The details surrounding FLI's rejection of a grant proposal from Nya Dagbladet last November has raised controversy and important questions (including here on this forum) which we address in this FAQ.
The details surrounding FLI's rejection of a grant proposal from Nya Dagbladet last November has raised controversy and important questions (including here on this forum) which we address in this FAQ.
I think some of us owe FLI an apology for assuming heinous intentions where a simple (albeit dumb) mistake was made.
I can imagine this must have been a very stressful period for the entire team, and I hope we as a community become better at waiting for the entire picture instead of immediately reacting and demanding things left and right.
I just wanted to chip in to say that this does indeed seem like this has been a very stressful period for the team.
I cannot read their minds but it certainly seems possible to me that part of the reason some folks could find a situation like this stressful is precisely because they felt that some of the objections and critical comments were reasonable.
The statement says in point 8 of the FAQ (my emphasis)... (read more)
The timeline (in PT time zone) seems to be:
Jan 13, 12:46am: Expo article published.
Jan 13, 4:20am: First mention of this on the EA Forum.
Jan 13, 6:46am: Shakeel Hashim (speaking for himself and not for CEA; +110 karma, +109 net agreement as of the 15th) writes, "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."
Jan 13, 9:18pm: Shakeel follows up, repeating
that he sees no reason why FLI wouldn't have already made a public statementthat it's really weird that FLI hasn't already made a public statement, and raises the possibility that FLI has maybe done sinister questionably-legal things and that's why they haven't spoken up.
Jan 14, 3:43am: You (titotal) comment, "If the letter is genuine (and they have never denied that it is), then someone at FLI is either grossly incompetent or malicious. They need to address this ASAP. "
Jan 14, 8:16am: Jason comments (+15 karma, +13 net agreement a... (read more)
Thanks for calling me out on this — I agree that I was too hasty to call for a response.
I’m glad that FLI has shared more information, and that they are rethinking their procedures as a result of this. This FAQ hasn’t completely alleviated my concerns about what happened here — I think it’s worrying that something like this can get to the stage it did without it being flagged (though again, I'm glad FLI seems to agree with this). And I also think that it would have been better if FLI had shared some more of the FAQ info with Expo too.
I do regret calling for FLI to speak up sooner, and I should have had more empathy for the situation they were in. I posted my comments not because I wanted to throw FLI under the bus for PR reasons, but because I was feeling upset; coming on the heels of the Bostrom situation I was worried that some people in the EA community were racist or at least not very sensitive about how discussions of race-related things can make people feel. At the time, I wanted to do my bit to make it clear — in particular to other non-white people who felt similarly to me — that EA isn’t racist. But I could and should have done that in a much better way. I’m sorry.
Thank you for making the apology, you have my approval for that! I also like your apology on the other thread – your words are hopeful for CEA going in a good direction.
Some feedback/reaction from me that I hope is helpful. In describing your motivation for the FLI comment, you say that it was not to throw FLI under the bus, but because of your fear that some people would think EA is racist, and you wanted to correct that. To me, that is a political motivation, not much different from a PR motivation.
To gesture at the difference (in my ontology) between PR/political motivations and truth-seeking motivations:
Your initial comment (and also the Bostrom email statement) both struck me as "performative" in how they demonstrated really harsh and absolute condemnation ("absolutely horrifying", "[no] place in this community", "recklessly flawed and reprehensible" – granted that you said "if true", but the tone and other comments seemed to suggest you ... (read more)
I like this a lot.
I'll add that you can just say out loud "I wish other people believed X" or "I think the correct collective belief here would be X", in addition to saying your personal belief Y.
(An example of a case where this might make sense: You think another person or group believes Z, and you think they rationally should believe X instead, given the evidence available to them. You yourself believe a more-extreme proposition Y, but you don't think others have enough evidence to believe Y yet -- e.g., your belief may be based on technical expertise or hard-won life-experience that the other parties don't have.)
It's possible to care about the group's beliefs, and try to intervene on them, in a way that's honest and clear about what you're doing.
I think I agree with your clarification and was in fact conflating the mere act of speaking with strong emotion with speaking in a way that felt more like a display. Yeah, I do think it's a departure from naive truth-seeking.
In practice, I think it is hard, though I do think it is hard for the second order reasons you give and others. Perhaps an ideal is people share strong emotion when they feel it, but in some kind of format/container/manner that doesn't shut down discussion or get things heated. "NVC" style, perhaps, as you suggest.
Thanks for this Shakeel. This seems like a particularly rough time to be running comms for CEA. I’m grateful that in addition to having that on your plate, in your personal capacity you’re helping to make the community feel more supportive for non-white EAs feeling the alienation you point to. Also for doing that despite the emotional labour involved in that, which typically makes me shy away from internet discussions.
Responding swiftly to things seems helpful in service of that support. One of the risks from that is that you can end up taking a particular stance immediately and then it feeling hard to back down from that. But in fact you were able to respond swiftly, and then also quickly update and clearly apologise. Really appreciate your hard work!
(Flag that Shakeel and I both work for EV, though for different orgs under that umbrella)
I liked this apology.
For what it's worth, this seems like the wrong way around to me. I don't know exactly about the role and responsibilities of the "Head of Comm", but in-general I would like people in EA to be more comfortable criticizing each other, and to feel less constrained to first air all criticism privately and resolve things behind closed doors.
I think the key thing that went wrong here was the absence of a concrete logical argument or probabilities about why the thing that was happening was actually quite bad, and also the time pressure, which made the context of the conversation much worse. Another big thing was also jumping to conclusions about FLI's character in a way that felt like it was trying to apply direct political pressure instead of focusing on propagating accurate information.
Maybe there are special rules that EA comms people (or the CEA comms person in particular) should follow; I possibly shouldn't weigh in on that, since I'm another EA comms person (working at MIRI) and might be biased.
My initial thought, however, is that it's good for full-time EAs on the current margin to speak more from their personal views, and to do less "speaking for the organizations". E.g., in the case of FTX, I think it would have been healthy for EAs working at full-time orgs to express their candid thoughts about SBF, both negative and positive; and for other professional EAs to give their real counter-arguments, and for a real discussion to thereby happen.
My criticism of Shakeel's post is very different from yours, and is about how truth-seeking the contents are and how well they incentivize truth-seeking from others, not about whether it's inherently unprofessional for particular EAs to strongly criticize other EAs.... (read more)
Idk I think it might be pretty hard to have a role like Head of Communications at CEA and then separately communicate your personal views about the same topics. Your position is rather unique for allowing that. I don't see CEA becoming like MIRI in this respect. It comes across as though he's saying this in his professional capacity when you hover over his account name and it says "Head of Communications at CEA".
But the thing I think is most important about Shakeel's job is that it means he should know better than to throw around and amplify allegations. A marked personal account would satisfy me but I would still hold it to a higher standard re:gossip since he's supposed to know what's appropriate. And I expect him to want EA orgs to succeed! I don't think premature callouts for racism and demands to have already have apologized are good faith criticism to strengthen the community.
I mean, I want employees at EA orgs to try to make EA orgs succeed insofar as that does the most good, and try to make EA orgs fail insofar as that does the most good instead. Likewise, I want them to try to strengthen the EA community if their model says this is good, and to try to weaken it (or just ignore it) otherwise.
(Obviously, in each case I'd want them to be open and honest about what they're trying to do; you can oppose an org you think is bad without doing anything unethical or deceptive.)
I'm not sure what I think CEA's role should be in EA. I do feel more optimistic about EA succeeding if major EA orgs in general focus more on developing a model of the world and trying to do the most good under their idiosyncratic world-view, rather than trying to represent or reflect EA-at-large; and I feel more optimistic about EA if sending our best and brightest to work at EA orgs doesn't mean that they have to do massively more self-censoring now.
Maybe CEA or CEA-comms is an exception, but I'm not sold yet. I do think it's good to have high epistemic standards, but I see that as compatible with expressing personal feelings, criticizing other orgs, wanting specific EA orgs to fail, etc.
For what it’s worth, speaking as a non-comms person, I’m a big fan of Rob Bensinger style comms people. I like seeing him get into random twitter scraps with e/acc weirdos, or turning obnoxious memes into FAQs, or doing informal abstract-level research on the state of bioethics writing. I may be biased specifically because I like Rob’s contributions, and would miss them if he turned himself into a vessel of perfect public emptiness into which the disembodied spirit of MIRI’s preferred public image was poured, but, look, I also just find that type of job description obviously offputting. In general I liked getting to know the EAs I’ve gotten to know, and I don’t know Shakeel that well, but I would like to get to know him better. I certainly am averse to the idea of wrist slapping him back into this empty vessel to the extent that we are blaming him for carelessness even when he specifies very clearly that he isn’t speaking for his organization. I do think that his statement was hasty, but I also think we need to be forgiving of EAs whose emotions are running a bit hot right now, especially when they circle back to self-correct afterwards.
FTX collapsed on November 8th; all the key facts were known by the 10th; CEA put out their statement on November 12th. This is a totally reasonable timeframe to respond. I would have hoped that this experience would make CEA sympathetic to a fellow EA org (with much less resources than CEA) experiencing a media crisis rather than being so quick to condemn.
I'm also not convinced that a Head of Communications, working for an organization with a very restrictive media policy for employees, commenting on a matter of importance for that organization, can really be said to be operating in a personal capacity. Despite claims to the contrary, I think it's pretty reasonable to interpret these as official CEA communications. Skill at a PR role is as much about what you do not say as what you do.
The eagerness with which people rushed to condemn is frankly a warning sign for involution. We have to stop it with the pointless infighting or it's all we will end up doing.
I upvoted this, but disagreed. I think the timeline would be better if it included:
November 2022: FLI inform Nya Dagbladet Foundation (NDF) that they will not be funding them
15 December 2022: FLI learn of media interest in the story
I therefore don't think it's "absurd" to have expected FLI to have repudiated NDF sooner. You could argue that by apologising for their mistake before the media interest does more harm than good by drawing attention to it (and by association, to NDF), but once they became aware of the media attention, I think they should have issued something more like their current statement.
I also agreed with the thrust of titotal's comment that their first statement was woefully inadequate (it was more like "nothing to see here" than "oh damn, we seriously considered supporting an odious publication and we're sorry"). I don't think lack of time gets them off the hook here, given they should have expected Expo to publish at some point.
I don't think anyone owes an apology for expecting FLI to do better than this.
(Note: I appreciate Max Tegmark was dealing with a personal tragedy (for which, my condolences) at the time of it becoming 'a thing' on the EA Forum, so I... (read more)
Just a quick note to say I don't think everything in your comment above is entirely fair characterisation of the comments.
Two specific points (I haven't checked everything you say above, so I don't claim this is exhaustive):
... (read more)
- I think you're mischaracterising Shakeel's 9.18pm response quite significantly. You paraphrased him as saying he sees no reason FLI wouldn't have released a public statement but that is I think neither the text nor the spirit of that comment. He specifically acknowledged he might be missing some reasons. He said he thinks the lack of response is "very weird" which seems pretty different to me to "I see no reason for this". Here's some quoting but it's so short people can just read the comment :P "Hi Jack — reasonable question! When I wrote this post I just didn't see what the legal problems might be for FLI... Jason's comment has made me realise there might be something else going on here, though; if that is the case then that would make the silence make more sense. I do still think it's very weird that FLI hasn't condemned Nya Dagbladet though"
- You also left out that Shakeel did already apologise to Max Tegmark for in his words "jumping to conclusions" wh
Thanks for this comment and timeline, I found it very useful.
I agree that "respond within two hours of a 7am forum post" seems like an unreasonable standard, and I also agree that some folks rushed too quickly to condemn FHI or make assumptions about Tegmark's character/choices.
I do want to illustrate a related point:
When the Bostrom news hit, many folks jumped to defend Bostrom's apology as reasonable because it consisted of statements that Bostrom believed to be true, and that this reflects truth-seeking and good epistemics, and this should be something that the forum and community should uphold.
But if I look at Jason's comment, "So, unless there is a satisfactory explanation forthcoming, the stonewalling strongly points to a more sinister one."
There is actually nothing technically untrue about this statement? There WAS a satisfactory explanation that eventuated.
Similarly, if I look at Shakeel's comment, the condemnation is conditional on if the events happened: "If this is true it's absolutely horrifying", "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... (read more)
"Technically not saying anything untrue" isn't the same as "exhibiting a truth-seeking attitude."
I'd say truth-seeking attitude would have been more like "Before we condemn FLI, let's make sure we understand their perspective and can assess what really happened." Perhaps accompagnied by "I agree we should condemn them harshly if the reporting is roughly as it looks like right now." Similar statement, different emphasis. Shakeel's comment did appropriate hedging, but its main content was sharing a (hedged) judgment/condemnation.
Edit: I still upvoted your comment for highlighting that Shakeel (and Jason) hedged their comments. I think that's mostly fine! In hindsight, though, I agree with the sentiment that the community discussion was tending towards judgment a bit too quickly.
Thanks for the engagement Lukas, have upvoted.
Yeah, I agree! I think my main point is to illustrate that the impression you got of the community discussion "tending towards judgement a bit too quickly" is pretty reasonable despite the technically true statements that they made, because of a reading of a subtext, including what they didn't say or choose to focus on, instead of the literal text alone, which I felt like was a major crux between those who thought Bostrom's apology was largely terrible VS. those who thought Bostrom's apology was largely acceptable.
Likewise, I also agree with this! I think what I'm most interested in here is like, what you (or others) think separates the two in general, because my guess is those who were upset with Bostrom's apology would also agree with this statement. I think the crux is more likely that they would also think this statement applies to Bostrom's comments (i.e. they were closer to "technically not saying anything untrue", rather than ... (read more)
That makes sense – I get why you feel like there are double standards.
I don't agree that there necessarily are.
Regarding Bostrom's apology, I guess you could say that it's part of "truth-seeking" to dive into any mistakes you might have made and acknowledge everything there is to acknowledge. (Whether we call it "truth-seeking" or not, that's certainly how apologies should be, in an ideal world.) On this point, Bostrom's apology was clearly suboptimal. It didn't acknowledge that there was more bad stuff to the initial email than just the racial slur.
Namely, in my view, it's not really defensible to say "technically true" things without some qualifying context, if those true things are easily interpreted in a misleadingly-negative or harmful-belief-promoting way on their own or even interpreted as, as you say, "racist dogwhistles." (I think that phrase is sometimes thrown around so lightly that it seems a bit hysterical, but it does seem appropriate for the specific example of the sentence Bostrom claimed he "likes.")
Take for example a newspaper reporting on a person with autism who committed a school shooting. Given the widespread stigma against autism, it would b... (read more)
I wanted to say a bit about the "vibe" / thrust of this comment when it comes to community discourse norms...
(This is somewhat informed by your comments on twitter / facebook which themselves are phrased more strongly than this and are less specific in scope )
I suspect you and I agree that we should generally encourage posters to be charitable in their takes and reasonable in their requests - and it would be bad overall for discussions in general where this not the case. Being angry on the internet is often not at all constructive!
However, I think that being angry or upset where it seems like an organisation has done something egregious is very often an appropriate emotional response to feel. I think that the ideal amount of expressing that anger / upset that community norms endorse is non-zero! And yes when people are hurt they may go somewhat too far in what they request / suggest / speculate. But again the optimal amount of "too strong requests" is non-zero.
I think that expressing those feeling of hurt / anger / upset explicitly (or implicitly expressing them through the kinds of requests one is making) has many uses and there are costs to restricting it too much.
Some uses... (read more)
I see "clearly expressing anger" and "posting when angry" as quite different things.
I endorse the former, but I rarely endorse the latter, especially in contexts like the EA Forum.
Let's distinguish different stages of anger:
We could think of "hot" and "cold" anger as a spectrum.
Most people experience hot anger from time to time. But I think EA figures—especially senior figures—should model a norm of only posting on the EA Forum when fairly cool.
My impression is that, during the Bostrom and FLI incidents, several people posted with considerably more hot anger than I would endorse. In these cases, I think the mistake has been quite harmful, and may warrant public and private apologies.
As a positive example: Peter Hurford's blog post, which he described as "angry", showed a level of reasonableness and clarity that made it, in my mind, "above the bar" to publish. The text suggests a relatively cool anger. I disagree with some parts of the post, but I am glad he published it. At the me... (read more)
Just a quick note to say thanks for such a thoughtful response! <3
I think you're doing a great job here modelling discourse norms and I appreciate the substance of your points!
Ngl I was kinda trepidatious opening the forum... but the reasonableness of your reply and warmth of your tone is legit making me smile! (It probably doesn't hurt that happily we agree more than I realised. :P )
I may well write a litte more substantial response at some point but will likely take a weekend break :)
P.S. Real quick re social media... Things I was thinking about were phrases from fb like "EAs f'd up" and the "fairly shameful initial response"- which I wondered if were stronger than you were expressing here but probably just you saying the same thing. And in this twitter thread you talk about the "cancel mob" - but I think you're talking there are about a general case. You don't have to justify yourself on those I'm happy to read it all via the lens of the comments you've written on this post.
Aw, that makes me really happy to hear. I'm surprised that it made such a positive difference, and I update that I should do it more!
(The warmth part, not the agreement part. I can't really control the agreement part, if we disagree then we're just fucked. 🙃😛)
Re the social media things: yeah, I stand by that stuff, though I basically always expect reasonable people to disagree a lot about exactly how big a fuck-up is, since natural language is so imprecise and there are so many background variables we could disagree on.
I feel a bit weird about the fact that I use such a different tone in different venues, but I think I like this practice for how my brain works, and plan to keep doing it. I definitely talk differently with different friends, and in private vs. public, so I like the idea of making this fact about me relatively obvious in public too.
I don't want to have such a perfect and consistent public mask/persona that people think my public self exactly matches my private self, since then they might come away deceived about how much to trust (for example) that my tone in a tweet exactly matches the emotions I was feeling when I wrote it.
I want to be honest in my private and pu... (read more)
Like, I think an early comment like this would have been awesome (with apologies to Shakeel for using his comments as an example, and keeping in mind that this is me cobbling something together rather than something Shakeel endorses):
Note: The following is me expressing my own feelings and beliefs. Other people at CEA may feel differently or have different models, and I don't mean to speak for them.
If this is true then I feel absolutely horrified. Supporting neo-Nazi groups is despicable, and I don't think people who would do something like that ought to have any place in this community. [mention my priors about how reliable this sort of journalism tends to be] [mention my priors about FLI's moral character, epistemics, and/or political views, or mention that I don't know much about FLI and haven't thought about them before] Given that, [rough description of how confident I feel that FLI would financially support a group that they knew had views like Holocaust-denialism].
But it's hard to be confident about what happened based on a single news article, in advance of hearing FLI's side of things; and there are many good reasons it can take time to craft a complete and accurate ... (read more)
Haha this is a great hypothetical comment!
The concreteness is helpful because I think my take is that, in general, writing something like this is emotionally exhausting (not to mention time consuming!) - especially so if you've got skin in the game and across your life you often come up across things like this to respond to and you keep having the pressure to force your feelings into a more acceptable format.
I reckon that crafting a message like that if I were upset about something could well take half a work day. And I'd have in my head all the being upset / being angry / being scared people on the forum would find me unreasonable / resentful that people might find me unreasonable / doubting myself the whole time. (Though I know plausibly that I'm in part just the describing the human condition there. Trying to do things is hard...!)
Overall, I think I'm just more worried than you that requiring comments to be too far in this direction has too much of a chilling effect on discourse and is too costly for the individuals involved. And it really just is a matter of degree here and what tradeoffs we're willing to make.
(It makes me think it'd be an interesting excerise to write a number of hypothetical comments arrange them on a scale of how much they major on carefully explaining priors, caveating, communicating meta-level intention etc. and then see where we'd draw the line of acceptable / not!)
There's an angry top-level post about evaporative cooling of group beliefs in EA that I haven't written yet, and won't until it would no longer be an angry one. That might mean that the best moment has passed, which will make me sad for not being strong enough to have competently written it earlier. You could describe this as my having been chilled out of the discourse, but I would instead describe it as my politely waiting until I am able and ready to explain my concerns in a collected and rational manner.
I am doing this because I care about carefully articulating what I'm worried about, because I think it's important that I communicate it clearly. I don't want to cause people to feel ambushed and embattled; I don't want to draw battle lines between me and the people who agree with me on 99% of everything. I don't want to engender offense that could fester into real and lasting animosity, in the very same people who if approached collaboratively would pull with me to solve our mutual problem out of mutual respect and love for the people who do good.
I don't want to contribute to the internal divisions growing in EA. To the extent that it is happening, we should all prefer to nip th... (read more)
The paragraph says:
The context is "FLI would have made a statement here", and the rest of comment doesn't make me think he's talking about Expo either. And it's in reply to Jack and Shakeel's comments, which both seem to be about FLI saying something publicly, not about FLI's interactions with Expo specifically.
And Jeff Kaufman replied to Jason to say "one thing to keep in mind is that organizations can take weirdly long times to make even super obvious public statements", and Jason responded "Good point." The whole context is very 'wow why has FLI not made a public statement', not 'wow why did FLI stonewall Expo'.
Still, I appreciate you raising the possibility, since there now seems to be inertia in this comment section against the people who were criticizing FLI, and the same good processes that would have helped people avoid rushing to conclusions in that case, should also encourage some amount of curiosity, patience, and uncertainty in this case.
As should be clear from follow-up comment posted shortly after that one, I was referring to the nearly one month that had passed between Expo reaching out to FLI and the publication of the article. When Jeff responded by noting reasons an organization might delay in making a statement, I wrote in reply: "A decision was made to send a response -- that sounds vaguely threatening/intimidating to my ears -- through FLI's lawyer within days."  Expo did allege a number of facts that I think can be fairly characterized as stonewalling.
It's plausible that Expo is wildly misrepresenting the substance of its communications between it and FLI, but the article seems fairly well-sourced to me. If Expo's characterization of the correspondence was unfair, I would expect FLI's initial January 13 statement to have disclosed significant facts that FLI told Expo but it omitted from its article.
Of course, drawing adverse inferences because an organization hasn't provided a response within two hours of a forum discussion starting would be ridiculous (over a holiday weekend in the US no less!). I wouldn't have thought it was necessary to say that. However, based on the feedback I am... (read more)
I don't think you have internalized the point: there was no misconduct. If their initial statement was insufficient to convince us of this, that is on us, not on them. Their job as a charity is not to manage a public persona so that you or me continue to look good by affiliation, it's to actually do good. Accusing them of secretly financing nazis because we're weak and afraid of being tarred by association is the exact reverse polar opposite of doing them a "favor".
I'd like to ask people not to downvote titotal's comment below zero, because that also hides RobBensinger's timeline. I had to strong upvote the parent comment to make the timeline visible again.
I'm glad that FLI put this FAQ out, but I'm nervous that several commenters are swinging from one opinion (boo, FLI) to the opposite (FLI is fine! Folks who condemned FLI were too hasty!) too quickly.
This FAQ only slightly changed my opinion on FLI's grantmaking process. My best guess is that something went very wrong with this particular grant process. My reasoning:
I'd be surprised if FLI's due diligence step is intended to be a substantial part of the assessment process. My guess it that due diligence might usually be more about formalities like answering - can we legally pay this person? Is the person is who they say they are? And not - Is this a good grant to make?
It seems like FLI would be creating a huge hassle if they regularly sent out "intention to issue a grant" to prospective grantees (with the $ amount especially), only to withdraw support later. It would be harmful for the prospective grantees by giving them false hopes (could cause them to change their plans thinking the money is coming), and annoying for the grant maker because I suspect they'd be asked to explain why they changed their mind.
If indeed FLI does regularly reject grants at due diligence stage, that would update me towards thinking nothing went too badly with this particular grant (and I'd like to know their reasons for doing that as I'm probably missing something).
Note - I'm speaking for myself not CEA (where I work).
The FLI FAQ does say this:
I found this clear and reassuring. Thank you for sharing
What's clear and reassuring about it?
It remains the case that either FLI lied in their letter to NDF or else they are lying now. It really bothers me that people here are ignoring this fact!
Here is what FLI said to SND:
So, was the "intent to transfer the grant amount promptly" a lie, or are they lying now? Because right now they are saying that there was always going to be another due diligence phase.
I also have other gripes (I think FLI is dodging questions about the connections to Tegmark's brother, and Max Tegmark's original response a few days ago angrily denied that NDF is far-right or neo-Nazi and made no apologies for associating with them), but the... (read more)
Here's what I understand happened:
This doesn't seem like lying to me -- the only issue I see is that the vetting at stage (2) wasn't good enough, and this seems like something FLI will work on improving. FLI's telling SND it intended to issue a grant would only seem like lying, I think, if FLI actually suspected it would discover issues with SND later on, or otherwise suspected they wouldn't actually end up issuing the grant. But presumably the vast majority of grants pass due diligence just fine, and FLI wouldn't have communicated an intent to issue the grant in the first place if it thought it wouldn't actually go through with it.... (read more)
I will try to be kinder. Apologies, I am new here.
According to the letter FLI sent, the only reason they did not issue the grant already is the lack of registration. Assuming they did not lie, this means, hypothetically, if SND was registered, FLI would have granted them $100,000 instead of writing this letter.
Do you see the issue with FLI granting $100,000 to neo-Nazis? I understand that they didn't end up granting it, but according to the FLI letter that was a fluke. If SND happened to be registered, the grant would have been paid out. Or at least, that what the letter says. (They say clearly the grant has been approved, and the problem with paying it out is the registration.)
Maybe they are lying in the letter! But if not, FLI was going to give $100,000 to neo-Nazis and lucked out due to the fact they weren't registered.
My problem now is that FLI does not express contrition for this. At no point do they go "oh no, we almost sent out $100,000 to neo-Nazis!" and at no point do they go "oh no, the letter we sent to SND said the grant has been approved when it wasn't, so that misleads people, we are so sorry for misleading people".
FLI says neither of these things. They pretend, instead, that they never sent out a letter approving the grant and intending to pay it out ASAP. They pretend they merely provisionally approved it subject to another vetting stage. But either that's false or else they lied in their letter.
This seems inaccurate. Yes, the original letter says that the grant has been approved. I am not too familiar with how these grants usually go, but the wording of the letter seems similar to what our local EA group received for our grant application, i.e. your grant has been approved, now fill out some due diligence forms please. I can imagine that people familiar with grantmaking are of the understanding that approving a grant does not entail an unconditional agreement that the grant will be paid out.
That is, SND was very likely aware that there was still a due diligence process to come. If the FAQ is to be believed, SND misrepresented their political positions, and thus they cannot complain about failing the due diligence step.
Let me register a strong prediction that normal granting agencies to not say they "approved a grant" and "because we are a non-profit organization under US law, we are only allowed to make grants to non-profit organizations; we hereby declare our intent to transfer the grant amount promptly once [name] has been registered" if these are, in fact, false statements and there's another due diligence phase.
If I'm wrong and this is how normal letters of intent work, then -- to be 100% clear -- normal letters of intent are lies that mislead the public and can be used by neo-Nazis to convince people they mainstream. That is, after all, why SND asked for the letter.
Is it true, or is it not true, that the reason FLI did not already issue the grant was "because we [...] are only allowed to make grants to non-profit organizations"? The letter is very clear about this: the letter says if SND was registered as non-profit, they would already have the money. I see no other reading.
The FLI did nothing wrong. Their system worked fine.
But we EAs of late are such a seething hive of anger-addled impatient fools, that a lie got halfway around the world before the truth laced up its shoes... (read more)
I don't completely agree: grantmaking organizations shouldn't issue grant intent letters which imply this level of certainty before completing their evaluation. I expect one outcome here will be that FLI changes how they phrase letters they send at this stage to be clearer about what they actually represent, and this will be a good thing on its own where it helps grantees better understand where they are in the process and how confident to be about incoming funds.
I'm also not convinced that the stage at which this was caught is the stage at which their process was intended to catch it, but that wouldn't rise to the level of doing something wrong -- it would be small internal mistake if it hadn't been for the misleading letter.
Apparently FLI doesn't usually issue letters of intent at all, but the grantee requested it in this case.
Separate from the letter, there's a question of whether more vetting should occur at an earlier stage of FLI's process — either to save time and effort on FLI's part, or to avoid sending a bunch of grantees informal emails that get their hopes up, or because the overall amount of vetting in the process might be too low (even though in principle it could be that FLI is doing normal levels of vetting and just spacing it out weirdly).
I had to draft and re-draft the parent comment to write it without cursing. I am crying angry tears right now. Both are deeply out of character for me.
I have been worn down.
I wrote this up a couple days ago and haven't gotten a chance to post it -- sorry if this is repetitive with other comments made since then.
I admit my reasoning here my be unduly sketchy: I'm trying to act on the view that EA forum commenting should be mainly recreational. But I was fairly surprised to see my opinion on this FAQ differed sharply from the other comments I read. On the one hand, signing off on a grant to a Holocaust denialist doesn't mean you're a bad person or your foundation isn't doing good work. On the other, it's a serious lapse in judgment that deserves some sort of root-cause analysis and attempts to fix the problem, which I don't see in the current FAQ, which I find to be an (understandably) one-sided PR document. That's fine as far as it goes, but for me personally a good faith attempt to prove this was an isolated incident needs to go deeper and has to at the very least involve publicly posting the November correspondence rejecting the grant prior to the December media inquiry.
I admittedly don't understand Swedish politics or culture and may be misunderstanding the nature of Nya Dagbladet's political positioning or of the various documents disclosed. ... (read more)
I basically feel the same confusion and dissatisfaction that Josh is expressing here. This is a very big mistake. It doesn't feel to me like a misunderstanding that would be likely to happen in the normal course of business without several underlying things having gone quite wrong. I don't feel like I understand how those things went wrong, and so I don't feel sure they've been fixed.
I wrote a thread with some thoughts on the discourse around recent controversies, which might tangentially touch upon this one.
A month has since passed, and tbh while my emotions has cooled down a bunch, I see no updates on a quick skim either here or Google. I'm sorry that the FLI team was put under such crossfires and extended EAF vitirol. However, I find myself confused about the grantmaking process that led to such a grant being almost approved. I think I still am more than a bit worried about the generative process that led to this situation, and can only hope that either a) there are exculpating circumstances at FLI that either can't be shared or FLI deprioritized sharing or b) FLI has quietly made changes to increase their grantmaking quality in the future, or decreased their willingness to give out grants until such changes have been made.
That is definitely my reaction to any story with "Far-Right" in the headline.
As noted by others, I am also regretful to reflect on how much stress this has caused the FLI team.
However, I think it's important to note I still have some concerns, for 2 reasons:
1) The FAQ linked makes a lot of sense assuming a Texas Sharpshooter setup (i.e. many far-right newspapers apply for grants from FLI, and one makes it through ), but I think this seems much less plausible because of the personal connections FLI board members have to the newspaper.
This is the only section of the FAQ I can see this that addresses this concern. However, the prompted question I read as a (perhaps accidental) straw-man. I have not seen any comments on the associated blog posts, around the concern that the brother would financially benefit. I don't generally assume that being a far-right journalist/communicator is particularly profitable. My understanding is that far-right communicators exist because of ideological motivations.
2) There seems to be a repeated subtext, that it was initially hard to identify the newspaper as far-right.&nb... (read more)
I can imagine that Per Shapiro is much more conservative (?) than say the AngloAmerican left, and wrote for conservative venues, but did not know specifically about the neo-Nazi stuff from Nya Dagbladet. People of Jewish descent, even very conservative ones, don't to my knowledge regularly support neo-Nazis. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but this is generally pretty unlikely enough that we should not assume guilty until proven innocent.
Like Elliot, while I think the FLI team has handled the whole thing just fine, I also find it confusing people think the far-right connections of Nya Dagbladet would have been difficult to identify. I didn't know anything about Nya Dagbladed in advance so I checked it:
The complete English Wikipedia article on Nya Dagbladet:
"Nya Dagbladet is a Swedish online daily newspaper founded in 2012, which has a historical connection to the National Democrats, a far-right political party in Sweden. It publishes articles promoting conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, mobile phone towers, and others. Other common themes include immigration, GMOs, Israel, the EU, and pro-Kremlin propaganda regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Markus Andersson is its editor-in-chief."
The Swedish summary/beginning of the Wikipedia article on Nya Dagbladed:
"Nya Dagbladet är en svensk nätbaserad dagstidning grundad 2012. Tidningen är nationalistisk, vetenskapsskeptisk och partipolitiskt obunden, med historisk koppling till Nationaldemokraterna. Den betecknar sig som humanistisk och etnopluralistisk med en antiglobalistisk hållning. Den refererar ofta pse... (read more)
Note that the English page was created in January of this year. The stuff on the Swedish page about Nordiska motståndsrörelsen and vaccination scepticisim and pseudoscience was added on September 14, after FLI signed the letter of intent.
I'm somewhat confused as to why this is controversial. Why is it news that FLI didn't make a grant to a far right org?
Initial reporting and its discussion in social media gave me (and perhaps others) the impression that the grant had been rejected because of the reporting and that having the president's brother had been a factor under consideration. It now seems that this was simply false and FLI's explanation seems reasonable.
I see. I wasn't being provocative with my question, I just didn't get it
I still believe that there were significant problems with a section of the original statement from Max Tegmark, and they have been reinforced, not undermined, by this FAQ. To be clear, I am not referring to problems like "they left out detail x"; I am referring to the fact that a particular section was actively misleading. I understand FLI was under a lot of pressure to churn out a statement fast, so I'm not totally surprised the original statement wasn't good quality. Still, I think FLI has a responsibility not to make misleading statements that they know, or should know, are misleading.
In this FAQ, FLI states the following as a main reason they rejected the grant:
However, in their initial statement, they wrote:
The invocation of Swedish government funding w... (read more)
I feel motivated as a former due diligence/investigative research guy to expand briefly on where my frustration came from. I think it's hard to understate how stunning a failure of due diligence this was in the first round.
Due diligence for corporate work involves much more than Googling, but, like, the first step is often just Googling. When you Google Nya Dagbladet, the Swedish Wikipedia page pops up. (The English one did not exist last year.)
Skimming the page as it existed circa fall 2022 thru Google Translate should have immediately raised several red flags, even for people not familiar with Swedish politics. These flags obviously would be taken with a grain of salt, because it's Wikipedia, but it stuns me that they were ignored at first. These immediately apparent flags include:
Irresponsible and misleading reporting related to vaccines(This was added after the letter of intent was signed, so assuming it was not clear)
Some of those flags don't immediately check out — e.g., the ... (read more)
Thank you for sharing this.
It took courage to publish this when it seems this state of affairs has become more trying with every week FLI has tried to show how they've been learning and doing better after course-correcting from the initial mistake for months now.
I have one main question with a set of a few related questions, though I understand if you'd only answer the first one.
While the FAQ mentions how Nya Dagbladet is one of few publications critical of decisions to put nuclear weapons near the Swedish border, it doesn't directly address why Nya Dagbladet was considered for a grant in the first place.
What was the specific work Nya Dagbladet had done or was expected to do that had them be considered for a grant in the first place? Would it just have been to fund Nya Dagbladet to publish more media in favour of nuclear deescalation? Or was it something else?
As there are apparently few but still some other publications doing the kind of work in Sweden FLI might have been prospectively interested in funding, what was it specifically about Nya Dagbladet that had FLI consider them more? How much were the following factors:
perception that Nya Dagbladet published higher qual
If I understand correctly the grant would've been for Nya Dagbladet's foundation, not the publication itself.
Still, unlike others I'm not completely reassured yet. I would also like to know why the grant was considered in the first place and I don't think the FAQ clearly answers that.
FAQ number 5) reads oddly.
|5) Was nepotism involved? In particular, would FLI's president's brother have profited in any way had the grant been awarded?
|No. He published some articles in the newspaper, but the understanding from the very beginning was that this was pro-bono, and he was never paid and never planned to get paid by the newspaper of the foundation. The grant proposal requested no funds for him. He is a journalist with many years of experience working for Swedish public radio and television, and runs his own free and non-commercial podcast. The newspaper linked some of his episodes, but this has nothing to do with FLI, and it provided no ad revenue since he runs no ads. He was shocked by the recent revelations of extremism and plans no further association with the newspaper.
I think you should list the purely contextual information (that an FLI executive's sibling has written articles for the newspaper etc) before the responsive information (that this did not influence the decision etc).
Also, definitely state the responsive information as two parts:
-Stuff that FLI knows, stated as fact
-"We reached out to [sibling], and he communicated the following"
FLI as an ... (read more)
I've updated my original comment in the first forum post to link to this post and FAQ, and I've included some retractions where I think I made factual claims/implications that have now been shown to be false. I think this excerpt from FLI's FAQ is an excellent response to the affair:
"We would like to emphatically state that FLI finds groups or ideologies espousing antisemitism, white supremacy, or racism despicable and would never knowingly support any such group... Our due diligence worked, but not as early as it should have. We deeply regret that we may have inadvertently compromised the confidence of our community and constituents. We are reviewing how we can amend and improve our procedures."
I would also like to extend my sincerest condolences to Max himself for the personal circumstances that would have made responding to this whole affair even more difficult.
Looking back on my post, I think it was still a net positive for the forum that brought more context on the issue to light. Emotional reactions can still be valuable, and my emotions matched my assessment (and still do) of the seriousness of the issue. I think I included the kind of caveat... (read more)
I suspect at least half of this controversy could have been avoided simply by writing "We have now moved onto the due diligence phase and we intend to approve this grant if it passes" instead of "We have approved this grant subject to due diligence". Unfortunately, headlines count.
Here's the letter: image from Expo.
It doesn't mention "subject to due diligence". It says they're waiting for the foundation to complete registration.
I don't think it's reasonable to expect them to anticipate this exact scenario, nor do I think they should be spending lots of time planning for tail risk PR scenarios like these instead of being actually productive.
I appreciate there are reasonable differences of opinion here (and the downside of drawing attention to a deeply unpleasant publication), but I personally would think better of an organisation that made this FAQ more visible from their homepage. It's hard to find unless you have the link, or search for terms you know will be in there.
I'm still surprised FLI didn't rummage around their Wikipedia page before sending a non binding LOI.