EA Forum Prize: Winners for August 2019

by aarongertler 3mo24th Sep 20193 min readNo comments

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CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the August 2019 EA Forum Prize!

In first place (for a prize of $750): “List of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading,” by saulius.

In second place (for a prize of $500): “Movement collapse scenarios,” by Rebecca Baron.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Progress book recommendations,” by Daniel May.


The following users were each awarded a Comment Prize ($50):

For the previous round of prizes, see our July post.


What is the EA Forum Prize?

Certain posts and comments exemplify the kind of content we most want to see on the EA Forum. They are well-researched and well-organized; they care about informing readers, not just persuading them.

The Prize is an incentive to create content like this. But more importantly, we see it as an opportunity to showcase excellent work as an example and inspiration to the Forum's users.


About the winners

Note: I write this section in first person based on my own thoughts, rather than by attempting to summarize the views of the other judges.

List of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates can be misleading

There’s not much I can say about this post, other than: “Read it and learn”. It’s just a smorgasbord of specific, well-cited examples of ways in which one of the fundamental activities of effective altruism can go awry.

I will note that I appreciate examples of ways in which cost-effectiveness estimates could underestimate the true impact of an action. Posts on this topic often focus only on overestimation, which sometimes makes the whole enterprise of doing good seem faintly underwhelming (should we assume that every estimate we hear is too high? Probably not).

Movement collapse scenarios

“What could kill effective altruism?”

This is a tricky question to answer, especially on a public forum about effective altruism, but the author handles a controversial subject with remarkable grace (and, in my view, correctly identifies the scenarios most worth worrying about).

Points I appreciated about this post:

  • It opens with a summary of points to come, which welcomes readers into a long post and allows for easy excerpting and sharing.
  • It doesn’t single out particular people or organizations for blame. Sometimes, that might be necessary for a post, but it also drives people to take sides and endangers the quality of the ensuing conversation. EA belongs to all of us, and I like a framing that presents risks to EA as problems we can all work on, rather than problems that must be solved by a few specific people.
  • It concludes with a reminder of why it is important that effective altruism not die. Posts about flaws or weaknesses in a movement (or almost anything) can sometimes linger as a feeling that it isn’t worth saving; instead, something that stuck with me is the term “precious cargo” to describe our collection of ideas worth preserving.

Progress book recommendations

What makes a simple list of book recommendations into a really good Forum post — and the sort of thing that might show up on very popular blogs?

Some ideas:

  • Explaining why the topic is important before suggesting books
  • Noting which books you’d recommend starting with (in this case, with a *)
  • Summarizing most of the books in enough detail that a reader could single out those that sound most interesting
  • Including links to reviews and summaries that might spare readers the need to finish an entire book
  • Including links to blog posts that are not books, but might help readers achieve the same goal (learning about progress) as the books on the list — after all, the point of this post isn’t just to share books, but also to share useful sources of knowledge.

The winning comments

I won’t write up an analysis of each comment. Instead, here are my thoughts on selecting comments for the prize.


The voting process

The winning posts were chosen by five people:

All posts published in the month of August qualified for voting, save for those in the following categories:

  • Procedural posts from CEA and EA Funds (for example, posts announcing a new application round for one of the Funds)
  • Posts linking to others’ content with little or no additional commentary
  • Posts which accrued zero or negative net karma after being posted
    • Example: a post which had 2 karma upon publication and wound up with 2 karma or less

Voters recused themselves from voting on posts written by themselves or their colleagues. Otherwise, they used their own individual criteria for choosing posts, though they broadly agree with the goals outlined above.

Judges each had ten votes to distribute between the month’s posts. They also had a number of “extra” votes equal to [10 - the number of votes made last month]. For example, a judge who cast 7 votes last month would have 13 this month. No judge could cast more than three votes for any single post.

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The winning comments were chosen by Aaron Gertler, though the other judges had the chance to evaluate the winners beforehand and veto comments they didn’t think should win.

Feedback

If you have thoughts on how the Prize has changed the way you read or write on the Forum, or ideas for ways we should change the current format, please write a comment or contact Aaron Gertler.

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