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):
- EmHeppler on resources for multilingual communication
- Pablo Stafforini on introductory EA resources
- Will Bradshaw on aging biomarkers in animals
- Issa Rice on defining Cause X
- Greg Lewis and Spiracular on bioinfohazards (both users won a prize)
- AGB on impact estimates for CO2 emissions
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:
- Aaron Gertler, a Forum moderator
- Denise Melchin, a former Forum moderator
- Two of the highest-karma users at the time the new Forum was launched (Rob Wiblin and Peter Hurford).
- Two users who have a recent history of strong posts and comments (Larks and Khorton).
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.
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.
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.
[Meta] Any reason why this post is still pinned?
I've stopped pinning new Forum Prize posts in the Community section, and I inadvertently left an old post up for too long. It's been unpinned.
The stated reasoning for the 2nd place prize doesn't say anything about the actual substance of the paper. Surely, it didn't win that prize just based on style?
As I note in the post, the summaries are meant to reflect my thoughts on posts that won, which aren't always posts I personally voted for. Leopold's paper got a lot of support from other judges. I don't see myself as a strong judge of economic content, so I focused in my writeup on features I thought could contribute to good Forum discussion (clarity, authorial engagement).
Keep in mind that the Prize isn't meant to reward the best research; it's meant to highlight Forum posts that exemplify what we'd like other posts to be doing. To me, that's "helping people learn something important while encouraging discussion", which implies a focus on readability and engagement. A linkpost with no summary, commentary, or discussion, even if it links to an excellent paper, wouldn't necessarily be a good Prize candidate.
(That said, I'm talking about how I think of the Prize; other judges have their own criteria.)
I appreciate the recognition on the comment, though I'd rather kudos go to Dobroslawa. Her post on English as a dominant language in the movement highlighted a really important issue and she did it in such an accessible and effective way. I'd love to see her get the recognition.
Yes, that was a great post! It got quite a few votes from the judges as well, but wasn't in the top three. Kudos to Dobroslawa.
The current setup (with exactly three very large prizes for posts and many more small prizes for comments) does seem a bit odd to me in that I expect it means many of the best contributions to the forum not eligible for prizes. I can easily imagine that there are excellent posts that are better than many or all of the awarded comments but not quite good enough to make the top three, and these posts can't currently win anything.
I feel it might be good to permit excellent runner-up posts to win comment prizes as well, or otherwise to allow these posts to win small prizes.
Yes, this is plausible. Any prize-awarding system has to make tradeoffs between the size of a prize, the number of prizes, the bar for recognition, and so on. It's good to have this feedback that we may be overemphasizing the amount of the top prizes, compared to the value of recognizing more posts.
It might be good to have a small number of runner of up posts without cash prizes. That would certainly help motivate me to post more.
I think even the updated version of Global development interventions are generally more effective than climate change interventions has serious modeling problems. I left a couple of comments early on but got no response. I've now added a new comment explaining my understanding of the problem more fully here.
I'm commenting here just to signal boost because it seems like it would be unfortunate if we built on the current estimate which looks to be wrong in important ways. (Though it's also possible I'm just confused!)