Edit January 19: FLI has made a substantive statement about this issue:
This seems concerning. It is claimed that the Future of Life Institute, run by MIT professor Max Tegmark, offered but did not pay out a grant to a Swedish far-right foundation. The character of this foundation and its associates is well-known in Sweden. Expo is an old and respected watchdog organization specialized on neo-nazism and related movements.
FLI have released a full statement on their website here, and there is an FAQ post on that statement where discussion has mostly moved to on the Forum. I will respond to these updates there, and otherwise leave this post as-is (for now).
However, it looks like an 'ignorance-based' defence is the correct interpretation of what happened here. I don't regret this post - I still think it was important, and got valuable information out there. I also think that emotional responses should not be seen as 'wrong'. Nevertheless, I do have some updating to do, and I thank all commenters in the thread below.
I have also made some retractions, with explanations in the footnotes
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Epistemic Status: Unclear, but without much reason to dispute the factual case presented by Expo. As I wrote this comment, an ignorance-based defence seemed less and less convincing, and consequently my anger rose. I apologise if this means the post is of a lower tone than the forum is used to. I will also happily correct or retract this post partially or fully if better evidence is provided.
[Clarity Edit:... (read more)
My only substantive disagreement with this comment (which I upvoted) is that I don't think FLI is a major actor in EA; they've always kind of done their own thing, and haven't been a core player within the EA community. I view them more as an independent actor with somewhat aligned goals.
I just realized that I had confused them with FHI.
On that note, I just realised nobody has actually written the full name of the organization anywhere on this page!
For anyone who's confused or unsure: we're talking about the Future of Life Institute.
Thanks Will, Jason, tim.
I've added an edit to the top of my comment to clarify we're talking about FLI, not FHI (cause X - better EA acronyms). I've also tweaked the language around FLI being a "major actor" in the EA space, though I feel there are arguments on the other side, given:
one could perhaps be forgiven for viewing them as closely involved in the EA movement directly, though I see they're probably more independent with some highly aligned goals.
I also want to say, if people from FLI are reading this, I don't want to be read as attacking any of you directly though I can accept I might be read that way. Emotions are running high on the forum right now, incuding my own, and I would welcome your thoughts either as a reply in this post or as a private message.
Yeah, to be clear I also don't think EA can just say "nothing to do with us" here, there's clearly enough overlap and cross-pollination to be relevant. I just think this is significantly different from if this happened with, say, CEA or OpenPhil.
I think something like your modified language is about right.
Just perusing the front page of Nya Dagbladet, it looks like their business's main bank account has been cut off (perhaps similar to how Visa or Paypal will routinely freeze the accounts of grey-area or politically unpalatable businesses here in the US), and now they are scrambling to try and get funds where they can:
It's possible that this is the context in which Tegmark made the (very poor) decision to attempt to rush a 100K grant to a "foundation" set up in equal haste by Nya Dagbladet. Which would come off less as "funding a neo-nazi foundation to pursue shadowy neo-nazi projects" and more as nepotistic misuse of FLI's funds to keep the newspaper Nya Dagbladet afloat, perhaps as a way of helping out Tegmark's brother?
I would also note that, as Erich_Grunewald describes in his comments, the paper clearly does come across as populist / right-wing, but seems only a bit more sensationalized and extreme than something like the Washington Examiner or NY Post, and less so than things like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Infowars, etc. It definitely does not come across as the homepage of a neo-Nazi organization:
Still seems like an extremely dubious use of FLI's funds to make... (read more)
It is not uncommon, and I will even say usual, that Nazi sympathisers are at least somewhat subtle about it.
This is not particularly subtle. Here's their section on the Holocaust: https://nyadagbladet.se/tag/forintelsen/
Here's an editorial written for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Their central claim is that the way to prevent antisemitism it to stop "lying" about how many Jews were killed. https://nyadagbladet.se/ledare/sa-forebygger-vi-den-verkliga-antisemitismen/
This is very classic Holocaust denialism. I don't think it's unreasonable to call a website that actively promotes ethnonationalism and Holocaust denialism "pro-Nazi", unless you think that the literal words "pro-Nazi" must appear somewhere in order to qualify.
I don't know about Sweden, but it takes a lot more than being "a bit more sensationalized and extreme than something like the Washington Examiner or NY Post" to get your access to banking cut off in most liberal democracies. The content they posted with an imminent threat of a banking cutoff may not be representative of their historic content.
The FLI activity started several months before the alleged bank freeze. For the "grant" to be motivated by the bank threat, one would need to conclude that ND knew of the risk of freezing yet couldn't get a bank account anywhere . . . yet somehow they are still able to take donations via PayPal. Seems less likely they are on some sort of global or even national blacklist given that datum. So basically I don't believe their assertion of a banking blacklist against them in the first place.
If I had to guess, they were probably financially failing because they were too toxic for ad networks or for other reasons.
It seems like the paper's dispute with their bank has been going on for a while before the recent drama, perhaps long enough to make the timelines match up. But yes, it's confusing to me why they couldn't just switch to another bank. Definitely possible that they are basically just out of money and their bank is trying to cut them off, but the paper is hyping this up as political persecution in order to buy time / gain some negotiating advantage. (Of course, regardless of what the actual story turns out to be, there is seemingly zero reason for FLI money to be involved in this BS .)
This comment is a community service.
I had a look at the Nya Dagbladet website. My quick impression is that it looks like a somewhat milder and less sensationalist version of Breitbart News. The top stories were (and I only read the headlines and leads): (1) the newspaper itself being close to bankruptcy due to its bank account having been frozen, (2) an ex-CEO of Barclays' being connected to Jeffrey Epstein, (3) high levels of shoplifting in Sweden, (4) record number of calls to a national child abuse hotline in Sweden, (5) a Swedish pediatrician's having been subjected to hate due to a study of his which suggested that the risk of children needing emergency care for COVID-19 was low, (6) more on the frozen bank account, (7) Kiersten Hening getting a $100K settlement after BLM kneeling controversy and (8) EU and NATO collaborating more closely.
I can't imagine a good rationale for giving a grant to Nya Dagbladet or associated ventures, and can only assume that FLI agreed to give the grant based either on material provided by Nya Dagbladet itself and/or other people (but without doing any independent review).
Do you have a source for this? I wasn't able to find anything myself with a quick search.
I believe Joshua was talking about the claim that Per Shapiro was a contributing writer for Nya Dagbladet.
There's no direct evidence in the Expo article as far as I could tell for the fraternal link, but there's definitely external evidence. For example, here's a tweet from Max himself, linking to Per's podcast and calling him 'my brother Per' (subject to accuracy of Google Translate).
Expo possess the signed letter.
(Jan 16 text added at the end)
Here's an official statement from FLI on rejecting the Nya Dagbladet Foundation grant proposal:
For those of you unfamiliar with the Future of Life Institute (FLI), we are a nonprofit charitable organization that works to reduce global catastrophic and existential risks facing humanity, particularly those from nuclear war and future advanced artificial intelligence. These risks are growing. Last year, FLI received scores of grant applications from across the globe for the millions of dollars in funding we distributed to support research, outreach and other important work in furtherance of FLI’s mission. One of these grant proposals came from the Nya Dagbladet Foundation (NDF, not to be confused with the eponymous newspaper) for a media project directly related to FLI's goals. Although we were initially positive about the proposal and its prospects, we ultimately decided to reject it because of what our subsequent due diligence uncovered. We have given Nya Dagbladet and their affiliates zero funding and zero support of any kind, and will not fund them in the future. These final de... (read more)
This statement doesn’t disavow the idea of funding neo-Nazism, and the lacuna is worrying: by convention (pragmatics), omitting to comment on the salient thing is taken as a comment in itself. Have you sought advice from communications specalists? If not, it would be well worth it to avoid unnecessary misinterpretation, if you want to disavow the main allegation.
Here are the main bits that stood out to me as suboptimal communication.
I would like to understand why you decided to reject the grant proposal after doing due diligence. Was it because of their far-right politics, or a conflict of interest, reputational hazard, or something else?
I wish you would not imply your critics are politically narrow-minded for being worried FLI is alleged to have considered supporting a neo-Nazi outlet. I would like to understand if there are any limits here - are there any political views you are not willing to support?
For Max and anyone else who thinks they might not be neo-Nazis, I assure you that they are. As an example, here's a Google-translated quote from an article they published:
*I took this from another discussion of the topic; I think JWS is the one who found it?
In that one they also recommend voting for the Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen), which is an explicitly national socialist party. They have a website in english, but I won't link from here. Instead I recommend the wikipedia article that describes pretty well how charming they are. Apparently there is an ongoing effort in the US to classify them as terrorists.
This response is highly concerning and alarming. Some followup questions:
Disclaimer: I previously knew nothing about the Swedish press; I still know almost nothing. I just thought this seemed weird and spent about 20 minutes looking into it.
Some context which I think would be useful to evaluate this claim.
It appears that in Sweden the government subsidizes newspapers in the form of "press support." From reading the Wikipedia page on press support, which is mostly actually about Norway not Sweden, it seems like support does not really constitute a government endorsement, but rather is provided to a lot of different newspapers and is mostly to ensure a healthy press. It's possible this differs between Norway and Sweden though.
The $30,000 figure comes from the expo.se piece, which says:... (read more)
The Swedish press support is for quite obvious reasons designed to be politically impartial, which means that one can't draw conclusions about a publications ideology from the fact that it receives press support. This is an issue that is sometimes debated in Sweden because blatantly antidemocratic media may be entitled to the money.
Thanks for sharing this. However it doesn't really answer the core question of why FLI ever thought this was okay. "We ultimately decided to reject it because of what our subsequent due diligence uncovered" — given that your brother is a writer there, did you not know beforehand that Nya Dagbladet publishes horrific, racist content? I find it hard to believe this was not known until the due diligence stage.
My brother never worked there. He published some articles there, but they've never paid him anything.
This reply is disappointingly short and again does not address the core question raised by Shakeel.
Minor meta-question: what is the 2 axis voting supposed to represent here? People feel this was a good contribution to the discussion but disagree with the claim that Per Shapiro was never paid by Nya Dagbladet? I would've expected the opposite -- the factual claim is probably true but not very relevant.
"I would normally angrily downvote you, but I do want to indicate support for you continuing to engage here and think it is good for other people to be able to see your response so I will vote up and disagree"
How does that address Shakeel's concern? I would've thought someone submitting articles to a far-right website would know it's a far-right website regardless of payment.
It doesn't seem that hard to believe that someone could see a far-right website and not notice that they occasionally publish crazy anti-semitic content (e.g. if I look at their front page, many of the articles seem kooky to me, but none seem racist). To be honest, given that the last name Shapiro seems to mostly be used by people with Jewish ancestry, I'd be kind of surprised if his brother knew about that content before submitting (altho I suppose anything is possible).
Eh I agree tbh but there's a gap between "dodgy" and "horrific[ally] racist", which was "Shakeel's concern" that you mentioned.
Is there and/or can you get independent verification of this? I understand the desire to not publicly reveal grantee/grantseeker details so I'm not necessarily saying you should make your emails to NDF public. However, it'd be helpful confirmation for an independent third party to verify that FLI did inform NDF of the rejection before the Expo.se inquiry, and/or some confirmation that the description of the FLI leadership decisions are roughly as you described them.
This statement really doesn't answer most of the questions raised by the Expo report. Indeed, it spends about as much time criticizing Expo as providing specific factual information about FLI's questioned conduct.
The approval of this grant seems bizarre enough that justification beyond the bare characterization of a positive impression is needed here. What was the grant proposal about? How did funding it further FLI's mission? Why was it assessed positively?
What vetting of the grant proposal did FLI conduct before issuing the letter declaring that it had "approved a grant" to NDF? (I'm quoting from the September 7 letter published by Expo. FLI hasn't repudiated that letter as false or misleading at the time it was written, so I'm going to take it at face value.). It does not seem responsible that one would "approve" a six-figure grant without having some idea about who the proposed grantee was and their ability to carry out the purposes of the grant. Nor does it seem reasonable that FLI would determine that making a grant to a proposed foundation associated with a far-right, anti-science, Holocaust-denying media outlet was an effective way to get "research, outreach and othe... (read more)
I'm curious as to what kind of potentially existentially relevant proposal the NDF would have submitted? What did they think they had to offer?
(registering a tentative guess: sha256sum ..52ca22c6cd32)
The following is my personal opinion, not CEA's.
If this is true it's absolutely horrifying. FLI needs to give a full explanation of what exactly happened here and I don't understand why they haven't. If FLI did knowingly agree to give money to a neo-Nazi group, that’s despicable. I don't think people who would do something like that ought to have any place in this community.
Thanks for this. I agree with your post and upvoted it.
However, I do also wonder if they are following what seems to be a common theme in EA crisis comms recently, which is to say as little as possible (presumably on the basis of legal advice). You wrote about this here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Et7oPMu6czhEd8ExW/why-you-re-not-hearing-as-much-from-ea-orgs-as-you-d-like
I agree with you that just about any comment or explanation from FLI would seem to help, and that passing the email exchange with Max over to Denton's seems to make the situation worse (slower responses, less full responses, bad optics etc.).
As an outsider (i.e. with no access to the legal advice or internal discussions at any of these orgs), I wonder how the legal risk is being weighed against the reputational risk in EA crisis comms at the moment. It seems like there is almost no communication coming out from EA orgs and leaders, which presumably is very legally safe but can have very damaging reputational consequences.
I expect you're constrained in what you can say in response to this but, candidly, I think it's important to note that CEA itself is choosing public silence, albeit about ... (read more)
I think this sort of reasoning is helpful and generally underutilized. But one thing to keep in mind is that organizations can take weirdly long times to make even super obvious public statements relative to the value of getting clarification public, mostly for silly internal reasons.
(Ex: not clear who needs to approve, someone who would normally look at it is traveling, someone misses that this is urgent, ...)
Jeff is right: I just returned from my mom's memorial service, which delayed the just-posted FLI statement.
I'm very sorry for your loss and apologise for jumping to conclusions about why there wasn't an immediate statement.
My sincere sympathies for your loss.
Yeah, no, this story is not overall plausible and I would bet at better than 50-50 odds that there's a major misrepresentation here regarding what happened. Option 1 is that a grant was approved pending due diligence, then pulled during the due diligence process. That would be mildly embarrassing, and would probably imply a grant evaluator somewhere didn't do their job, but it wouldn't be the scandal that this purports to be. Option 2 is that the letter of intent is an outright forgery.
As a Swede who is somewhat familiar with the publication Expo, I would maybe put the risk of forgery of that document at <5%. They are specifically known for their digging journalism, and I would be very surprised if they screwed up something basic like that.
Also, wouldn't it be extremely strange behavior from FLI if that document actually was a forgery? Would be the go-to defense rather than what they are doing now.
This comment turned out to be entirely correct.
Yep, seems right. I guess I am glad the comment itself didn't get downvoted, but all the people who disagree-voted it sure should do some updating.
Governance pro tip: Husband and wife should not have two seats on a five-member board of any org that solicits donations from the public. Even if you disclose it on your 990, as FLI did.
Even worse, it appears to be the president and treasurer!
You may want to update the post with a link to FLI's statement.
Thanks for flagging this! I agree it looks quite concerning, on several fronts.
Minor nit: I read the title as saying that FLI has claimed to have offered funding to a far-right org, whereas in fact what has happened is that someone else has claimed that FLI has done this. I think replacing "claimed" with "alleged" or similar in the title would help with this.
Someone should make a prediction market on how true the core claim (that FLI offered a grant to a pro-nazi publication) will turn out to be.
With a little generosity/trust in Expo's article and reading between the lines, it’s good to flag the squalid character of Tegmark’s choices:
... (read more)
- It seems hard not to guess that (>50%?) Tegmark rescinded his offer to the fascists, because Expo reached out and discovered it.
- With more certainty, Tegmark probably distributed $100K in funds solely because of his brother and family, this is terrible for all sorts of reasons, and undermines and is dangerous for the longtermist funding environment and EA overall.
- The squalid, low integrity interactions, where