I'm responding to the concerns Jonas raised with Fazl in a private email shared below, with permission.
Overall, these concerns don't seem substantial enough to warrant 'significant reservations' or even 'permanent repercussions'. I'm writing this because in my view these phrasings from Jonas will give a wrong impression (unless the email I quote below in full omits some important information) and could affect Fazl's reputation and future opportunities unnecessarily. And indeed it has led at least one person to put their funding on ice.
Disclosure: Fazl was my house mate. I've known Jonas for ~10 years.
My concerns are
1. In our conversations, I got the impression that you were primarily trying to impress me and create an impression that we’re buddies, rather than e.g. discussing ideas on the object level. I also thought you tried to create the impression that you knew much more about AI alignment than you actually do. I don't think any of this makes your clearly unsuitable for this grant, but I've learned over the years as a manager/grantmaker that these signs tend to be good predictors of funders overestimating grantees, and their projects not working out as planned.
Regarding Fazl's technical skill, I think the view of a non-expert who has had one or two casual conversations with Fazl (apparently while waiting for food at a takeaway) shouldn't be reason for 'significant reservations' or 'permanent repercussions' as stated in the original. Fazl has endorsements from accomplished ML researchers like David Krueger and a strong publication record that the grant evaluators here can check, plus at least two unpublished accepted NLP publications. (I can attest to his strong technical skill as well). These factors seem substantially more important.
Regarding 'trying to impress', I think for academic grants it shouldn't be a primary evaluation criterion whether the grantee is trying to impress. Many productive academics do this. Additionally, Jonas seems worried that Fazl would impress the funders on this website, but that seems not relevant here: Fazl's whole interaction with them is shown on this website and if there is any undue impressing persuasion happening here it could be pointed out publicly.
2. On top of that, I heard some negative stories (haven’t verified them myself): E.g. that you tried to get into an office space you were repeatedly asked to leave, that a project you ran went poorly and you blamed your collaborators when it was clearly your responsibility, and another significantly negative story.
Jonas has told me which office space this was but not which project or other story. For the office space, I've read the email thread with the office ops and it looks very much like a miscommunication. Fazl was certainly not told to leave in these emails. According to Fazl, that also didn't happen in person. According to the emails, members of the office space invited him inside twice and it seems this was not following the protocol expected by the admin. But from the emails, the protocol also seemed a bit ambiguous and I'm still not sure what exactly was expected.
Given what I know about the office space story, which is the only where I have some insight, and given that Jonas says he hasn't verified any of the stories, I also have some doubts about the other stories now.
Fazl doesn't know what the 'other significantly negative story' is or the project in question. FWIW Fazl works on and supervises a lot of projects at once and it's normal if one goes poorly once in a while (and sometimes it's actually someone else's fault, though Fazl says he doesn't recall blaming anyone for a project failure).
3. I think it’s fine not to have a fleshed-out research agenda, but I’d at least like to see some specific preliminary ideas, which are often good indicators of whether the research will be good.
Grant evaluators can easily see the research proposal, so this should be (and has been) discussed in public and doesn't need to be part of a negative message without clearly stated concerns.
This is my impression based on Jonas' email. There might be omitted info I don't know about.
I'm not planning to engage further, just dropping my 2 cents :)