EA Forum Prize: Winners for April 2020

by Aaron Gertler4 min read8th Jun 20204 comments

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

In first place (for a prize of $750): “When can I eat meat again?” by Claire Yip.

In second place (for a prize of $500): “Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors,” by David Althaus and Tobias Baumann.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Hiring process and takeaways from Fish Welfare Initiative,” by Haven King-Nobles.

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

 

For the previous round of prizes, see this post

Note: Upcoming prize hiatus

After collecting feedback from the community, I’ve decided to make June the last month that CEA will definitely award Forum Prizes in their current form. This means that we will publish prize posts for May 2020 and June 2020, but won’t necessarily award prizes after that.

Overall, while some users reported finding the Prize valuable or motivating, that number wasn’t quite as high as I had been hoping for. I also heard some good suggestions for ways the Prize could be restructured. 

Later this month, I’ll publish a Forum post soliciting additional suggestions for altering the Prize, or for otherwise motivating people to contribute excellent content through monetary incentives. 

Until we decide how to move forward, the Prize will be on hiatus. However, if we do implement a new program, we’ll be sure to consider all posts made after June, even if we were on hiatus at the time — we don’t want anyone to lose their chance at an award through an accident of timing.

(All that said, we may wind up sticking to the same format, or something very similar, if we don’t find a different arrangement that we like more.)

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.

When can I eat meat again?

I fell in love with this piece from the title alone. The author later goes on to explain:

“I wrote this mainly because I don’t want to hurt animals but I want to eat animal products. I have sought to balance out my individual yearning for these technologies.”

What a great way to frame questions about alternative proteins! I can imagine this sentiment appealing to a lot of people who read the piece — and maybe even convincing some of them to eat less meat now (“if Claire can wait patiently, I suppose I can, too”).

The framing aside, this is an extremely strong post on many dimensions:

  • All the data comes with sources and useful context
  • Claire uses confidence estimates throughout to emphasize her uncertainty, and the final section of the piece acknowledges that progress might be a lot slower than she hopes.
  • There’s a strong focus on action, which ought to make the post more likely to be impactful than a post that just focused on describing the state of the industry. Claire includes notes specifically targeted at investors, donors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and students. If you’ve ever considered working on alternative proteins, it’s hard to imagine you could read this post and not come away with something useful.

Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

I don’t envy any author the task of describing a new cause area to a group of EA-aligned readers. And while other authors have discussed risks from totalitarian political systems, this is the first time I’ve seen a similar take on risks from the kinds of individuals who might form these systems.

Despite their intimidating position, David and Tobias did great work with this post:

  • They clearly did a lot of research on both the historical and the psychological context of individual malevolence (I now think the post would have been much weaker had either of those been missing, and I wouldn’t have predicted ahead of time that both elements were so important).
  • I liked the way they applied the above findings to a collection of X-risk scenarios. They could have gotten away with using Hitler and Stalin as their central argument (“bad people do bad things”), but they went further by showing how someone with similar traits might exacerbate a variety of potential future issues.
  • As Claire did, David and Tobias make it clear how people with a variety of interests might contribute to the cause of reducing “M-risk” (if you’ll permit me to coin a term… which you probably shouldn’t)

Hiring process and takeaways from Fish Welfare Initiative

I was a bit jealous when I first read this post, as it’s a much better version of one that I wrote. But when I put me envy aside, I instead feel deep appreciation for what FWI accomplished here. 

Between the general takeaways, the detailed process description, and the templates provided at the end of the post, the authors have created a ready-made hiring process that other orgs could easily copy for themselves. This is the first (and perhaps only) post I’d send to anyone — whether or not they ran an EA org — who was about to run their first hiring process. 

My single favorite section, in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, is “Not Being a Jerk.”

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 six 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.

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 me.

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