“Insider EA content” in Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s recent New Yorker article

This piece from Gideon Lewis-Kraus (the writer for the MacAskill piece) is a recent overview of how EA has reacted to SBF and the FTX collapse.

Lewis-Kraus’s articles are probably the most in-depth public writing on EA, and he has had wide access to EA members and leadership.

The New Yorker is highly respected and the narratives and attitudes in this piece will influence future perceptions of EA.

This piece contains inside information about discussions or warnings about SBF. It uses interviews from a “senior EA”, and excepts from an internal Slack channel used by senior EAs.

When my profile of MacAskill, which discussed internal movement discord about Bankman-Fried’s rise to prominence, appeared in August, Wiblin vented his displeasure on the Slack channel. As he put it, the problem was with the format of such a treatment. He wrote, “They don’t focus on ‘does this person have true and important ideas.’ The writer has no particular expertise to judge such a thing and readers don’t especially care either. Instead the focus is more often on personal quirkiness and charisma, relationships among people in the story, ‘she said /​ he said’ reporting of disagreements, making the reader feel wise and above the substantive issue, and finding ways the topic can be linked to existing political attitudes of New Yorker readers (so traditional liberal concerns). This is pretty bad because our great virtue is being right, not being likeable or uncontroversial or ‘right-on’ in terms of having fashionable political opinions.

There are claims of a warning about SBF on the Slack channel:

This past July, a contributor to the Slack channel wrote to express great apprehension about Sam Bankman-Fried. “Just FYSA,”—or for your situational awareness—“said to me yesterday in DC by somebody in gov’t: ‘Hey I was investigating someone for [x type of crime] and realized they’re on the board of CEA’ ”—MacAskill’s Centre for Effective Altruism—“ ‘or run EA or something? Crazy! I didn’t realize you could be an EA and also commit a lot of crime. Like shouldn’t those be incompatible?’ (about SBF). I don’t usually share this type of thing here, but seemed worth sharing the sentiment since I think it is not very uncommon and may be surprising to some people.” In a second message, the contributor continued, “I think in some circles SBF has a reputation as someone who regularly breaks laws to make money, which is something that many people see as directly antithetical to being altruistic or EA. (and I get why!!). That reputation poses PR concerns to EA whether or not he’s investigated, and whether or not he’s found guilty.” The contributor felt this was a serious enough issue to elaborate a third time: “I guess my point in sharing this is to raise awareness that a) in some circles SBF’s reputation is very bad b) in some circles SBF’s reputation is closely tied to EA, and c) there’s some chance SBF’s reputation gets much, much worse. But I don’t have any data on these (particularly c, I have no idea what types of scenarios are likely), though it seems like a major PR vulnerability. I imagine people working full-time on PR are aware of this and actively working to mitigate it, but it seemed worth passing on if not since many people may not be having these types of interactions.” (Bankman-Fried has not been charged with a crime. The Department of Justice declined to comment.)

The suggestion is that EA leadership, while not knowing of any actual crime, accepted poor behavior and norm breaking because of the resources Bankman-Fried provided.

In other words, it seems as though the only thing that truly counts [...] is the inviolate sphere of ideas—not individual traits, not social relationships, not “she said” disagreements about whether it was wise to throw in one’s lot with billionaire donors of murky motive, and certainly not “traditional liberal concerns.”


Effective altruism did not create Sam Bankman-Fried, but it is precisely this sort of attitude among E.A.’s leadership, a group of people that take great pride in their discriminatory acumen, that allowed them to downweight the available evidence of his ethical irregularities. This was a betrayal of the E.A. rank and file, which is, for the most part, made up of extremely decent human beings.

What’s worse, however, is what was effectively communicated to Bankman-Fried himself. Ideas in the abstract are influential, but practical social norms constrain what individual actors think they can get away with. The message from E.A. leadership to Bankman-Fried seemed clear: as long as your stated ideals, not to mention your resources, are in alignment with ours, we might not bother ourselves with the other dimensions of your behavior. After all, “our great virtue is being right.” (MacAskill insisted to me that the movement’s leaders have always emphasized acting with integrity.) There was every incentive to look the other way. By the beginning of the summer, Bankman-Fried’s FTX Future Fund, for which MacAskill was serving as an adviser, had promised grants in excess of twenty-eight million dollars to E.A.’s institutional pillars, including C.E.A.; these outfits were the largest recipients of the new foundation’s largesse. It’s not that E.A. institutions were necessarily more irresponsible, or more neglectful, than others in their position would have been; the venture capitalists who worked with Bankman-Fried erred in the same direction. But that’s the point: E.A. leaders behaved more or less normally. Unfortunately, their self-image was one of exceptionalism.