275Joined Feb 2023


I think this is a common misunderstanding in things that I am trying to communicate.

Thank you for clarifying. I do really appreciate this and I'm sure others do too.

But as it sounds like this isn't the first time this has been miscommunicated, one idea going forward might be to ask someone else to check your writing for tone before posting.

For example if you'd asked me, I would have told you that your comment reads to me like "Will is so selfish" rather than "Will and I have major disagreements on the strategies he should pursue but I believe he's well-intentioned" because of things like:

  1. The large majority of the time when people say that someone harmed others for the sake of their own popularity, they're accusing them of being selfish (so you should probably clarify if that's not what you mean).
  2. You choose status-related words (with the negative connotations I just mentioned) when you could have used others e.g. "being on book tours and talking to lots of high net-worth and high-status people" rather than "promoting EA books and fundraising" (for orgs like yours incidentally, although of course that ended badly).
  3. It's a long comment entirely composed of negative comments about Will - you'd forgive a reader for thinking that you don't think there's anything good about him. (I don't think the context of being asked "What's your issue with Will Mckaskill as a public intellectual?" would make readers think "Oh, I guess that's the reason Habryka is only mentioning negative things." This is not how professionals tend to talk about each other - especially in public - unless they really don't think there's anything positive about someone.)
  4. Similarly, certain word choices and the absence of steel-manning give the impression that you don't think Will has any decent reasons in favour of making the decisions he does (e.g. calling Doing Good Better "misleading" rather than "simplified" or talking about its emphasis on certain things or what have you, saying "He never comments on the EA Forum" even though that seems to be generally considered a good thing and of course he does a decent amount in any case, and in fact even now saying "I don't know why Will is pursuing the strategies I see him pursue" rather than "I can see that he might think...").
  5. Similarly, you claim that he "didn't do anything about" CEA's problems for the "very long period of time" he was there (nothing? really?).
  6. The use of accusatory language like "This feels to me very much like trying to get the benefits of being a leader without actually doing the job of leadership" - it's hard to read this as anything other than an accusation of selfishness.
  7. Describing things in an insulting way (contrasting WWOTF with a "sane way to think about the future", calling CEA a "massive shitshow", "expelling him as a leader" etc.).
  8. Not specifying that you mean "intellectual respect" when you say "as far as I can tell he is actually just not very respected among almost any of the other intellectual leaders of the community, at least here in the Bay" (with at least one person responding with what seemed like a very broad interpretation of your comments).

I know a lot of people are hurting right now and I know that EA and especially rationalist culture is unusually public and brutal when it comes to feedback. But my sense is that the kinds of things I've mentioned above resulted in a comment that came across as shockingly unprofessional and unconstructive to many people (popular, clearly, but I don't think people's upvotes/likes correlate particularly well with what they deem constructive) - especially given the context of one EA leader publicly kicking another while they're down - and I'd like to see us do better.


[Edit: There are also many things I disagree with in your comment. My lack of disagreement should not be taken as an endorsement of the concrete claims, I just thought it'd be better to focus this comment on the kinds of framings that may be regularly leading to miscommunication (although I'm not sure if I'll ever get round to addressing the disagreements).]

The article reads to me like it's trying to get away with insinuating that EA leaders somehow knew about or at least suspected the fraud, based on what they were told by employees who had no such suspicions.

They take pains to emphasise the innocence of their sources, of course - I agree that they're painted as the heroes of the story (emphasis mine): 

None of the early Alameda employees who witnessed Bankman-Fried’s behavior years earlier say they anticipated this level of alleged criminal fraud. There was no “smoking gun,” as one put it, that revealed specific examples of lawbreaking. Even if they knew Bankman-Fried was dishonest and unethical, they say, none of them could have foreseen a fraud of this scope.

While suggesting that despite this, EA leaders somehow knew (emphasis mine):

When Alameda and Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange FTX imploded in late 2022, these same effective altruist (EA) leaders professed outrage and ignorance.


Multiple EA leaders knew about the red flags surrounding Bankman-Fried


“I was shocked at how much of what came out about FTX rhymed with the concerns we raised in the early days ... It was the same thing. All of the same problems.”


In a planning document prepared for that confrontation and reviewed exclusively by TIME, they accuse him of “gross negligence,” “willful and wanton conduct that is reasonably considered to cause injury,” and “willful and knowing violations of agreements or obligations, particularly with regards to creditors”—all language that echoes the U.S. criminal code.

So I don't think the thesis of the article is simply, "EA leaders (esp. Will) should have known this guy was sketchy and stayed away."

And let's be honest, "These people said some positive things about a sketchy rich guy and gave him philanthropic advice" is not a story - they wouldn't be writing it if that was what they were trying to convey.

"These people knew about one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history but didn't try to stop it" - now that's a story.

Yeah that's a fair point to raise. I guess I'm just lamenting that these facets aren't refined enough to catch less false positives by this point.

(But I'm glad you ask these questions; the apparent prevalence and persistence of hindsight bias in the EA movement today has been one of the biggest updates for me in recent months. I wondered if it might be because EA had generally been selecting for something like 'smart' but not 'rationalist,' but I'm not sure that the rationalists have fared much better and I think people outside both communities do tend to fare better in relation to EA events. My latest theory is just that I'd underestimated the allure of gossip, public shaming, witch hunts etc, and how easy it is to stir things up in an online world. Maybe I should read some of your work - could be a grounding counterweight to the lofty rationalist and altruistic ideals I have for myself and this community!)

I want to emphasise that Background section 5 is the OP saying, "The recent TIME article doesn’t make a very precise argument; here is my attempt at steelmanning/clarifying a major argument made in that article, which I will then respond to ... “EA leaders” ... did not take enough preventative action and are therefore (partly) responsible for FTX’s collapse".

In other words, I don't think Ben is "suggesting" EA leaders are partly responsible. I think Ben is saying "I think TIME is claiming they are? Well,  here's my response..."

You may indeed believe that and have said that, but the question for us is: Was it reasonable for EA leaders to think this degree of bad behaviour was particularly out of the ordinary for the early days of a startup?

To take Nathan Young's four examples, looking at some of what major news outlets said prior to 2018 about these companies' early days...it doesn't seem that unusual? (Assuming we now know all the key accusations that were made - there may of course have been more.)

  • Facebook
    • "The company and its employees have also been subject to litigation cases over the years...with its most prominent case concerning allegations that CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke an oral contract with Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra to build the then-named "HarvardConnection" social network in 2004, instead allegedly opting to steal the idea and code to launch Facebook months before HarvardConnection began... The original lawsuit was eventually settled in 2009, with Facebook paying approximately $20 million in cash and 1.25 million shares." (Wikipedia, referencing articles from 2007 to 2011)
    • "Facebook co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, no longer works at Facebook. He hasn't since 2005, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg diluted Saverin's stake in Facebook and then booted him from the company." (Business Insider, 2012)
    • "we also uncovered two additional anecdotes about Mark's behavior in Facebook's early days that are more troubling...— an apparent hacking into the email accounts of Harvard Crimson editors using data obtained from Facebook logins, as well as a later hacking into ConnectU" (Business Insider, 2010)
  • Google
    • “Asked about his approach to running the company, Page once told a Googler his method for solving complex problems was by reducing them to binaries, and then simply choosing the best option,” Carlson writes. “Whatever the downside he viewed as collateral damage he could live with.” That collateral damage sometimes consisted of people. In 2001, frustrated with the layer of managers overseeing engineers, Page decided to fire all of them, and publicly explained that he didn’t think the managers were useful or doing any good." (Quartz, 2014)
    • "Page encouraged his senior executives to fight the way he and Brin went at it. In meetings with new hires, one of the two co-founders would often provoke an argument over a business or product decision. Then they would both sit back, watching quietly as their lieutenants verbally cut each other down." (Business Insider, 2014)
  • Gates
    • "Allen portrays the Microsoft mogul as a sarcastic bully who tried to force his founding partner out of the firm and to cut his share in the company as he was recovering from cancer." (Guardian, 2011)
    • "...he recalls the harsher side of Gates's character, anecdotes from the early days...Allen stopped playing chess with Gates after only a few games because Gates was such a bad loser he would sweep the pieces to the floor in anger; or how Gates would prowl the company car park at weekends to check on who had come in to work; or the way he would browbeat Allen and other senior colleagues, launching tirades at them and putting them down with the classic denigrating comment: "That's the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard!" (Guardian, 2011)
    • "They met in 1987, four months into her job at Microsoft...meeting her in the Microsoft car park, he asked her out" (Independent, 2008)
  • Bezos
    • Obviously his treatment of workers is no secret (and it seems natural for people to think he's probably always been this way)

It's not surprising to me if EA leaders thought most startups were like this - we just only hear stories about the ones that make it big.

I've only worked for one startup myself and I wasn't privy to what went on between executives, but: one of them said to a (Black, incidentally) colleague upon firing him "You'll never work again," another was an older married man who was grinding up against young female colleagues at an office party (I actually suggested he go home and he said, "No - I'm having fun" and laughed and went back to it), and another made a verbal agreement with some of us to pay us overtime if we worked 12-hour days for several weeks and then simply denied it and never did. [edit: I should clarify this was not an EA org]

+1 to basically all of this and thanks for adding context to the stickers thing.

I also want to add - Again, Beckstead, MacAskill and Karnofsky are not 80k. So going back to the original claim that we're discussing (and others like it I guess):

But I cannot wrap my head around why—knowing what it appears they knew then—anyone thought it was a good idea to put this guy on a pedestal; to elevate him as a moral paragon and someone to emulate; to tie EA's reputation so closely to his.

Well, "they" are not 80k, so I'm really not surprised 80k featured SBF positively on their website. "EA leaders" are not a single shadowy entity, they're a group of individuals who get packaged together in a variety of combinations when people realise there are no adults in the room.

I mean, that's not how I read it. The whole paragraph is:

Heavily considering what you show as well as what you do, especially if you’re in a position of high visibility. “Signalling” is often very important! For example, the funding situation means I now take my personal giving more seriously, not less. I think the fact that Sam Bankman-Fried is a vegan and drives a Corolla is awesome, and totally the right call. And, even though it won’t be the right choice for most of us, we can still celebrate those people who do make very intense moral commitments, like the many kidney donors in EA, or a Christian EA I heard about recently who lives in a van on the campus of the tech company he works for, giving away everything above $3000 per year.

I can see how some people might read it that way though.

[Edit: Okay it sounds like the stickers were done by attendees. That's much less surprising.]

Woah what's the story behind the stickers, what the hell? Is this a dank memes thing? I assume it's meant to be funny but I don't get it.

I still genuinely don't know if the signed Huel thing was meant to be a joke.

I do think I've seen the specific claim that there was lots of public promotion of Sam

Fuss away. E.g.

  1. Jack Lewars "to avoid putting single donors on a huge pedestal inside and outside the community"
  2. Jack Lewars again "putting [SBF] on a pedestal and making them symbolic of EA"
  3. Gideon Futerman "making and encouraging Will (and I guess until recently to a lesser extent SBF) the face of EA"
  4. tcheasdfjkl "while a lot of (other?) EAs are promoting him publicly"
  5. Peter S. Park "But making SBF the face of the EA movement was a really bad decision"
  6. Devon Fritz "EA decided to hold up and promote SBF as a paragon of EA values and on of the few prominent faces in the EA community"
  7. Habryka "Some part of EA leadership ended up endorsing SBF very publicly and very strongly despite having very likely heard about the concerns, and without following up on them (In my model of the world Will fucked up really hard here)"
  8. Habryka again "He was the person most responsible for entangling EA with FTX by publicly endorsing SBF multiple times"
  9. Habryka again "having Sam be held up in tons of places as a paragon of the EA community"
  10. Jonas Vollmer "while Nick took SBF's money, he didn't give SBF a strong platform or otherwise promote him a lot...So...Will should be removed"
Load more