something you want to actually get done there, you usually can if you know how to work within the structure there. Often many people get turned off at the point at which they have to deal with the structure and thats fine, but it's worth knowing the same could be said of this place.

In any case, I can pretty much talk forever about it, but the "old media" thing is mostly just how things are determined to be notable. This is sort of a bg deal since even though web space is basically free, there are still some limits as far as what does and does not merit an article and what does and does not merit inclusion in an article. An easy slam-dunk is something being mentioned in a major media source. So this is not the only way to achieve notability, but it's an easy one which is why I mentioned it.

To make the best case in Wikipedia--and I've been involved in some very long-game sorts of discussions with people hellbent on making Wikipedia their own personal soapbox about library and censorship issues--it's useful to know what is most effective and what is least effective. Appeal to old media is effective, sometimes even moreso than to print materials like books because it's easier to cite them in a way that other people can immediately verify/
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know some Mefites are very active in Wikipedia -- what on Earth is going on here?

I ended up reverting edits to Scott Adams' WP page, which were made by an anonymous editor and were attempts to remove all mention of his actions on Reddit and Metafilter, a subject that could fairly be argued as notable and worthy of inclusion, given his relatively public status.

After about 10-15 edits, I filed a page protection request on WP, which explained the situation. Shortly thereafter the IP of the anonymous editor was blocked. After the block was lifted, I kept an eye out and didn't see any more similar edit attempts.

If GiveWell is doing the same thing, then it could be somewhat easy to track the editor IPs, maybe doing some traceroutes and so forth. If the edit war looks suspicious because of the anonymity of the editors, then filing a page protection request is a reasonable follow-up to marking up your edits with shorthand policy notes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:57 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was mostly joking, Jessamyn! The problems with Wikipedia are bigger than Wikipedia.
posted by spitbull at 6:53 PM on September 11, 2011


But in the case of GiveWell, it is not an anonymous editor -- this editor has a long history and many responsible edits to all sorts of articles unrelated to GiveWell. It really seems unlikely to me that this editor is an actual GiveWell shill -- because, if so, that would make him or her deep-cover on a level seldom if ever equaled.

Yet for whatever reason, this editor cannot see the issues many other people have tried to correct over the years, and is zealous in reverting all edits, and slapping down all objections in the talk page. I don't have a relationship with any WP admin, so -- I need to come as a supplicant to Green Cardamom's talk page? It is interesting to me that a Wikipedia page can become someone's personal fiefdom. How does that happen? Who decides?

We all know why you can't use Wikipedia as a source if the reliability of the info matters at all. But if this kind of thing is as common as Smoke describes, Wikipedia is... what? "A bunch of different dudes' personal fansites that, in practice, no one can edit"?

Not to sound like a four-year-old who just learned Santa was my parents, but jeez. I did not know this.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 6:58 PM on September 11, 2011


I don't have a relationship with any WP admin

You do not need to have a relationship with them, you can just contact them. You are a Wikipedia user, they are an admin, same way you'd contact me or mathowie or cortex.

And no, you don't have to be a supplicant, you can just come in a spirit of "what can we do to resolve this?" If that seems weird or problematic then maybe you want to work with a friend, or leave it to someone else to deal with. Ultimately people only have as much power as the community gives them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:01 PM on September 11, 2011


If I read it correctly, it looks like a wikipedia admin has since weighed in on the article's discussion page in favor of reintroducing the Controversy section and removing the Recommendations section.

I was just looking through the history of the article, and it appears that the editor who has continually protected the alternative mild, exclusively GiveWell-sourced "Shortcomings" section is actually the original author of that section, and has summarily restored it every time anyone alters or removes it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2011


Yeah it's really clear that the person who is making the edits is also the same person who took the photo of Holden that is in the article. This alone suggests that her [?] NPOV is perhaps not really where it should be. I'l lleave a comment on the talk page as well.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:54 PM on September 11, 2011


Yeah it's really clear that the person who is making the edits is also the same person who took the photo of Holden that is in the article.

Ugh. I'm not super-familiar with Wikipedia's guidelines for editors. Could someone comment on whether they have rules similar to the Metafilter rule where one is not supposed to post on subjects they are close to?
posted by lalex at 8:17 PM on September 11, 2011


Actually, I am not so good at the reading. She contacted them and asked for photos. Sorry about that. I did leave a comment about the rest of it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:19 PM on September 11, 2011


That was the day metafilter died.

Long long time ago,
I can still remember
How the questions used to make me smile.
And I knew if my post hit the mark
That I could make those MeFites snark
And maybe they'd be happy for a while.
But when somebody asked 'bout Givewell
That's when AskMe had its death knell
Bad news on Metatalk
We had the mods help us stalk.
I can't remember, did I flag?
When I read spam from that Holden jag,
I know I saw a "callout" tag
The day
The Meta
Died.

And I commented,
Bye, bye, Holden Karnofsky,
Broke the guidelines, now you're sidelined, say goodbye to your five.
How the hell do you think Miko's a Mike?

Sighing, this'll be the day Mefi dies.
This'll be the day Mefi dies.
posted by maryr at 8:55 PM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know that this is a bad subject to revisit. Despite MetaFilter somehow dying on that day, nonetheless the original thread contained an excellent criticism of GiveWell's inexperience and the nonsensical metrics they use to judge charities, which can serve to divert finds from a worthwhile charity just because the GiveWell people don't really understand the good that's being done with that money. Additionally, because they position themselves as middlemen, interrupting the direct flow of cash from donor to charity, and because they siphon off a percentage of that obey, they actually wind up being both obstructionist and reduce the total amount of funds a charity gets.

These were good, valid criticisms, and unless GiveWell has addressed them (they didn't back then), it's a criticism that's still valid. The preposterous astroturfing they did back then was bad, but it was these criticisms I found really damning. And yet they seem to be chugging along just fine, giving what might as well be arbitrary ratings to charities, if the original critique was accurate, while pocketing money that might otherwise go to a charity.

They invented a problem, invented a solution, positioned themselves as the people with the answer, and dipped their hands into the pockets of the genuinely needy. It might be good salesmanship, but, unless they have somehow changed the way they do business, I find it otherwise despicable.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:17 PM on September 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I would suggest that keeping an ongoing hate-on for these people actually serves to minimize the depth of the shitty things that they did way back when because it makes us look vaguely like people who can't let things go and who might be overreacting.

I see what you were saying, Jessamyn. This is exactly the position that the editor has taken on the talk page, implying that Metafilterians are too biased to edit the page, even if they seem NPOV.

How long will the MeFi community continue its campaign of anti-GiveWellianism. GiveWell moved on years ago, posting an apology on its website in 2007. No one cares anymore, except MeFi.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:49 PM on September 11, 2011


Bunny Ultramod, as was discussed at length last time this came up, the idea of ranking charities according to effectiveness (defined in utilitarian terms as actual lives saved or improved, rather than in terms of minimizing overheads/admin spend) is not at all a "nonsensical" solution to an "invented" problem.

The question of how to maximize utility through charitable giving (and specifically through choice of charity, which can sometimes be much more important than the $ amount spent) is a very real, very important problem that utilitarian philosophers think deeply about. See, for example, Peter Singer's The Life You Can Save or the work of Oxford's Toby Ord.

(I won't speak to GiveWell itself because Mefites tend to think I'm a paid shill when I do that. Asking lots of vegetarian cooking and queer culture questions is part of my long con, it seems.)

posted by dontjumplarry at 11:30 PM on September 11, 2011


Well the editor of that page is wrong. That page does not look like a Wikipedia page. It's shameful actually. It seems to me that whoever is editing that page to, in her words, "focus it on the positive things the company does and has done" is the biased one. I also happen to think that people here are beating themselves up way too much over the GiveWell affair. A bit too much of a pileon against the OP of this Meta. I tend to think the Wikipedia brochure, apparently edited by a Mefite with no GiveWell affiliation, is yet another example of this over-the-top Mefi self-flagellation. It's totally an example of not being able to get over it after four years, but in the other direction.
posted by Danila at 12:37 AM on September 12, 2011


Turning this MeTa post into a back-channel forum for discussing changes to GiveWell's Wikipedia page is lending a lot of credence to the Wiki editor's claim that MeFi is continuing to hold onto this grudge way too long.

This is becoming weird and unseemly. Can the people who still care about this just take it off-site, please?
posted by mkultra at 5:51 AM on September 12, 2011


Some of the best things in life are unseemly.
posted by aramaic at 6:14 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whenever I think of the GiveWell thing here, the first thing that pops into my mind is the wonderfully thoughtful and detailed critiques Miko offered of that group's model for rating charities. She spent almost no time on the grar fury that seems to be what most folks here are remembering, and a lot of time dissecting GiveWell's inflated claims about the superiority of what they were doing.

It was great MeFi.
posted by mediareport at 6:46 AM on September 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Can the people who still care about this just take it off-site, please?

Could all you guys talking about the stuff I don't like please leave MetaFilter as well? TIA.
posted by cold dead hans at 6:52 AM on September 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


It was great MeFi.

Miko gives great Mefi.

And I mean that in all sincerity.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 AM on September 12, 2011


Bunny Ultramod, as was discussed at length last time this came up, the idea of ranking charities according to effectiveness (defined in utilitarian terms as actual lives saved or improved, rather than in terms of minimizing overheads/admin spend) is not at all a "nonsensical" solution to an "invented" problem.

Oh, was there consensus? Because I wasn't on the side of that consensus. These guys have not demonstrated a metric that we can mutually agree is "utilitarian" or that "actual lives saves" is even a useful metric in many charities.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:12 AM on September 12, 2011


You don't have to agree with it to think it's not malarkey.
posted by mkultra at 7:17 AM on September 12, 2011


You don't have to agree with it to think it's not malarkey.

I happen to disagree and think it is malarky.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:28 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


After reading the discussion page on the Wiki entry, I'm actually glad that Metafilter is revisiting the GiveWell saga on a regular basis.

That entry and its history appears to me to be a good demonstration of someone gaming the system - and being pulled up for it. The counter-defence is hilarious (the claim that astroturfing is normal business practice is pure gold).

The Wiki editors have to be applauded for their patience and diplomacy for a situation in which "Cut that shit out" would be the most obvious response.
posted by panboi at 7:42 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Can the people who still care about this just take it off-site, please?

Why? I didn't even participate in the original discussions/investigations, but I've no objection to others wanting to do so. If you think GiveWell is being inaccurately represented, then contest that. If you think they're being libeled, then take it up with the mods. What's weird and unseemly is demanding the end of a discussion simply because you're tired with it.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:50 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's uncharitable on my part, but I just can't see ever trusting a group that started off with a questionable model for helping people which they promoted with lies and obfuscation.

That they had that kind of moral flexibility right from the outset makes me unconsciously question their every action, and that's not a group I'm willing to trust to do anything charitable.

Which is a shame, because for all I know they might be completely honest these days, but that initial introduction was enough to turn me off to them forever. And there are enough other non-profit groups out there without that kind of sketchy background that I can choose from.
posted by quin at 8:50 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


They invented a problem, invented a solution, positioned themselves as the people with the answer, and dipped their hands into the pockets of the genuinely needy.

They would fit in perfectly in Academia.
posted by euphorb at 8:57 AM on September 12, 2011


I really couldn't give two shits about GiveWell. If they're going to enter into a market-based approach to charity, then either the market will validate their model or it won't.

What's pretty basic is that this post has never had anything to do with MeFi to begin with. Then it turned into a forum for discussing Wikipedia edits and how best to manage them. I know everyone's intents are good, but this is not at all what Metatalk is for. Wikipedia provides a forum for handling these issues via Talk.

When the prevailing counter-criticism of what used to be a well-articulated argument against GiveWell is that "MeFi is axe-grinding", and membership is engaged in a closed (remember, MeTa is much less public than the rest of the site) discussion about policing that page, it gives that argument a lot of weight. It makes us look petty and small.
posted by mkultra at 9:20 AM on September 12, 2011


I really couldn't give two shits about GiveWell.

So go find something more enjoyable to do with your time?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


The counter-criticism is a poor - and laughable - attempt to paint Metafilter as the actual villains - and by persons who appear to have a vested interest in the company in question.

If we were witnessing an actual honest attempt by GiveWell to move on and conduct themselves with a set of standards then we wouldn't be discussing them.
posted by panboi at 9:45 AM on September 12, 2011


this is not at all what Metatalk is for.

Mods who have weighed in appear to disagree.

If they're going to enter into a market-based approach to charity, then either the market will validate their model or it won't.

Which is one of the reasons why the astroturfing Holden et al. engaged in was so shitty. It's not like "the market" is some all-knowing, all-truthful system: it can be gamed, and frequently is. It doesn't seem like they're doing that anymore, which is good, but it was an inauspicious beginning.
posted by rtha at 10:06 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here is an article which appeared in The Independent back in June:

Someone has been cleaning up Wikipedia entries for the rich and powerful

By Andy McSmith and David Singleton
...

Wikipedia's defenses against this kind of thing are ridiculously, pathetically inadequate-- insofar as they can be said to exist at all-- and far, far inferior to Metafilter's.

I think the pattern of editing of the Givewell article ought to occasion deep concern on the part of Wikipedia administrators, and that Wikipedia ought to be falling all over themselves grateful to Metafilter for drawing attention to it rather than defensive and dismissive.
posted by jamjam at 10:37 AM on September 12, 2011 [7 favorites]


At times like this, I ask myself -- sincerely -- whether someone has recognized the bad things they are doing and gotten better, or has recognized how to get better at not being recognized for the bad things they are doing.
posted by davejay at 10:52 AM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also:


I ended up reverting edits to Scott Adams' WP page, which were made by an anonymous editor and were attempts to remove all mention of his actions on Reddit and Metafilter, a subject that could fairly be argued as notable and worthy of inclusion, given his relatively public status.


See, this is why I don't mind things being rehashed on MetaFilter...I literally had no idea any of that stuff happened, and were it not for the above comment, I might never have found out. This happens to be information I find relevant and valuable -- it's always good to know who you're giving money to, be it a charity or a seller of product -- and just because it isn't today's news doesn't mean it isn't important to someone.
posted by davejay at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


octobersurprise: "So go find something more enjoyable to do with your time?"

I could ask the same of you, who are now dropping into a MeTa thread for the second time for the sole purpose of picking a fight with me, creepy stalker guy.
posted by mkultra at 11:48 AM on September 12, 2011


Stop. Please walk away if this isn't the conversation you want to be having. We're not closing this thread. Folks can do what they want with that information.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:21 PM on September 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the thing about givewell is that the guy just came across as so sleazy overall. Badmouthing other (high quality) charities using sockpuppets and so on. Why would someone so sleazy be interested in helping people? Or it's like, since charity work is all about doing good, how does it work if you're someone who does bad things as well? It's kind of confusing.

It didn't help that he came off as smarmy and ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 12:43 PM on September 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


delmoi: "Or it's like, since charity work is all about doing good, how does it work if you're someone who does bad things as well?"

Because the human animal is a complicated creature, and "bad" is subjective. Do you know who else worked in the charity sphere with a lack of transparency and engaged in possibly shady practices with the people she was supposed to be helping?
posted by mkultra at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2011


I think the pattern of editing of the Givewell article ought to occasion deep concern on the part of Wikipedia administrators

Seriously. There's a deeper problem here than the deep, unforgiving urge to vomit some of us still feel when we hear the word "GiveWell." That article is shit, by any Wikipedia standard worth upholding; if Wikipedia refuses to recognize that, then we have another issue worth vomiting over.

*bleargh*
posted by mediareport at 1:09 PM on September 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's so frustrating when you make some edits to a wikipedia article, trying to make it better, and then learn that the only way to make your few sentences stick is to dedicate the rest of your life to monitoring that article to keep it in good shape. That's not what a drive by editor is signing up for, and that's one of the reasons wikipedia can be so frustrating.
posted by garlic at 1:13 PM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mother Teresa didn't come to askme and ask a fake question and then get one of her buddies to answer it by saying "Mother Teresa is awesome!" If she had, I imagine that there would be several meTas about that as well.

The fact that other people behave badly does not make the initial Givewell stunt okay. That other charities may lack transparency doesn't make it okay for them to be opaque while claiming to be otherwise.
posted by rtha at 1:19 PM on September 12, 2011


The Wikipedia article as of this moment looks a lot better than it did a few days ago, at least. The brochure-like images are gone, it's appropriately short, most of the flowery language is gone, and the controversy section is relatively unsanitized. And it doesn't look like there's a furor of high-speed editing or reverting going on.
posted by anazgnos at 1:24 PM on September 12, 2011


The brochure-like images are gone

They're back.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:31 PM on September 12, 2011


Do you know who else worked in the charity sphere with a lack of transparency and engaged in possibly shady practices with the people she was supposed to be helping?

100% True Fact: Among her many sins, Mother Teresa used a sock-puppet called Father Hitler to badmouth other charities.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:38 PM on September 12, 2011


rtha: "The fact that other people behave badly does not make the initial Givewell stunt okay. That other charities may lack transparency doesn't make it okay for them to be opaque while claiming to be otherwise."

No one is saying otherwise. I'm just responding delmoi's incredulity that working in charity and having personal failings can coexist.
posted by mkultra at 1:39 PM on September 12, 2011


They're back.

I don't see anything but the logo and the one with Holden actually in it, and I don't see any additional edits since the one where they were removed. The random 'people who might benefit from charity' shots are gone.
posted by anazgnos at 1:41 PM on September 12, 2011

While the user in question has done a lot of editing on the Givewell article, s/he is also a pretty prolific Wikipedia editor on other articles, so I wouldn't automatically assume there is a conflict of interest. S/he probably has the article on their watchlist, hence the quick response.
First of all the whole 'watchlist' thing. That's one of the things that make wikipedia kind of suck now. If you want to make a change, it will probably be deleted, and you have to be willing to babysit the thing or whatever. Maybe some sort of review method where you submit changes, have a discussion about those specific changes and if there are enough positive reviews the change would be made. That would be better then the stochastic edit wars that seem to rein on the site now.

It seems like this editor may know Holden, but a lot of PR people now work to integrate themselves into 'social media' sites, which I suppose wikipedia would qualify as. It's kind of gross.

Calling the section "shortcomings" and directing people to their website to read about it? Completely ridiculous.
The Wikipedia standard for inclusion is supposedly notability, and the astroturfing is clearly notable. Even if GiveWell does excellent charitable work
It was actually covered in the NYT!
I ended up reverting edits to Scott Adams' WP page, which were made by an anonymous editor and were attempts to remove all mention of his actions on Reddit and Metafilter, a subject that could fairly be argued as notable and worthy of inclusion, given his relatively public status.
Woah, what? Scott Adams had sock puppet on metafilter? And actually it turns out I actually replied to him but apparently left the thread before he outed himself. Also, StrikeTheViol wins one internet.
Because the human animal is a complicated creature, and "bad" is subjective. Do you know who else worked in the charity sphere with a lack of transparency and engaged in possibly shady practices with the people she was supposed to be helping?
I've heard more criticism of Mother Theresa then I have praise, I think. Anyway, the problem here is what if these people can't even tell the difference between what's ethical and what's not?

Suppose GiveWell became hugely popular. What's to prevent them from selling ratings or just straight up taking bribes for good reviews? Just look at S&P or Moody's who gave out AAA ratings to subprime mortgages, because if they didn't they wouldn't get paid. It would be easy for Holden to justify that just like he justified his astroturfing. In fact, he's completely shown his willingness to throw good charities under the bus in order to benefit his organization. Holden might justify this by saying it's better for his organization, which is working towards something good in the end -- in his mind taking bribes might be a good thing, because it would help GiveWell achieve it's goals in the end.
No one is saying otherwise. I'm just responding delmoi's incredulity that working in charity and having personal failings can coexist.
Not personal failures, but rather ethical failures in the operation of a charity
posted by delmoi at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


> I'm just responding delmoi's incredulity that working in charity and having personal failings can coexist.

Gotcha.
posted by rtha at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2011


I don't see anything but the logo and the one with Holden actually in it, and I don't see any additional edits since the one where they were removed. The random 'people who might benefit from charity' shots are gone.

Nope. Still there.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:43 PM on September 12, 2011


It's still almost entirely sourced to GiveWell's site in terms of citations, and except for the last day's edits, is written pretty nakedly from GiveWell's POV.

It looks like the edit which removed the promotional images was done by an IP rather than a registered editor, which never goes over well on a contested page. The edit comment claims a "consensus", also seems provocative since there really isn't consensus on the discussion page, only a preponderance of commenters other than the page's two main defenders.

On preview, SysRq, clear your cache.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:45 PM on September 12, 2011


Nope. Still there.

Are you sure you're not looking at previous revision? this is the latest version I see
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2011


Ah, there we go. Gone!

I was right when I said "They're back," though, unless I managed to get that comment in before the initial change took effect; I hadn't ever viewed that page before. I suspect it will be an ongoing battle until someone gets permabanned.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:01 PM on September 12, 2011


The Givewell business mold probably makes for a very good tax shelter.

1) Start charity recommending charities
2) Put all holdings into charity = pay no taxes.
3) Profit!
posted by buzzman at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2011


I would really love to hear people's responses to the video itself, if anyone's taken the time to watch it - particularly from our nonprofit gurus like Miko and allkindsoftime, but I'm sure there are lots more of you. Anyone?
posted by naoko at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2011


I think the pattern of editing of the Givewell article ought to occasion deep concern on the part of Wikipedia administrators,

Your faith in wikipedia is touching, but almost wholly misplaced. They wouldn't be concerned about something so common and widespread. There is very little that is remarkable about the GiveWell article, nor its edit history. If you don't believe me, starting clicking on the discussion tabs of more wiki pages you read.
posted by smoke at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2011


Contentious discussion pages are my go-to time waster on our tedious and non-half-day summer Fridays.
posted by elizardbits at 4:42 PM on September 12, 2011


I like Givewell. I think applying an analytical approach to the benefits of a given charity is a pretty good approach, even if it's not the be-all-and-end-all. They do not recommend stupid things like golf associations, and they do not take any money away from charities.

* ducks *
posted by miyabo at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2011


I like Givewell. I think applying an analytical approach to the benefits of a given charity is a pretty good approach, even if it's not the be-all-and-end-all. They do not recommend stupid things like golf associations, and they do not take any money away from charities.

Forgive me if this is sarcasm... but have you bothered to read a single thing written in criticism of them from the other Metatalk threads, and by criticism I mean the lengthy, book-length discussions, not the "har har lame" comments.
posted by odinsdream at 6:45 PM on September 12, 2011


Maryr, that's really good, but could you work a barking dog into it?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:55 PM on September 12, 2011

I like Givewell. I think applying an analytical approach to the benefits of a given charity is a pretty good approach, even if it's not the be-all-and-end-all. They do not recommend stupid things like golf associations, and they do not take any money away from charities.
It may be a good idea but the question is whether or not the individuals involved are ethical and trustworthy. If they're not then that's a problem.
posted by delmoi at 12:42 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


While the user in question has done a lot of editing on the Givewell article, s/he is also a pretty prolific Wikipedia editor on other articles, so I wouldn't automatically assume there is a conflict of interest.

There is nothing there that convinces me otherwise. The passive aggressive defense tactics, constant reframing of past antics as 'shortcomings' and the hand-wavy attempts to shift attention onto the Evil Mefites pretty much sealed the deal.

No doubt Jessamyn's recent commentary on that page on the 'Controversy/Shortcomings' issue is going to be reframed as "axe-grinding" by some.
posted by panboi at 8:12 AM on September 13, 2011


To say nothing of the fact that the article has been aggressively maintained by that user exclusively in GiveWell's POV, exclusively sourced to GiveWell's own site, and any reference to the controversy in the past has always been instantly reverted by that user to only represent GiveWell's own framing of the issue as "Shortcomings", citing only GiveWell's own page by that name, and pushing their clever, trivializing conflation of the incident with a number of obscure, technical issues.

The other maintainer of the article (who just now responded to the creation of a "Controversy" section by instantly creating a "Praise" section above it, just about exclusively sourced to GiveWell's site), also praises GiveWell in no uncertain terms on his/her user page.

As far as bias and POV goes, "open and shut" is honestly an understatement.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2011


(Having said that I hope I don't give the impression that I'm one of the participants in editing that page. I'm not; just an interested observer.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:02 AM on September 13, 2011


The latest edit is hilarious in light of the above:

I reverted this edit by a user who attempted to use the Metafilter wiki as a reliable source.
posted by panboi at 9:14 AM on September 13, 2011


From the discussion page, posted by the editor who has been most relentless about whitewashing the GiveWell page:

If you are a Metafilter user and showed up here tonight because of a thread on Mefi, a few thoughts:
1. Wikipedia rules about Conflict of Interest. In particular Close Relationships. Metafilter culture has a long and demonstrable history of disparaging GiveWell based on the 2007 astro turfing incident between GiveWell and Metafilter. It is well known that MeFi users love to hate GiveWell. POV edits don't have to intentional, they are often made with good faith and best intentions but biased by an acquired POV from a previous experience.
2. This article was not not ever was edited by GiveWell. I can assure you, there is nothing to see here. You will not "catch" GiveWell self-promoting on Wikipedia. Give it up MeFi sleuths.
3. Ask yourself, when will you stop hating GiveWell. Its been four years. Will you still be here 4 years from now? How long will the MeFi community continue its campaign of anti-GiveWellianism. GiveWell moved on years ago, posting an apology on its website in 2007. No one cares anymore, except MeFi.


The respond to this, which is, to paraphrase, "assume good faith on the part of editors, and back away from this particular high horse" seems good advice. However, as I am not an editor on that page, but am discussing it here on MeFi, I need make no such assumption. Whoever wrote that is not acting in good faith, and perhaps should not be allowed to edit the page anymore.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:31 AM on September 13, 2011


I left a note on that page as well. We have a lot of folks on MeFi who are also Wikipedia editors and it might be worth a bit of a discussion on the Talk page there. There is nothing at all which prohibits MetaFilter members from editing that article from a neutral point of view.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:50 AM on September 13, 2011


> How long will the MeFi community continue its campaign of anti-GiveWellianism?

A challenge!

Here's my challenge. A betting pool on the number on the reported "financial penalties" suffered by Holden for the astroturf.

My estimate would be that being removed from the board directors for six months cost him less than six thousand dollars.

If you can show me where it cost him more than six thousand dollars I will swear off my campaign of anti-GiveWellianism until the next time he fucks up!

(I bet it is way more likely him fucking up again than the number is more than six.)
posted by bukvich at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2011


Just backing up Jessamyn on this - there is no Wikipedia policy that says Metafilter members cannot comment on or edit the article in this case. If you are unable to do those things neutrally - without a grudge against either GiveWell or the somewhat difficult previous article editors - then it's best to stay away, or at most, only comment on the talk page. As a Wikipedian, I'd ask that as a favor to me and other Mefite Wikipedians, you please do your absolute best to be polite, calm, and constructive if you do comment or edit. There's no use responding to accusations that Mefi can't be neutral by going all "grar SMASH GIVEWELL", and I'm really pleased that there has been none of that so far.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 9:58 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


No. But there has been an editor who has consistently edited the page away from a neutral viewpoint toward one that literally represents and references GiveWell's viewpoint, reverts edits that return it to neutrality, argues that the astroturfing shouldn't even be on the page because, hey, they apologized and admitted it on their own site, and, on the discussion page, directly references MetaFilter, claiming there is a culture of hate for GiveWell on this site that makes it impossible for MeFites to edit the site, because their neutrality is somehow compromised by this apparently universal and overwhelming culture -- an email directed at MeFites as an explicit attempt to discourage them from editing.

So my question for Wikipedia is -- why is this editor still allowed to edit the page?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:35 AM on September 13, 2011


my question for Wikipedia is -- why is this editor still allowed to edit the page?

Because the process there is different. You can think of Wikipedia discussion pages as an Eternal MetaTalk where almost no one is banned. If someone decided to make a big stink about this and take it up with some admin people, there might be some activity where that person was kept from editing that page, but that's a huge fuck-you step and pretty much goes against presuming good faith which is one of the core pillars of how Wikipedia is supposed to work. I get the feeling that GC the editor is just someone who is positive and excited about GiveWell and sees the MeFi attempts to wrest the article away from her view of it as destructive and counterproductive. There's an admin (I think?) sort of paying attention there now and I think things will settle out okay.

Wikipedia editing is sort of a long game sort of thing and not for everyone. I think they do a good job of trying to be egalitarian, but the downside to that is that a lot of people get frustrated and leave and/or the place gets taken over (specific articles where people have axes to grind, and I'm not even lumping GiveWell into that category) by rules lawyers who dig around in the messy swamp that is the Set of Wikipedia Rules, Guidelines and Suggestions to support their own viewpoint. It requires more tenacity than most people have or are willing to give to a project that gives them very little in the way of status, accolades or even ownership of your own achievements.

I see it as more of a rorschach myself. The way you view Wikipedia is probably somewhat indicative of the way you view the rest of the world.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:45 AM on September 13, 2011


Jessamyn you have way more patience than I do. I use the wikipedia every single day and it is a treasure for certain subjects while at the same time an abysmal cesspool swamp on other certain subjects. The first time I saw the givewell wikipedia entry had been turned into SEO market junk I was very very very very mildly disappointed that this article had moved from treasure set to the cesspool set for around five seconds.

Us free riders are grateful for you mensches. Thank you!
posted by bukvich at 10:55 AM on September 13, 2011


jessamyn: "but that's a huge fuck-you step and pretty much goes against presuming good faith which is one of the core pillars of how Wikipedia is supposed to work."

Yes, pretty much this. The editor in question has a constructive history and just seems to be being overzealous about this article, and the preferred method on Wikipedia is to discuss and attempt to resolve things amicably, unless/until there is simply no other option except to block or ban. You'll notice that the editor is attempting to moderate their approach, and is allowing other people's edits to stay in the article now. This is progress, and a good reason to not write them off as someone just operating in bad faith.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 10:56 AM on September 13, 2011


If you can show me where it cost him more than six thousand dollars I will swear off my campaign of anti-GiveWellianism until the next time he fucks up!

Wouldn't determining the "sting" of the financial penalty require knowing what his salary at GiveWell is, in the first place? What is his salary, anyway ... Is it anywhere in the disclosures?
posted by jayder at 11:25 AM on September 13, 2011


From what I've seen of GC, I agree with Jessamyn. I don't think she's anyone more than someone who happened upon the article, put some effort into building it up, and now is protective of it. I've created a number of articles, and especially when you're the person responsible for the majority of improvements, it's hard not to feel a bit protective of your work. There's another editor, whom I think has a little more trouble overcoming that sense of protectiveness, in part because she actively likes GiveWell for one reason or another. None the less, I don't think there's much more at work on the page than the above.
posted by Atreides at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2011


Wouldn't determining the "sting" of the financial penalty require knowing what his salary at GiveWell is, in the first place? What is his salary, anyway ... Is it anywhere in the disclosures?

That's an interesting question. I can determine where money goes in a charity -- it's part of the transparency that gives me the chance to determine where my donations are going, and presumably is part of what GiveWell uses in making their determinations. But is there a similar transparency in how GiveWell makes used of its money?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:43 AM on September 13, 2011


Their 2009 expenses breakdown shows:

80.5% went to program services
16.8% went to administration
2.8% went to fundraising

16.8% on admin is pretty high.
posted by elizardbits at 11:49 AM on September 13, 2011


It's also interesting to note that Karnofsky is one of only two people at the organization who receive a salary as well. The other is listed as a "key employee". There is no listed Executive Director position. This leads me to believe that any kind of "job/position loss/demotion" was in name only.
posted by elizardbits at 11:52 AM on September 13, 2011


> This leads me to believe that any kind of "job/position loss/demotion" was in name only.

If you can show this you get them back in the newspapers because they explicitly claimed there was a financial penalty. I know of nowhere the amount of the penalty was disclosed.
posted by bukvich at 11:55 AM on September 13, 2011


He is making significantly more in his current position as Board Secretary than he did in his former position as Executive Director. This change occurred in 2008. All this information is publicly available on their IRS 990 annual returns.

I have to go into a staff meeting in about 2 minutes but I can expand on this later if you want.
posted by elizardbits at 11:59 AM on September 13, 2011


According to their forms, salary payout in 2009 was $173,725.

If I understand you right, elizardbits, there are only two people who make a salary. Even assuming they split that amount, that makes Karnofsky's income in 2009 $86k per year.

I wouldn't mind getting this clarified. That being said, it looks like GiveWell is supported by donors. As I recall, the complaint from the last thread was that, because GiveWell asks for charities to submit information, this siphons time and employee expenses off an organization that might already be struggling for both time and money.

I think that, just as GiveWell has placed itself in the position of evaluating charities, there is no problem in us placing ourselves in the position of evaluating GiveWell. I would be curious to hear from people who work in charities regarding GiveWell's metrics, and whether or not they are genuinely useful ways of evaluating the effectiveness of a charity.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2011


elizardbits that is fine. If he learned his lesson from the astroturfing, and if the report that he was removed from the board at the time and suffered a financial penalty (presumably his loss of the board salary, whatever that was) is true, then waging ongoing antiGiveWellianism probably is overkill.

And if the wikipedia edit dispute ongoing is in good faith, then what we are doing in this thread may be throwing stones and I for sure am not without sin.

But I am thinking there probably is something really rotten here in Denmark although I cannot prove it. It's like a smell test or a rings true or it seems the way to bet.
posted by bukvich at 12:13 PM on September 13, 2011


Well, they allocated $5000 of Holden's salary to "professional development opportunities." No specifics are given. Apparently Eli's $5000 went back into the charity pot.
What do you mean by "financial penalty"?

Holden and Elie were each fined $5000. This will come directly out of their salary. $5000 is being allocated to professional development opportunities for Holden. The remaining $5000 will be used to augment grants to the GiveWell causes.
As for the job title-change, here's what they say about that.
How will the organization be run without an Executive Director?

The Board has significantly increased its involvement in the daily operations of the organization, is closely monitoring the staff work, is managing relationships and communications with external donors and constituencies. An executive committee of the board is managing these responsibilities.
What is the difference in responsibilities between Executive Director and Program Officer?

An executive director is responsible for managing the organization, its vision, operations, and external relationships. A program officer is responsible for conducting due diligence and program review, and implementing the program strategies developed by the Board of Directors.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alright it was 5K; close enough. My antiGiveWellianism is officially on hiatus. I apologize for my snide remark regarding his prep school accent.

I ain't watching any more of that video though.
posted by bukvich at 12:23 PM on September 13, 2011


that makes Karnofsky's income in 2009 $86k per year. --- Well, forget about the possibility that anyone might think we're obsessive, axe-grindy folks about Givewell.
posted by crunchland at 12:26 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


86k isn't that much for running a NYC-area organization.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:27 PM on September 13, 2011


Well, forget about the possibility that anyone might think we're obsessive, axe-grindy folks about Givewell.

I am curious as to why you think that is axe-grinding. I assure you that, when evaluating charities, how the money is spent, including on salaries, is one of the first questions asked.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:34 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I give money to lots of charities. I've never bothered to look and see what the salaries are for the people at NARAL or Nature Conservancy. The fact that we're now trying to figure out what this guy made steps over the line, considering our history with him.
posted by crunchland at 12:37 PM on September 13, 2011


The fact that we're now trying to figure out what this guy made steps over the line, considering our history with him.

Precisely what line? You have not clarified you objections, just your disinterest.

I donate to charities as well, and I often look at salaries, among other questions, to determine how much of my money is going to help the people I want it to help. In donating arts organizations, it helps me determine how much money goes into administration and how much is actually paid out to artists, and since I prioritize paying artists, that's an important consideration.

GiveWell talks a lot about transparency. Financial transparency is part of this.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:41 PM on September 13, 2011


In fact, GiveWell themselves looks at administrative costs and salaries as part of their analysis.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:54 PM on September 13, 2011


It's not that I'm disinterested. I've been following this thread for days, and I've found the stuff about the Sisyphean aspects of Wikipedia editing particularly interesting.

Just because you can research stuff, doesn't mean you need to post it here, especially if our goal is to not appear like creepy stalkers, overly obsessed with this Holden person.
posted by crunchland at 12:57 PM on September 13, 2011


Just because you can research stuff, doesn't mean you need to post it here, especially if our goal is to not appear like creepy stalkers, overly obsessed with this Holden person.

I take issue with your characterization. I have repeatedly in this thread looked to discover the effectiveness of GiveWell, and I am making sue of material that they, themselves, publish on their website in the name of transparency, asking the same questions that they use to evaluate charities.

If they are to tell people what charities are worth spending money on -- and, mind you, they don't simply claim they are determining good charities, but the best charities ("We aim to direct as much funding as possible of this large pool to the best charities we can find, and create a global, public, open conversation about how best to help people.") -- it's pretty limiting of you to deny people at MetaFilter the opportunity to participate in that discussion because you seem to have decided that this discussion is evidence of stalking.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:02 PM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Additionally, it's not as though discussing salaries is off-limits at MetaFilter. Here's an example. And, as I indicated, I was just guessing at his salary based on what they themselves list as their payroll. It's not like I have put they guy's address on the site, and I am not clear why you would characterize it as being similar, except that obviously you have an issue with this discussion altogether.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on September 13, 2011


I don't actually care about this too much one way or the other, tbh. 50% of my job every day is doing due diligence on NYC metro area charities, so if someone asks a question that I can answer easily, I don't see anything wrong with answering it. Sorry if this somehow makes me a stalker.
posted by elizardbits at 1:13 PM on September 13, 2011


mkultra writes "membership is engaged in a closed (remember, MeTa is much less public than the rest of the site) discussion about policing that page, it gives that argument a lot of weight. "

How is Meta not as public as other parts of the site? Notwithstanding jokes about the Cabal you don't need an account to read anything (well except some user profile information) and the same account that let one comment on the front page or ask allows one to comment here. It's not as popular or as read as the main sites but it is no less public.

panboi writes "There is nothing there that convinces me otherwise. The passive aggressive defense tactics, constant reframing of past antics as 'shortcomings' and the hand-wavy attempts to shift attention onto the Evil Mefites pretty much sealed the deal. "

And interestingly GC claims to be a Metafite on the talk page (comment at 17:19, 11 September 2011, anyway to link directly?) so their all inclusive preemptive slam of new metafilter member comments and edits as coming from a biased POV is a little weird.
posted by Mitheral at 2:12 PM on September 13, 2011


GC claims to be a Metafite on the talk page

Yep. Might be, might not be. She's definitely not someone with Wikipedia linked in her profile, but that doesn't mean anything. She's gotten into a few dustups over other topics on Wikipedia as well, but that's pretty much par for the course for anyone who cares about things there. I feel like the article is on the right track now, though it may take time to sort out.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:56 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


pretty much par for the course for anyone who cares about things there

But of course this is good, this is democracy in action. The appearance of feudalism was what was worrisome -- to me, anyway. But contentious, messy, incremental progress is good, and what I thought Wikipedia was all about.

And this is pretty deep, Jessamyn: The way you view Wikipedia is probably somewhat indicative of the way you view the rest of the world.

Good questions to ask oneself -- not only Am I bold? Do I assume good faith? Etc.? but also, Sometimes when others are bold, assume good faith, etc., it plays out like so -- What can I do to make sure my reactions stay constructive? And Do I stand on the sidelines (in life or Wikipedia) saying, "grar, someone really should do something about this"? Do I want to be?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:32 PM on September 13, 2011


Mitheral: "How is Meta not as public as other parts of the site?"

Hmm, I could have sworn MeTa was not indexed by search engines, but looking now I see that's not the case...
posted by mkultra at 3:38 PM on September 13, 2011


they position themselves as middlemen, interrupting the direct flow of cash from donor to charity

According to Givewell's website at the moment, this isn't the case: they say that their operating expenses are covered by "a group of core donors who believe strongly in our mission." If you choose to donate money to Givewell, you have a choice of letting your money be used for operating expenses or having it "re-granted" to their chosen charities.
posted by ms.codex at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2011


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