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.)
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.
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:
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).]