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What do EA and the FTX Future Team think of a claim by Kerry Vaughan that Sam Bankman-Fried did severely unethical behavior before and EA and FTX covered it up and laundered his reputation, effectively getting away with it.
I'm posting because of true, this suggests big changes to EA norms are necessary to deal with bad actors like him, and that Sam Bankman-Fried should be outright banned from the forum and EA events.
Link to tweets here:
I want to clarify the claims I'm making in the Twitter thread.
I am not claiming that EA leadership or members of the FTX Future fund knew Sam was engaging in fraudulent behavior while they were working at FTX Future Fund.
Instead, I am saying that friends of mine in the EA community worked at Alameda Research during the first 6 months of its existence. At the end of that period, many of them suddenly left all at once. In talking about this with people involved, my impression is:
1) The majority of staff at Alameda were unhappy with Sam's leadership of the company. Their concerns about Sam included concerns about him taking extreme and unnecessary risks and losing large amounts of money, poor safeguards around moving money around, poor capital controls, including a lack of distinction between money owned by investors and money owned by Alameda itself, and Sam generally being extremely difficult to work with.
2) The legal ownership structure of Alameda did not reflect the ownership structure that had been agreed to by the parties involved. In particular, Sam registered Alameda under his sole ownership and not as jointly owned by him and his cofounders. This was not thought t... (read more)
I was one of the people who left at the time described. I don't think this summary is accurate, particularly (3).
(1) seems the most true, but anyone who's heard Sam on a podcast could tell you he has an enormous appetite for risk. IIRC he's publicly stated they bet the entire company on FTX despite thinking it had a <20% chance of paying off. And yeah, when Sam plays league of legends while talking to famous investors he seems like a quirky billionaire; when he does it to you he seems like a dick. There are a lot of bad things I can say about Sam, but there's no elaborate conspiracy.
Lastly, my severance agreement didn't have a non-disparagement clause, and I'm pretty sure no one's did. I assume that you are not hearing from staff because they are worried about the looming shitstorm over FTX now, not some agreement from four years ago.
When said shitstorm dies down I might post more and under my real name, but for now the phrase "wireless mouse" should confirm me as someone who worked there at the time to anyone else who was also there.
I'm the person that Kerry was quoting here, and am at least one of the reasons he believed the others had signed agreements with non-disparagement clauses. I didn't sign a severance agreement for a few reasons: I wanted to retain the ability to sue, I believed there was a non-disparagement clause, and I didn't want to sign away rights to the ownership stake that I had been verbally told I would receive. Given that I didn't actually sign it, I could believe that the non-disparagement clauses were removed and I didn't know about it, and people have just been quiet for other reasons (of which there are certainly plenty).
I think point 3 is overstated but not fundamentally inaccurate. My understanding was that a group of senior leadership offered Sam to buy him out, he declined, and he bought them out instead. My further understanding is that his negotiating position was far stronger than it should have been due to him having sole legal ownership (which I was told he obtained in a way I think it is more than fair to describe as backstabbing). I wasn't personally involved in those negotiations, in part because I clashed with Sam probably worse than anyone else at the company, which likel... (read more)
I'm curious if you (or any other "SBF skeptic") has any opinion regarding whether his character flaws should've been apparent to more people outside the organizations he worked at, e.g. on the basis of his public interviews. Or alternatively, were there any red flags in retrospect when you first met him?
I'm asking because so far this thread has discussed the problem in terms of private info not propagating. But I want to understand if the problem could've been stopped at the level of public info. If so that suggests that a solution of just getting better at propagating private info may be unsatisfactory -- lots of EAs had public info about SBF, but few made a stink.
I'm also interested to hear "SBF skeptic" takes on the extent his character flaws were a result of his involvement in EA. Or maybe something about being raised consequentialist as a kid? Like, if we believe that SBF would've been a good person if it weren't for exposure to consequentialist ideas, that suggests we should do major introspection.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from all of this is that while humans are quite good judges of character in general, we do a lot worse in the presence of sufficient charisma, and in those cases we can't trust our guts, even when they're usually right. When I first met SBF, I liked him quite a bit, and I didn't notice any red flags. Even during the first month or two of working with him, I kind of had blinders on and made excuses for things that in retrospect I shouldn't have.
It's hard for me to say about what people should have been able to detect from his public presence, because I haven't watched any of his public interviews. I put a fair amount of effort into making sure that news about him (or FTX) didn't show up in any of my feeds, because when it did I found it pretty triggering.
Personally, I don't think his character flaws are at all a function of EA. To me, his character seems a lot more like what I hear from friends who work in politics about what some people are like in that domain. Given his family is very involved in politics, that connection seems plausible to me. This is very uncharitable, but: from my discussions with him he always seemed a lot more interested in power than in doing good, and I always worried that he just saw doing good as an opportunity to gain power. There's obviously no way for me to have any kind of confidence in that assessment, though, and I don't think people should put hardly any weight on it.
Thanks for the reply!
In terms of public interviews, I think the most interesting/relevant parts are him expressing willingness to bite consequentialist/utilitarian bullets in a way that's a bit on the edge of the mainstream Overton window, but I believe would've been within the EA Overton window prior to recent events (unsure about now). BTW I got these examples from Marginal Revolution comments/Twitter.
This one seems most relevant -- the first question Patrick asks Sam is whether the ends justify the means.
In this interview, search for "So why then should we ever spend a whole lot of money on life extension since we can just replace people pretty cheaply?" and "Should a Benthamite be risk-neutral with regard to social welfare?"
In any case, given that you think people should put hardly any weight on your assessment, it seems to me that as a community we should be doing a fair amount of introspection. Here are some things I've been thinking about:
We should update away from "EA exceptionalism" and towards self-doubt. (EDIT: I like this thread about "EA exceptionalism", though I don't agree with all the claims.) It sounds like you think more self-doubt would've been re
EA self-doubt has always seemed weirdly compartmentalized to me. Even the humblest of people in the movement is often happy to dismiss considered viewpoints by highly intelligent people on the grounds that it doesn't satisfy EA principles. This includes me - I think we are sometimes right to do so, but probably do so far too much nonetheless.
(from phone) That was an example of an ea being highly upvoted for dismissing multiple extremely smart and well meaning people's life's work as 'really flimsy and incredibly speculative' because he wasn't satisfied that they could justify their work within a framework that the ea movement had decided is one of the only ones worth contemplating. As if that framework itself isn't incredibly speculative (and therefore if you reject any of its many suppositions, really flimsy)
Can I ask the obvious question of whether you made money by shorting ftt? You were both one of the most anti-FTX and most still involved in crypto trading, so I suspect if you didn't then no one did.
Ps: apologies for burning the "wireless mouse" Commons. If others want to make throwaways, feel free to dm me what that is referring to and I will publicly comment my verification.
Also no non-disparagement clause in my agreement. FWIW I was one of the people who negotiated the severance stuff after the 2018 blowup, and I feel fairly confident that that holds for everyone. (But my memory is crappy, so that's mostly because I trust the FB post about what was negotiated more than you do.)
Confirming this account made an Alameda research reference in my DMs.
I've been on leave from work due to severe burnout for the last couple months (and still am), and was intentionally avoiding seeing anything about SBF/FTX outside of work until recent events made that basically impossible. So no, I didn't personally trade on any of this at all.
Fair. Sorry to hear that, I hope you can go back to ignoring the situation soon!
Can you answer two questions related to the source of SBF's early business wealth?
Were the Kimchi arb returns real?
As you know, the "Kimchi premium" was this difference in BTC price between Korea (Japan?) and the rest of the world.
The narrative is that SBF arbed this price difference to make many millions and create his early wealth.
The Sequoia puff piece makes this cute story:
After SBF's fall, Twitter speculation says this is dubious.
This is because the cause of the Kimchi premium was strict legal capital controls, and the liquidity was orders of magnitude too small to prod... (read more)
I don't mind sharing a bit about this. SBF desperately wanted to do the Korea arb, and we spent quite a bit of time coming up with any number of outlandish tactics that might enable us to do so, but we were never able to actually figure it out. The capital controls worked. The best we could do was predict which direction the premium would go and trade into KRW and then back out of it accordingly.
Japan was different. We were able to get a Japanese entity set up, and we did successfully trade on the Japan arb. As far as I know we didn't break any laws in doing so, but I wasn't directly involved in the operational side of it. My recollection is that we made something like 10-30 million dollars (~90%CI) off of that arb in total, but I'm not at all confident on the exact amount.
Is that what created his early wealth, though? Not really. Before we all left, pretty much all of that profit had been lost to a series of bad trades and mismanagement of assets. Examples included some number of millions lost to a large directional bet on ETH (that Sam made directly counter to the predictions of our best event trader), a few million more on a large OTC trade in some illiquid shitcoin that crashed... (read more)
Thanks for sharing this nbouscal. How many people did you tell about this at the time?
Personally, I remember telling at least a handful of people at the time that Sam belonged in a jail cell, but I expect that people thought I was being hyperbolic (which was entirely fair, I was traumatised and was probably communicating in a way that signalled unreliability).
I was told that conversations were had with people in leadership roles in EA. I wasn’t part of those conversations and don’t know the full details of what was discussed or with whom.
It would be awesome for the names of senior people who knew to be made public, plus the exact nature of what they were told and their response or lack thereof.
I think it is very important to understand what was known about SBF's behaviour during the initial Alameda breakup, and for this to be publicly discussed and to understand if any of this disaster was predictable beforehand. I have recently spoken to someone involved who told me that SBF was not just cavalier, but unethical and violated commonsense ethical norms. We really need to understand whether this was known beforehand, and if so learn some very hard lessons.
It is important to distinguish different types of risk-taking here. (1) There is the kind of risk taking that promises high payoffs but with a high chance of the bet falling to zero, without violating commonsense ethical norms, (2) Risk taking in the sense of being willing to risk it all secretly violating ethical norms to get more money. One flaw in SBF's thinking seemed to be that risk-neutral altruists should take big risks because the returns can only fall to zero. In fact, the returns can go negative - eg all the people he has stiffed, and all of the damage he has done to EA.
Are you in a position to be more specific about what SBF did that this is referring to?
In 2021 I tried asking about SBF among what I suppose you could call "EA leadership", trying to distinguish whether to put SBF into the column of "keeps compacts but compact very carefully" versus "un-Lawful oathbreaker", based on having heard that early Alameda was a hard breakup. I did not get a neatly itemized list resembling this one on either points 1 or 2, just heard back basically "yeah early Alameda was a hard breakup and the ones who left think they got screwed" (but not that there'd been a compact that got broken) (and definitely not that they'd had poor capital controls), and I tentatively put SBF into column 1. If "EA leadership" had common knowledge of what you list under items 1 or 2, they didn't tell me about it when I asked. I suppose in principle that I could've expended some of my limited time and stamina to go and inquire directly among the breakup victims looking for one who hadn't signed an NDA, but that's just a folly of perfect hindsight.
My own guess is that you are mischaracterizing what EA leadership knew.
Huh, I am surprised that no one responded to you on this. I wonder whether I was part of that conversation, and if so, I would be interested in digging into what went wrong.
I definitely would have put Sam into the "un-lawful oathbreaker" category and have warned many people I have been working with that Sam has a reputation for dishonesty and that we should limit our engagement with him (and more broadly I have been complaining about an erosion of honesty norms among EA leadership to many of the current leadership, in which I often brought up Sam as one of the sources of my concern directly).
I definitely had many conversations with people in "EA leadership" (which is not an amazingly well-defined category) where people told me that I should not trust him. To be clear, nobody I talked to expected wide-scale fraud, and I don't think this included literally everyone, but almost everyone I talked to told me that I should assume that Sam lies substantially more than population-level baseline (while also being substantially more strategic about his lying than almost everyone else).
I do want to add to this that in addition to Sam having a reputation for dishonesty, he also had a reputation for being vindictive, and almost everyone who told me about their concerns about Sam did so while seeming quite visibly afraid of retribution from Sam if they were to be identified as the source of the reputation, and I was never given details without also being asked for confidentiality.
Can you give some context on why Lightcone accepted a FTX Future Fund grant (a) given your view of his trustworthiness?
So far I have been running on the policy that I will accept money from people who seem immoral to me, and indeed I preferred getting money from Sam instead of Open Philanthropy or other EA funders because I thought this would leave the other funders with more marginal resources that could be used to better ends (Edit: I also separately thought that FTX Foundation money would come with more freedom for Lightcone to pursue its aims independently, which I do think was a major consideration I don't want to elide).
To be clear, I think there is a reasonable case to be made for the other end of this tradeoff, but I currently still believe that it's OK for EAs to take money from people whose values or virtues they think are bad (and that indeed this is often better than taking money from the people who share your values and virtues, as long as its openly and willingly given). I think the actual tradeoffs are messy, and indeed I ended up encouraging us to go with a different funder for a loan arrangement for a property purchase we ended up making, since that kind of long-term relationship seemed much worse to me, and I was more worried about that entangling us more with FTX.
To b... (read more)
In situations like this, it might be a good habit to state reservations publicly at the same time you receive the grant? Then your accepting the grant isn't a signal that you endorse the grantmaker, and you can be less worried about your relationship with the grantmaker damaging your future ability to be candid. Either they stop giving you money, or they continue giving you money even though you badmouthed them (which makes it more clear that you have impunity to do so again in the future).
Sure, though I think altruistic grantmakers should want their grantees to criticize them (because an altruistic grantmaker should care more about getting useful and actionable criticism than about looking good in the moment), and I think a lot of EA grantmakers walk the walk in that respect. E.g., MIRI has written tons of stuff publicly criticizing Open Phil, even though Open Phil is by far our largest all-time funder; and I don't think this has reduced our probability of getting future Open Phil funding.
One advantage of the norm I proposed is that it can help make this a more normal and expected practice, and (for that reason) less risky than it currently is.
And since everything's happening in public, grantmakers can accumulate track records. If you keep defunding people when they criticize you (even when the criticisms seem good and the grant recipients seem worthy, as far as others can tell), others can notice this fact and dock the grantmaker reputational points. (Which should matter to grantmakers who are optimizing this hard for their reputation in the first place.)
Fair points. I guess if any community can create a norm where it's OK for grant receivers to criticize grantmakers, it's the EA community.
I was really just pointing out that creating and maintaining such an open, radically honest, self-reflective, criticism-welcoming culture is very much an uphill struggle, given human nature.
That's very surprising!!
Do you know if anybody attempted to propagate this information to any of the EAs who were promoting SBF publicly? (If so, do you know if they succeeded in conveying that information to them?)
And just to check, did any of the people who warn you privately promote SBF/FTX publicly?
I ask because it seems weird for a lot of EAs to be passing around warnings about SBF being untrustworthy while a lot of (other?) EAs are promoting him publicly; I very much hope these sets were disjoint, but also it's weird for them to be so disjoint, I would have expected better information flow.
Yep, I was and continue to be confused about this. I did tell a bunch of people that I think promoting SBF publicly was bad, and e.g. sent a number of messages when some news article that people were promoting (or maybe 80k interview?) was saying that "Sam sleeps on a bean bag" and "Sam drives a Corolla" when I was quite confident that they knew that Sam was living in one of the most expensive and lavish properties in the Bahamas and was definitely not living a very frugal livestyle. This was just at the same time as the Carrick stuff was happening, and I would have likely reached out to more people if I hadn't spent a lot of my social energy on pushing back on Carrick stuff at the time (e.g. ASB's piece on Carrick's character).
Overall, I did not message many people, and I personally did not speak out very publicly about my broader concerns. I also think a lot of that promotion was happening in a part of the EA ecosystem I interface much less with (80k, UK EAs, Will, etc.), and I've had historically somewhat tense relationships to that part of the ecosystem, so I did not have many opportunities to express my concerns.
It would be useful to say whether any of the people you told would be considered 'EA leadership'; and if so, who.
How can both of these be true:
If both of those are true, how many logical possibilities are there?
I find them all super implausible so I don't know what to think!
My understanding is that the answer is basically 2.
I'd love to share more details but I haven't gotten consent from the person who told me about those conversations yet, and even if I were willing to share without consent I'm not confident enough of my recollection of the details I was told about those conversations when they happened to pass that recollection along. I hope to be able to say more soon.
EDIT: I've gotten a response and that person would prefer me not to go into more specifics currently, so I'm going to respect that. I do understand the frustration with all of the vagueness. I'm very hopeful that the EA leaders who were told about all of this will voluntarily come forward about that fact in the coming days. If they don't, I can promise that they will be publicly named eventually.
My guess is different parts of leadership. I don't think many of the people I talked to promoted SBF a lot. E.g. see my earlier paragraph on a lot of this promotion being done by the more UK focused branches that I talk much less to.
The people who are staying quiet about who they told have carefully considered reasons for doing so, and I'd encourage people to try to respect that, even if it's hard to understand from outside.
My hope is that the information will be made public from the other side. EA leaders who were told details about the events at early Alameda know exactly who they are, and they can volunteer that information at any time. It will be made public eventually one way or another.
The incentives for them to do so include 1) modelling healthy transparency norms, 2) avoiding looking bad when it comes out anyway, 3) just generally doing the right thing.
I personally commit to making my knowledge about it public within a year. (I could probably commit to a shorter time frame than that, that's just what I'm sure I'm happy to commit to having given it only a moment's thought.)
What do you find super implausible about 2?
To be fair sometimes people make accusations that are incorrect? Your decision procedure does need to allow for the possibility of not taking a given accusation seriously. I don't know who knew what and how reasonable a conclusion this was for any given person given their state of knowledge, in this case, but also people do get this wrong sometimes, this doesn't seem implausible to me.
I found this comment annoying enough to read that I felt compelled to give a simplified version:
This removes some nuance, but maybe adds some clarity.
Edit: Reworded, see original here.
I did not say that it'd be good if somebody was a ruthless negotiator.
If you're going to paraphrase somebody, please be more careful to paraphrase things they actually said, by dereferencing, and not add implications you thought they meant.
I consider this credible.
It suggests that my categorization of "EA leadership" was probably too broad and that fewer people knew the details of the situation than I believed.
That means there is a question of how many people knew. I am confident that Nick Beckstead and Will MacAskill knew about the broken agreement and other problems at Alameda. I am confident they are not the only ones that knew.
Why are you confident of that? In general, I think there's just less time and competence and careful checking to go around, in this world, than people would want to believe. This isn't Hieronym's To The Stars or the partially Hieronym-inspired world of dath ilan.
Huge thanks for spelling out the specific allegations about SBF's behavior in early Alameda; for the past couple days I'd been seeing a lot of "there was known sketchy stuff at Alameda in 2017-18" and it was kind of frustrating how hard it was to get any information about what is actually alleged to have happened, so I really appreciate this clear point-by-point summary.
I knew about Sam's bad character early on, and honestly I'm confused about what people would have expected me to do.
I should have told people that Sam has a bad character and can't be trusted, that FTX is risky? Well, I did those things, and as far as I can tell, that has made the current situation less bad than it would have been otherwise (yes, it could have been worse!). In hindsight I should have done more of this though.
Should I have told the authorities that Sam might be committing fraud? All I had were vague suspicions about his character and hints that he might be dishonest, but no convincing evidence or specific worries about fraud. (Add jurisdictional problems, concerns about the competence of regulators, etc)
Should I not have "covered up" the early scandal? Well, EAs didn't, and I think Kerry's claim is wrong.
Should I have publicly spread concerns about SBF's character? That borders on slander. Also, I was concerned that SBF would permanently hate me after that (you might say I'm a coward, but hey, try it yourself).
Should I have had SBF banned from EA? Personally, I'm all for a tough stance, but the community is usually against complete bans of bad actors, so it just wasn't feasible. (EG, if I were in charge, Jacy and Kerry would be banned, but many wouldn't like that.)
SBF was powerful and influential. EA didn't really have power over him.
What could have been done better? I am sincerely curious to get suggestions.
My current, extremely tentative, sense of the situation is not that individuals who were aware of some level of dishonesty and shadiness were not open enough about it. I think individuals acted in pretty reasonable ways, and I heard a good amount of rumors.
I think the error likely happened at two other junctions:
I think if we had some kind of e.g. EA newspaper where people try to actively investigate various things that seem concerning, then I think this would have helped a bunch. This kind of thing could even be circulated privately, though a public version seems also good.
I separately also think... (read more)
Agree with much of what you say here. (Though I don't think we currently have strong enough evidence to single out specific EA leaders as being especially responsible for the recent tragic events; at least I don't think I personally have that kind of information.)
As a substitute, or complement, to an investigative EA newspaper, what do you think about an "EA rumours" prediction market? Some attractive features of such a market:
I think this market would need judicious moderation to function well and avoid being abused. But overall it seems... (read more)
Yeah, I feel excited about something in this space. Generally I feel like prediction markets have a lot of good things going for them in situations like this, though I do worry that they will somehow just end up gamed when the stakes are high. Like, my guess is Sam could have likely moved the probability of a market here a lot, either with money, or by encouraging other people to move it.
Should EA people just be way more aggressive about spreading the word (within the community, either publicly or privately) about suspicions that particular people in the community have bad character?
(not saying that this is an original suggestion, you basically mention this in your thoughts on what you could have done differently)
Confirming that this account DM'd me with information indicating that they worked at Alameda.
I'm unclear how to update on this, but note that Kerry Vaughan was at CEA for 4 years, and a managing director there for one year before, as I understand it, being let go under mysterious circumstances. He's now the program manager at a known cult that the EA movement has actively distanced itself from. So while his comments are interesting, I wouldn't treat him as a particularly credible source, and he may have his own axe to grind.
All this conversation about Leverage and Kerry's motives and character misses the point that he's talking about events that have little to nothing to do with him. He's saying that there was a blowup at Alameda early on reflecting badly on SBF that lots of EA leaders knew about and turned a blind eye to. This can be investigated and confirmed or denied without delving into conversations about Leverage or Kerry that are besides the point at hand.
To the extent that Kerry's allegation involves his own judgment of Sam's actions as bad or shady, I think it matters that there's reason not to trust Kerry's judgment or possibly motives in sharing the information. However we should definitely try to find out what actually happened and determine whether it was truly predictive of worse behavior down the line.
Agreed! IMO it's good for people to be aware that Kerry has an axe to grind; but the thing to do with that information is to look into the matter further.
I commented above that I think Kerry's comment is incorrect, so I feel obligated to state that I have no reason to think this is the result of bias. I am inclined to think he's doing the best he can in an information-scarce environment.
I retract this comment. Kerry has continued repeating the same claim on Twitter without noting that there's disagreement about its truth. This does not seem like unbiased behavior.
-1 on this comment. In particular, being at CEA for 4 years seems like something which makes criticism more plausible. And it's not surprising that EA has distanced itself from groups critical of us (while I have some concerns about Leverage, I think there are a bunch of ways that they've been treated unfairly).
Hard disagree on Leverage. They've absorbed a tonne of philanthropic funding over the years to produce nothing but pseudoscience and multiple allegations of emotional abuse.
I'm not saying Kerry wouldn't know about this stuff - I think he likely does. I'm saying a) that he was one of the 'top leaders' he refers to, so had ample chance to do something about this himself, b) he has a track record of questionable integrity, and c) he has potential motive to undermine the people he's criticising.
I think this comment is a pretty clear example of one way in which Leverage has been treated unfairly, which is that people lump "not very productive" and "abusive" into a single criticism. The latter is much more serious, but the former is much easier to quickly verify, and so the former ends up lending credibility to the latter even though I personally think we probably have too few groups taking philanthropic funding to do crazy research that may end up looking like pseudoscience.
To be very clear, I'm not claiming that Leverage was not an abusive environment, and I take the allegations you mention very seriously. I've just also seen people piling onto Leverage in not-very-careful ways that I'm not very happy about.
I'm not a fan of Leverage, but I agree with Richard here. I think Kerry is better modeled as "normal philosophy-friendly EA" with the modifications "less conflict-averse than the average EA" and "mad at EA (for plenty of good reasons and also plenty of bad reasons, IMO) and therefore pretty axe-grindy". If you model him with a schema closer to "crazy cultist" than to "bitter ex-EA", I expect you to make worse predictions.
I’m guessing I have a lower opinion of Leverage than you based on your tone, but +1 on Kerry being at CEA for 4 years making it more important to pay serious attention to what he has to say even if it ultimately doesn’t check out. We need to be very careful to minimize tribalism hurting our epistemics.
For what it's worth, these different considerations can be true at the same time:
So I would personally be inclined to pay close attention to his criticisms of CEA. At the same time, I would need more "positive" contexts from others to be able to trust what he says.
I agree that these can technically all be true at the same time, but I think the tone/vibe of comments is very important in addition to what they literally say, and the vibe of Arepo's comment was too tribalistic.
I'd also guess re: (3) that I have less trust in CEA's epistemics to necessarily be that much better than Leverage's , though I'm uncertain here (edited to add: tbc my best guess is it's better, but I'm not sure what my prior should be if there's a "he said / she said" situation, on who's telling the truth. My guess is closer to 50/50 than 95/5 in log odds at least).
I agree that the tone was too tribalistic, but the content is correct.
(Seems a bit like a side-topic, but you can read more about Leverage on this EA Forum post and, even more importantly, in the comments. I hope that's useful for you! The comments definitely changed my views - negatively - about the utility of Leverage's outputs and some cultural issues.)
I've read it. I'd guess we have similar views on Leverage, but different views on CEA. I think it's very easy for well-intentioned, generally reasonable people's epistemics to be corrupted via tribalism, motivated reasoning, etc.
But as I said above I'm unsure.
Edited to add: Either way, might be a distraction to debate this sort of thing further. I'd guess that we both agree in practice that the allegations should be taken seriously and investigated carefully, ideally by independent parties.
Mea culpa for not being clear enough. I don't think handwavey statements from someone whose credibility I doubt have much evidential value, but I strongly think CEA's epistemics and involvement should be investigated - possibly including Vaughan's.
I find it bleakly humourous to be interpreted as tribalistically defending CEA when I've written gradually more public criticisms of them and their lack of focus -and honestly, while I don't understand thinking they're as bad as Leverage, I think they've historically probably been a counterfactual negative for the movement, and don't have a good sense of whether things have improved.
Thanks for clarifying. To be clear, I didn't say I thought they were as bad as Leverage. I said "I have less trust in CEA's epistemics to necessarily be that much better than Leverage's , though I'm uncertain here"
As I understood it, CEA was originally just a legal entity to save 80k and GWWC from having to both individually get charitable status, though GWWC had been around in some form since maybe 2007ish, and 80k for a year or two (and Givewell, which had started about the same time as CEA and arguably has as good a claim to having started it had no formal association with any of these orgs). The emerging movement might have taken its name from the new org, or maybe just started using the phrase in response to the poll result.
At some stage IIRC, CEA started taking on more responsibilities and distanced itself, and eventually split from its child orgs. From that point on, I feel like they have generally not been well run - the staff seem to have been hired for enthusiasm and allegiance to the cause, and sometimes apparent nepotism (they seem to have hired internally for quite a few positions) rather than competence. As far as I can tell, staff have neither a carrot to motivate them or a stick: I know of only two examples of CEA employees being pushed out, one of who was CEO, and those were, as I understand it, for behaviour that was unambiguously termination-worthy (CEA may not want ... (read more)
But good on you for being brave enough to publicly criticise your funding sources ("I have received EA funding in multiple capacities, and feel quite constrained in my ability to criticise CEA publicly") or people you like ("I like everyone I've interacted with from CEA").
Regarding 'top EA leaders' knowing about it (see further in the thread).
I’d also recommend reading Zoe Curzi’s essay about her own (traumatic) experience at Leverage, the publishing of which was publicly supported by Leverage founder Geoff Anders.
I heard the same claim, from a different source: that SBF did something unethical at Alameda Research prior to founding FTX, that some EAs had left Alameda saying that SBF was unethical and no one should work with him, and that there were privately circulated warnings to this effect. (The person I heard this from hasn't spoken publicly about it yet as far as I know. They are someone with no previous or current involvement with FTX or Alameda Research, who I think is reporting honestly and is well positioned to have heard such things.)
(EDIT: others along the rumor-path via which I heard this have now spoken on this thread, in greater detail than I have; so this comment is a duplicate report and should not be coutned.)
+ 1 for way more investigations and background checks for major donations, megaprojects, and association with EA.
Thank you so much for your time, dedication, and efforts.
It seems like, for many of us, difficult times lay ahead. Let us not forget the power of our community - a community of brilliant, kind-hearted, caring people trying to do good better together.
This is a crisis - but we have the ability to overcome it.
I was really looking forward to maybe implementing impact markets in collaboration with Future Fund plus FTX proper if you and they wanted, and feel numb with regard to this shocking turn. I really believed FTX had some shot at 'being the best financial hub in the world', SBF 'becoming a trillionaire', and this longshot notion I had of impact certificates being integrated into the exchange, funding billions of dollars of EA causes through it in the best world. This felt so cool and far out to imagine. I woke up two days ago and this dream is now ash. I have spiritually entangled myself with this disaster.
I don't want to be the first commenter to be that guy, and forgive me if I'm poking a wound, but when you have the time and slack can you please explain to us to what extent you guys grilled FTX leadership about the integrity of the sources of money they were giving you? Surely you had an inside view model of how risky this was if it blew up? If it's true SBF has had a history of acting unethically before (rumors, I don't know), isn't that something to have thoroughly questioned and spoken against? If there was anyone non-FTX who could have pressured them to act ethically, it would have been you. As an outsider it felt like y'all were in a highly trusted concerted relationship with each other going back a decade.
In any case, thank you for what you've done.
Sven Rone should've won a prize in the Red Teaming contest:
The Effective Altruism movement is not above conflicts of interest
[published Sep 1st 2022]... (read more)
I wrote that comment from over a month ago. And I actually followed it up with a more scathing comment that got downvoted a lot, and that I deleted out of a bit of cowardice, I suppose. But here's the text:
Consider this bit from the origin story of FTX:
Binance, you say? This Binance?... (read more)
Wow, I didn't see it at the time but this was really well written and documented. I'm sorry it got downvoted so much and think that reflects quite poorly on Forum voting norms and epistemics.
Moreover, Sven Rone is a pseudonym. The author used a pen name astheir views were unpopular and underappreciated at the time; they likely feared career repercussions if they went public with it. It's unfortunate that this was the environment they found themselves in.
Seconded. This whole saga has really made me sour on some already mixed views on EA epistemics.
I find myself having a mixed opinion of how EA responded. It wasn't outright terrible epistemics, unlike most of the world reacting to a similar event, but there were real failures of epistemics.
On the other hand, there was also successes in EA epistemics, as well.
I think the post ended up around 0 or 1 karma, is that right? (I mean before people changed their voting based on hindsight!) I think it's important to distinguish between "got downvoted a lot but ended up at neutral karma" vs. "got downvoted double digits into no longer being visible." The former reflects somewhat poorly on EA, the latter very poorly.
I think the most informative signal here is not the exact karma that comment ended up with but rather that the author ended up deleting it despite believing that what he was saying was potentially important and not receiving any reasons to think he was wrong. A culture where people feel compelled to silence themselves is worse than one where some comments are wrongly downvoted without much consequence to the author.
I think the most important data points here are any comments that were left, and the net karma of the comment. People have in fact been known to overreact, or react in idiosyncratic ways, in forum discussions; I haven't seen the thread in question, but if the responses were friendly and the comment got ~0 net karma, then that would be a large update for me.
I definitely took "that got downvoted a lot" to mean that the comment got a lot of net downvotes, not just that people offset its upvotes to keep it around a neutral 0. I think it's pretty bad to describe vote patterns that misleadingly, if it was hovering around 0.
I like how Hacker News hides comment scores. Seems to me that seeing a comment's score before reading it makes it harder to form an independent impression.
I fairly frequently find myself thinking something like: "this comment seems fine/interesting and yet it's got a bunch of downvotes; the downvoters must know something I don't, so I shouldn't upvote". If others also reason this way, the net effect is herd behavior? What if I only saw a comment's score after voting/opting not to vote?
Maybe quadratic voting could help, by encouraging everyone to focus their voting on self-perceived areas of expertise? Commenters should be trying to impress a narrow & sophisticated audience instead of a broad & shallow one?
EDIT: Another thought: If there was a way I could see my recent votes, I could go back and reflect on them to ensure I'm voting in a consistent manner across threads
I think that what FTX is accused of this comment is legitimately way more something where a charitable recipient is not morally obliged to demand this level of careful checking of everything, because our civilization is just not actually able to support this level of competency pornography.
Stealing your customers' funds is a very different matter from "some of the people who use our services are criminals". Why, MIRI has in the past accepted matching funds from Google, which I'm sure profits a whole lot off criminals using their services! And some of those criminals may even be bad people!
But you can't, actually, run a post-agricultural civilization on the principle of everybody who engages in every transaction checking out the full moral character of everybody who transacts with them. If you did try to build clever infrastructure for that, its first use on the margin would be by the right to hunt down sex workers (as already occurs with Visa) and by the left to hunt down people who said bad things on Twitter.
In a hunter-gatherer tribe it maybe makes sense to demand that people not transact with that bad guy over there; it scales as far as it needs to scale.  ... (read more)
IMO the amount of diligence someone ought to perform on their counterparties' character is different in different circumstances. "This person is one of hundreds of people I transact with every week" carries different obligations than "This person is one of the four big donors who fund my organization" carries different obligations than "This person has been my only source of income for the past two years". Different EAs were at different points along this spectrum.
Quoting from the article you linked about the involvement of Daniel Friedberg, FTX's Chief Regulatory Officer, in a previous scandal:... (read more)
Sorry this text got heavily downvoted? If so, we should be ashamed.
"They tell you to do your thing but they don't mean it. They don't want you to do your own thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. It's a laugh, Goober, a fake. Don't disturb the universe, Goober, no matter what the posters say.” - Robert Cormier, the Chocolate War
Yes, we should. People hesitate or are averse to bringing issues up with authorities/communities due to fears of being punished. As groups collectivize and become increasingly memetically homogeneous, that which coincides with the solidification of power/influence/financial structures and hierarchies, dissent of any form becomes decreasingly tolerated. It becomes safer/easier to criticize EA as an outsider than as member who simultaneously want to grow in EA, be well received by potential EA organization employers, and rise up the oft unstated hierarchies that developed as EA blossomed.
Until this debacle, SBF was lionized beyond comparison by the major community organizations. And moreover, he was closely associated with EA giants via the foundation/future fund and other projects. He had excellent PR presence due to the constant EA affiliated media attention. He was 80k's paragon of earning to give... (read more)
I think you may be getting a lot of disagree-votes because I don't think crypto was the issue here. People who just have USD sitting in FTX right now lost their money too.
FTX shouldn't have been risky. It wasn't a DAO, or based entirely off some token or chain, it was an exchange. It should have just been connecting people who wanted to buy crypto with people who wanted to sell crypto, and taking a fee for doing this. The exchange itself shouldn't be taking any risk.
The reason as to how looks at least in part to do with leveraged transactions, allowing customers to buy more crypto by supplementing their purchase with a loan. But we've let leveraged transactions happen with stock for a hundred years. This looks a lot more like garden-variety financial crime than some problem with crypto.
Here's a quote from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers in a recent Bloomberg interview that backs up some of the claims in this comment:
Sorry for misfiring here, I'll retract my comment.
I can tell you why I downvoted it.
False, it works just fine. It's a token that can't be duplicated and people can send to each other without any centralized authority.
There are indeed a lot of those, but scams and fraud were very clearly not the intention of its creators. Realistically they were cryptography nerds who wanted to make something cool, or libertarians with overly-idealistic visions of the future.
Clear hindsight bias. This person should have made some money betting against FTX before it collapsed and then I'd take them more seriously.
Basically, the comment is just your standard "cryptocurrency bad" take, without any attempt at justifying their claims or even saying much of anything other than expressing in an inflammatory way that they don't like cryptocurrency.
"This person should have made some money betting against FTX before it collapsed and then I'd take them more seriously."
this is naive EMH fundamentalism
not everything can be shorted, not everything can be shorted easily, not everything should be shorted, markets can be manipulated. Especially the crypto market. It both can be the case that people 100% think X is a fraud, and X collapses, and shorting X would have been a losing trade over most timeframes. "Never short" is an oversimplification but honestly not a bad one.
Thanks for this! I echo Lizka's comment about linkposting.
In light of the recent events I'm struggling a bit with taking my hindsight-bias shades off, and while I scored it reasonably highly, I don't think I can fairly engage with whether it should have received a prize over other entries even if I had the capacity to (let alone speak for other panelists). I do remember including it in the comment mainly because I thought it was a risk that didn't receive enough attention and was worth highlighting (though I have a pretty limited understanding of the crypto space and ~0 clue that things would happen in the way they did).
I think it's worth noting that there has been at least one other post on the forum that engaged with this specifically, but unfortunately didn't receive much attention. (Edit: another one here)
Ultimately though, I think it's more important to think about what actionable and constructive steps the EA community can take going forward. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions wrt accountability from EA leaders in terms of due diligence, what was known or could have been suspected prior to Nov 9th this year, and what systems or checks/balances were in place... (read more)
Strongly disagree. That criticism is mostly orthogonal to the actual problems that surfaced. Conflicts of interest were not the problem here.
FTX had received several billion dollars in funding from major investors. One was a province pension fund, so it wasn't just crypto folks. That generally involves having the investors' accountants do substantial due diligence on the target firm's financials. That tells me that either the books were fairly clean at the time of investment or they were cooked in a way that even the due dilligence specialists didn't detect. It's not clear to me how the Future Fund people, who to my knowledge are not forensic accountants or crypto experts, would have had a better ability to pick up on funny business. So I don't see why it would be unreasonable for them to have relied on third-party expert vetting.
From what I understand (please correct me if I'm wrong), FTX didn't have a CFO, it's COO was a friend with no experience, and it didn't have a proper board of directors. Clearly, that flimsy corporate governance would not pass a standard due diligence test.
EDIT: This flow chart of shells nested in shells, like Russian dolls, speaks to why the company's governance should have been a red-flag.
I don't think a highly branched company structure is a red flag: my understanding is that to operate a financial business legally across many jurisdictions you generally need to have subsidiaries in each jurisdiction. Ex: https://wise.com/help/articles/2974131/what-are-the-wise-group-entities
In the autopsy, the biggest red flag will probably be the lack of appropriate internal controls. One should not be able to move that kind of money without vetting by staff with appropriate background and independence, but no ownership interest. Based on the reported en masse resignation of the bulk of legal and compliance staff, it seems that it was technically possible to transfer billions in customer assets to the CEO's company without legal/compliance involvement.
I think the class of issues that would make it inappropriate to accept donations is much narrower than the issues that would and should make a public investor (like a province pension fund) decline to invest.
Few private businesses are going to let an outsider come in on a regular basis, conduct a hard look at sensitive internal documents, and potentially publish derogatory information to the public. Even for investors, this kind of stuff is generally done under a heavy NDA and for good reason. That would make it extremely difficult to do this on a regular basis -- so any scrutiny would at best catch fraud that existed at the time of scrutiny.
I wouldn't be very confident in the level of due diligence undertaken by supposedly sophisticated investors:
This just isn't plausible on reasonable priors. You need to assume that multiple investment firms working in different sectors, whose survival in a highly competitive environment in large part depends on being skilled at scrutinizing a company's financials, would miss warning signs that should have been apparent to folks with no relevant domain expertise. See also Eliezer's Twitter thread.
ETA: Alexander:... (read more)
I am making a comparative, not an absolute, claim: however bad the professionals may be, it is unreasonable to expect outsiders to do better.
Please feel free to "be that guy" as hard as possible when we are talking about massive financial fraud.
This sounds a bit hindsight-bias-y to me; we know to poke at this specific topic now because we know what happened. SBF claims to not have known himself that this was happening, which I take to mean that either this info was super siloed or buried somehow, or that Sam is lying. (And is relying on few-to-no people knowing the truth, or someone would immediately call him out on the lie.)
The idea that SBF didn't know what was happening is farcical. You don't unknowingly loan out $10bn of customer funds, which you then lose on bad bets, and then try and cover up your insolvency. I think it's healthy to wait for a clearer picture of what happened before making any summary judgement, but we know enough to say that SBF was not an honest actor.
To be honest, I'm at a point now where I'm putting significant weight on lying. Some evidence here that FTX bailed out Alameda for ~$4B in FTT on Sep 28th. There are the blockchain transactions (disclaimed by SBF at the time), and the resignation of a high-profile figure (President of FTX.US) the day before. (Note that whilst this doesn't look good, it's still inconclusive. I'm sure the truth will come out eventually.)
I agree that there's a lot of hindsight bias here, but I don't think that tweet tells us much.
My question for Dony is: what questions could we have asked FTX that would have helped? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have detected any problems by grilling FTX. Maybe I'd have gotten some suspicions by grilling people who'd previously worked with SBF, but I can't think of what would have prompted me to do that.
Hope you're feeling okay Dony.
[on phone] Thank you so much for all of your hard work managing the fund. I really appreciated it and I think that it did a lot of good. I doubt that you could have ever have reasonably expected this outcome so I don't hold you responsible for it.
Reading this announcement was surprisingly emotional for me. It made me realise how many exceptionally good people who I really admire are going to be deeply impacted by all of this. That's really sad in addition to all the other stuff to be sad about. I probably don't have much to offer other than my thoughts and sympathy but please let me know if I can help.
I suppose that I should disclose that I recently received a regrant from FTX which I will abstain from drawing on for the moment. I don't think that this has much, if any, relevance to my sentiments however.
I would not draw on that grant for quite some time, if ever: you should be worried about clawbacks.
https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/BesfLENShzSMeb7Xi/community-support-given-ftx-situation?commentId=y7hEdxGhjsYzpg6p3 OpenPhilantropy expects to put out an explainer about clawbacks tomorrow
The comment below that this is like Bernie Madoff is not right as far as I can see. This is a different situation, with different facts - including that we have, as yet, no idea what those facts are! Your situation will also be individual - if you took the funds as a limited company is different to if you took them individually, for example, with different effects most likely. It is also entirely unknown what is happening. Nothing has been made clear officially, no one knows what's going on and you - importantly - had nothing to do with any of that stuff that is being potentially alleged (not yet actually alleged by any authority).
I'm not giving legal advice here. I'm just stating that being calm is the right response and that googling Bernie Madoff (as suggested below), won't most likely be of any help.
I commend you on your moral leadership and I join everyone else in the comments in expressing gratitude for the tremendous good you've done so far. However, I'm curious about your decision to resign. I get the moral justification, but surely there are many grantees with many questions who'd be able to get better answers were you still within Future Fund. Something as simple as access to documents or previous emails would enable you to better support grantees who are likely in significant distress. Why did you see it as imperative to resign effective immediately? Why not at the very least see out your notice period?
Hey team -- thank you for all the work you did. The Future Fund has been tremendously inspiring to see. I'll reach out to you about how we (myself or Protocol Labs) might be able to help.
Thanks very much for posting this update!
My main question re the Future Fund at the moment is: why does it seem like there weren't any ring-fenced funds under legal ownership by the Future Fund or the FTX Foundation? Are there any? Were there any when it was founded last year (i.e. presumably when FTX/Alameda was still solvent)? If not, why not? Did this not raise suspicions amongst any of you? I can imagine maybe SBF saying something like the max-EV thing to do is keeping all the funds in the for-profit companies to maximise their growth, and you going along with it because you trusted him (or you just independently agreed and didn't put any significant weight on FTX/Alameda collapsing or even just becoming less rich). Obviously an error in hindsight. Or maybe you kept asking about getting (more) ring-fenced funds, and kept getting fobbed off? That should've raised alarm bells if so! Sorry if this is a bit ranty and speculative, or too soon, or too accusatory, but I'm grasping for answers here. I'm grateful for everything you've done for the world and EA in your careers, but can't help feeling that you might've messed up a bit here.
Please let us know if there is anything we at GoodX can do to help. Our main project is to build an impact marketplace, but ultimately we want to get resources to where they are needed (as efficiently as possible).
(E.g., it wouldn’t be my first time running an emergency fundraiser to bail out customers of a failed venture.)
Strikes me as…premature? We’ll have a lot more clarity in the coming days, and resigning + questioning the ethics at FTX when we still fundamentally don’t know what happened doesn’t seem particularly productive.
If FTX just took risks and lost, this will look very dumb in hindsight. And if there turn out to be lots of unethical calls, we’ll have more than enough time to criticize them all to our hearts’ content. But at least we’ll have the facts.