This post is arriving late — my fault, not that of any other judge. We’re catching up on a Prize backlog and expect to be current again by the time October prizes are given.
CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the June 2020 EA Forum Prize!
- In first place (for a prize of $500): “Should EA buy distribution rights for foundational books?” by Cullen O’Keefe.
- Second place ($300): “Gordon Irlam: an effective altruist ahead of his time,” by Louis Francini.
- Third place ($200): “Geographic diversity in EA,” by Angela Aristizábal.
- Fourth place ($200): “Antibiotic resistance and meat: why we should be careful in assigning blame,” by Cecilia Tilli.
- Fifth place ($200): “EAGxVirtual Unconference announcement,” by Christina Schmidt Ibáñez and Sebastian Schwiecker.
The following users were each awarded a Comment Prize ($75):
- Thomas Kwa on the Buy-One-Give-One model
- Linchuan Zhang on policy failures from underreaction to COVID-19 (I also recommend this comment from his AMA)
- Carl Shulman on investing to give
- Samantha Carter, reviewing a set of charity recommendations
See here for a list of all prize announcements and winning posts.
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 winning posts and comments
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.
Should EA buy distribution rights for foundational books?
There have been many times when I would have liked to cite these books and have not been immediately able to because this would require a trip to the library (probably preceded by a waiting period) or paying money to download the books from Amazon or a similar service. I imagine others are in a similar situation. These costs may well inhibit people from first exploring these ideas to begin with.
This post lays out a simple, promising idea — one I hadn’t seen discussed before outside of the 10th-anniversary edition of The Life You Can Save (TLYCS). The author writes clearly, and points out a lot of reasonable upsides while remembering to consider downsides. As a bonus, they joined an interesting discussion about Jon Behar’s experience with free distribution of TLYCS, which also brought other considerations into view.
This is a short post, and I don’t have much else to say about it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it generated a huge amount of value over the years (if the EA community starts to engage in this practice for most of the books we published).
Gordon Irlam: an effective altruist ahead of his time
I’m not saying Gordon Irlam is the earliest person to come up with these EA ideas, or even the earliest to write them down. For all I know, there’s an obscure economics paper or Usenet post from decades earlier that is even more uncannily similar to modern EA. Regardless of this possibility, I think Irlam deserves some recognition for his accomplishments.
I’d seen Gordon Irlam’s website before I read this post, but I’d never taken the time to stop, compare timelines, and realize how advanced Irlam’s ideas were when he wrote them down. I’m grateful to Louis Francini of this post for helping me understand.
Specific features of this post I enjoyed:
- I found the initial paragraph of context-setting to be very effective; it helped me appreciate Irlam’s discovery (?) of the “unique combination” of principles that predated his writing.
- As you can see by the quote above, the post makes reasonable claims — not that Irlam was clearly the “first EA” or something like that, but merely that elements of work are interesting and deserve recognition.
- A nice hat-tip to people who helped with the post (great posts frequently incorporate work/assistance from more than one person, and acknowledging this makes it easier for the norm of “getting help with your posts” to percolate through the Forum).
Geographic diversity in EA
Even if my country's GDP is higher than many countries where effective donations according to EA are allocated, there are many regions within my country where poverty is extremely high, even higher than in richer cities from poorer countries. Those differences are hard to spot if EA spots “poverty” as a whole without zooming in geographical zones.
When people ask me about ways the EA movement could improve, the first thing that jumps to mind for me is usually “translate more of our writing.” The world is a huge place, and it’s a shame that our globally-focused movement doesn’t do a great job of providing information to people who don’t speak English (or a few other languages).
This post is an extension of this thought; it goes beyond translation to point out many other considerations that may be important for EA’s growth and flourishing. While I don’t agree with every point made, I found many of them surprising in a good way (it’s been a long time since I thought about the importance of exchange rates, and I appreciated the author’s reminder). I also like how the author presents their points: Lots of questions, and a focus on getting feedback rather than pressing a specific argument.
Antibiotic resistance and meat: why we should be careful in assigning blame
Simplified views about meat and antibiotic resistance could potentially lead to ineffective or even negative-impact advocacy and behaviour.
This post does an excellent job of calling out misinformation, even if that misinformation pushes for a conclusion the author wants (“it would be a very good idea if we could eliminate the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture”). I thought that it also displayed uncertainty in all the right places — especially around the value/risk of partisan advocacy. And finally, as a person who “[does] not have detailed knowledge of antibiotics”), I learned a lot!
EAGxVirtual Unconference announcement
This is just an event announcement, but I wouldn’t mind if every EA event in the last couple of years had an announcement just like this one. There’s a lot to like here:
- Links updated even after the event was over (e.g. the creation of a YouTube playlist for the talks, the link to crowdsourced noted from the event)
- A timetable clearly laying out what was happening when.
- And of course, the use of the comment section for people to share ideas for talks (and be voted in or out of the conference).
That last point led to huge amounts of discussion and seemed like a great alternative to the traditional “submit talks to a small panel of judges” approach; the ability for users to ask questions of potential speakers removes some of the risk a poll like this could have (for examples, talks with flashy titles getting all the spots).
While the authors of this post were bound to write something like it once they decided to work on the Unconference, I can imagine many parallel universes where the post is much less valuable, interesting, helpful, etc. I’m glad to live in this universe instead.
The winning comments
I won’t write up an analysis of each comment. Instead, here are my thoughts on selecting comments for the prize.
Update on prize structure
The payouts for the Forum Prize have changed. In order to honor more of the great content published on the Forum, we now give out five monthly post prizes, up from three. (Because our budget is the same, individual prizes are smaller than before.)
We’ve also increased the value for a Comment Prize from $50 to $75, in recognition that comments often require just as much effort to write as a post, and are sometimes equally impactful.
The voting process
The winning posts were chosen by five people:
All posts published in the titular month 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 suggest other comments or 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 me.
Nice to see that these are back, and congratulations to the winners.