News & Commentary

Lex Fridman Podcast Quietly Removes Episode With William MacAskill

MacAskill was an apparent handler of disgraced FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, and a co-founder of the "effective altruism" movement to which SBF pledged allegiance. The two met at MIT, the same place Fridman now works as a research scientist.

Odd, noteworthy, suspicious: pick your word, but Lex Fridman has scrubbed his interview with William MacAskill. It’s been gone for several weeks, actually.

This was briefly mentioned on an excellent episode of the Unlimited Hangout podcast (around 1:21:00 mark) and warrants documenting here.

The episode in question was #84. Fridman announced its publication on March 28, 2020 from his Twitter account, as he does for all of his episodes:

However, if one checks streaming sites like Spotify (left) and Apple Podcasts (right), the episode is now missing:

Somewhat amusingly, if you go to Fridman’s website as of this writing and click the button to “Show All” episodes of his podcast, it still appears on the list:

However, when one clicks “Episode” they are met with a message saying the page is not available. Similarly, clicking “Video” gets you nowhere, as the video has been taken private on YouTube as well.

In fact, Fridman went as far as to delete the tweet (shown earlier) in which he originally announced the episode. It was here. Now it’s gone. (Here is an archived copy.)

So when was this done?

A Wayback Machine snapshot of Fridman’s website from November 11 – the day FTX filed for bankruptcy – shows that the page for the MacAskill episode was still live at the time.

The earliest tweet referencing the scrubbing appears to be from November 13:

Not only has Fridman not—as far as I can see—acknowledged having done this, he seems to be actively blocking people who question him about it.

Perhaps Fridman was hoping that if he did it quickly enough no one would notice this episode getting dropped down the memory hole, but quite a few did, and called him out on it. Examples:

On the deleted podcast episode, Fridman praises EA as “fascinating.” He says he was first introduced to this “movement” and philosophy at MIT, where he works – the same place SBF met MacAskill as an undergrad. (This interview was published in March of 2020 and Fridman says this happened two years earlier, so presumably it was around early 2018.)

“Most people know, but I, two years ago, had no idea what effective altruism was until I saw there was a cool-looking event at an MIT group here. I think it’s called the Effective Altruism Club or a group. I was like, what the heck is that? And one of my friends said, I mean— he said that they’re just a bunch of eccentric characters. So I was like, hell yes, I’m in. So I went to one of their events and looked up what’s it about. It’s quite a fascinating philosophical and just a movement of ideas.”

— Lex Fridman, The Lex Fridman Podcast, Episode #84 (now deleted), 16:18

His first question for MacAskill was: “What is utopia for humans and all life on Earth look like for you?”

A full examination of the episode’s contents is beyond the scope of this article, but it clearly deserves greater scrutiny. Meanwhile, time will tell if Fridman ever actually addresses this and restores the episode, or if he continues to try to sweep it under the rug as he appears to have done for the past several weeks.

They say “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” that gets you. Lex Fridman helped build William MacAskill’s celebrity and expose him and his ideas to millions. While that is obviously not a (literal) “crime,” it is a piece of his recent history that he now appears to be trying to erase. That, in and of itself, seems rather revealing, and certainly won’t do much to abate questions about his own rise to prominence.