EA Forum Prize: Winners for September 2019

by aarongertler 23d31st Oct 20193 min read8 comments

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

In first place (for a prize of $750): “Some personal thoughts on EA and systemic change,” by Carl Shulman.

In second place (for a prize of $500): “Existential risk and economic growth,” by Leopold Aschenbrenner.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Global development interventions are generally more effective than climate change interventions,” by Hauke Hillebrandt.

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

Prizes:

For the previous round of prizes, see our August 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.

Some personal thoughts on EA and systemic change

It was good to see Carl react to positive feedback on a comment by turning said comment into a full-fledged post; I hope more users will consider doing the same!

This post is dense with information, and thus difficult to summarize, but here are some elements of it that I appreciated:

  • Carl uses evidence from a wide range of sources in EA, academia, and the broader world to make his points.
  • He also points at specific organizations (e.g. the Center for Global Development) that he thinks may be strong options based on his views about systemic change.
    • If you’ve taken the time to develop a set of theories and beliefs, it can be really helpful to connect those to real-world actions you’d recommend.
    • (Note that Carl doesn’t go as far as actively endorsing that readers donate to these organizations.)
  • The post at one point notes that, while Carl doesn’t necessarily “endors[e] all the details of” an impact estimate from Let’s Fund, he does see it as a legitimate way to model a systemic intervention.
    • It can be easy to slip into categorizing things as either entirely good or entirely bad, and “mixed” reviews of this type are a useful preventative measure against this. In a field where individuals and organizations are constantly trying to solve very difficult problems, it seems important to appreciate partial progress and steps taken in the right direction.

Existential risk and economic growth

While Leopold’s paper was written away from the Forum, his taking the time to publish it and ask for feedback made him eligible for the Prize; it was also good to see his detailed replies to questions from other users.

Meanwhile, the paper itself is well-formatted (in the standard style of many economics papers) and seems easy to follow. I’d expect an economist, or someone else familiar with the field’s mathematical background, to be able to track Leopold’s points and, if they disagree with anything, to be able to pin down where his argument goes awry.

Note: Since the Prize committee won’t always have domain expertise for posts on technical topics, we generally care more about structure, organization, and clarity than whether we think an author’s conclusion is correct. A really good Forum post is one that explains itself point-by-point, such that critics and supporters alike can engage more effectively with the author.

Global development interventions are generally more effective than climate change interventions

My note on Leopold’s paper also applies here, and in this case, we have at least some evidence that Hauke’s post was accessible to critics — one of them was able to point out a calculation they believed was mistaken. After this, Hauke took the impressive step of correcting the post, reversing his conclusion, and changing the title to reflect these changes.

Good epistemic practice aside, Hauke also organized the post very well. He provides a strong reference section, a set of useful appendices, and (my personal favorite) descriptions of scenarios under which someone might reach different conclusions about the relative effectiveness of climate and development interventions. Impact estimation involves a lot of uncertainty; good Forum posts generally find a balance between pointing out this uncertainty and actually drawing conclusions that people can use to guide their actions.

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 September 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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