EA Forum Prize: Winners for January 2020

by Aaron Gertler 3 min read2nd Mar 20202 comments

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CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the January 2020 EA Forum Prize! 

In first place (for a prize of $750): “Growth and the case against randomista development,” by John Halstead and Hauke Hillebrandt.

In second place (for a prize of $500): “EAF's ballot initiative doubled Zurich's development aid,” by Jonas Vollmer.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Doing good is as good as it ever was,” by Denise Melchin.

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

For the previous round of prizes, see this 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 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.

Growth and the case against randomista development

This piece starts off very well, with the authors explaining which claims they actually mean to defend and how strongly they support those claims. I also appreciated the rest of the outline in the introduction.

A lot of writing about effective altruism argues that more research should be done on a given cause. “Randomista development” goes further by making explicit predictions about the value of additional research:

“A ~4 person-year research effort will find donation opportunities working on economic growth in LMICs which are substantially better than GiveWell’s top charities from a current generation human welfare-focused point of view.”

The rest of the piece is well-written and uses a lot of helpful graphics, but my favorite part came at the end, where the authors give a fair accounting of a number of counterarguments, some of which are even accepted as being partly true!

EAF's ballot initiative doubled Zurich's development aid

Disclosure: I contributed some minor edits to a draft of this piece.

A remarkable project and a remarkable writeup. There were many things I appreciated about this piece, including:

  • The use of photos and other visual aids
  • Links to original sources (e.g. meeting minutes, government websites)
  • Suggested projects for people who want to replicate the ballot initiative elsewhere
  • A collection of media coverage so that readers (at least those who speak German) could see how non-EA sources viewed the initiative

While this post provides an interesting history of the Zurich initiative, I’m more excited by the way it hints at being a “recipe” for this form of EA success: I can imagine many other such initiatives passing in the next decade.

Doing good is as good as it ever was

In this piece, Denise argues that many people involved with EA are unsatisfied because they’ve developed high expectations about how much good they’ll be able to do — expectations which, when upset, lead to a lack of motivation. 

While the scope of this problem isn’t clear to me, I do think the essay was beautifully written, and it struck a chord with many readers. There are several lines I expect to reference well into the future:

“Maybe there are other people who are able to have an even higher impact than you. But that doesn’t change the amount of good you can do.”

““Participating in the EA community should make you feel more motivated about the amount of good you are able to do, not less. If it makes you feel less motivated on balance, then the EA community is doing something fundamentally wrong and everybody might be better off somewhere else until this is fixed.”

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 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.

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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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