By Simon Knutsson
Published Nov. 12, 2019

This text describes a message exchange on Slack between Simon Knutsson and Stefan Torges, Co-Executive Director of the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF). EAF’s website is

On November 2, 2019, I wrote to Stefan,

Hi Stefan, I have a few questions that I hope you will answer. I also wonder if I may share your replies in public.

When I talk about ‘the guidelines’ I mean the document titled “EAF’s Guidelines for Discussing Astronomical Stakes (shared),” which says it is written by Jonas Vollmer, Stefan Torges, Lukas Gloor, and David Althaus “with input and feedback from various community members and several EA organizations.”

(1) The version of the guidelines last updated 10 Sep. 2019 says “For ​normative​ questions, you could consider referencing ​Beckstead: On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future​, ​Pummer: The Worseness of Nonexistence​, or ​Shulman: Moments of Bliss​ for alternative views. Consider emphasizing normative uncertainty (or the anti-realist equivalent of ​valuing further reflection​), e.g. by referencing ​Bostrom (2009): Moral uncertainty – towards a solution?​, ​EA Concepts: Moral uncertainty​, ​MacAskill (2014): Normative uncertainty​, Greaves & Ord: Moral uncertainty about population axiology​.” Did anyone outside of EAF express opinions on which texts you suggest that the reader references? For example, Nick Beckstead, William MacAskill, Toby Ord, Nick Bostrom, or Carl Shulman?

(2) In an earlier version of the guidelines that you shared with me on July 18, 2019, there may have been stronger formulations. I mean, for example, encouraging the reader to “strongly consider” referencing certain texts, or some other similar formulations. I do not have access to that version now. Can you please share that version with me or, if you cannot or do not want to do that, check whether you used any such phrasing?

(3) Can you describe if and how Beckstead was involved in the creation, formulation or distribution of the guidelines? For example, did he express a wish that you create guidelines, and perhaps also distribute the guidelines outside of EAF? Did he edit the document or make comments in it?

(4) Did Beckstead or someone else affiliated with the Open Philanthropy Project communicate anything like that a grant like the $1,000,000 to EAF (described here would be more likely or larger if you were to write or distribute the guidelines or if the guidelines were formulated in a certain way? If so, can you describe what the wishes for the guidelines were?

[End of the message to Stefan.]

On November 4, 2019, Stefan replied with a couple of sentences. The only substantive part was that he said he can’t share further information.

On November 5, 2019, I wrote to Stefan,

Hi, Just a few simple questions.

Did Nick Beckstead express a wish that the guidelines encourage referencing his PhD dissertation?
Or a wish that the guidelines encourage referencing any other text by him? Or any text by his colleagues?

Did the Open Philanthropy Project condition the grant to EAF on the following or encourage EAF to do the following: not publicly endorse or not publicly write favourably about the ideas that the future will be bad overall or likely contain more disvalue than value?

May I share my questions and your replies in public?

[End of the message to Stefan.]

On November 7, 2019, Stefan replied with a couple of sentences. The only substantial part was that he said that they are not interested in engaging with me on this issue.

This page covers essentially our entire exchange. The only parts that are missing are that I do not paste Stefan’s replies because he did not reply to my question about whether I may share them in public. But I would say I have not omitted anything relevant from his replies when I summarise them above.

Message exchange with EAF