EA Forum Prize: Winners for March 2019

byaarongertler2mo7th May 20194 comments

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

In first place (for a prize of $999): "SHOW: A framework for shaping your talent for direct work", by Ryan Carey and Tegan McCaslin.

In second place (for a prize of $500): "The case for delaying solar geoengineering research", by Halstead.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “The Case for the EA Hotel”, by Halffull.

We also awarded prizes in November, December, January, and February.

What is the EA Forum Prize?

Certain posts 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 posts like this. But more importantly, we see it as an opportunity to showcase excellent content as an example and inspiration to the Forum's users.

About the winning posts

"SHOW: A framework for shaping your talent for direct work" draws on the authors’ experiences working with EA organizations to produce useful career advice (which also resonated with several Prize voters). The post uses a highly readable blend of personal anecdotes and outside examples, while including enough strategic analysis that readers can understand the authors’ arguments (and decide whether they agree).

Expected-value calculations are a key part of EA, but humans still tend to think in heuristics, so heuristic-driven tools like the SHOW framework have a lot of practical use. Personally, I can imagine sharing the post with almost anyone who tells me they want to move into direct work.

While geoengineering isn’t one of the most popular EA cause areas, many people within EA think of it as a promising idea which merits further exploration. In 2016, Open Phil made a $2.5 million grant to support research on solar geoengineering technology, as well as the political and social implications of geoengineering.

In "The case for delaying solar geoengineering research", Halstead pushes back on the technical side of this research, arguing that:

  1. Due to geopolitical tension, we probably won’t want to actually use geoengineering in the next few decades.
  2. Research into weather alteration could lead us to discover dangerous technology, which means that we should avoid or delay the research if we can.
  3. And in fact, we can avoid or delay; we have a lot of time to observe the results of today’s climate change mitigation efforts before conducting high-risk geoengineering research.

His article adds considerable detail beyond what appears in the Open Phil writeup, and represents a change from his thoughts on the issue in 2018. The quality of Halstead’s analysis and his willingness to reconsider his past positions make this piece an excellent example of what we’d like to see on the Forum.

The Case for the EA Hotel” is another instance of strong analysis applied to a speculative cause area. Some of the post’s best features:

  • The author starts with a general theory about the needs of the EA community before explaining how the EA Hotel might address these needs more effectively than other options. Discussing the nature of a problem before suggesting solutions helps readers:
    • Decide whether they agree that the proposed problem is really a concern.
    • Understand whether the author's suggestions actually address the problem.
  • The arguments are clear and well-formatted, making it easy to move back and forth through the piece and consider each point in turn.
  • The author uses an “epistemic status” note and biographical information to help readers understand the context of his argument. We’d love to see more epistemic statuses on Forum posts. (And more biographical information!)
    • His note that the post isn’t meant to be “balanced” is especially helpful; if you want to write something persuasive for the Forum, it’s good to acknowledge it as persuasion.

The voting process

All posts published in the month of March qualified for voting, save for those written by CEA staff and Prize judges.

Prizes were chosen by five people. Two of them are the Forum's moderators (Aaron Gertler and Julia WiseDenise Melchin took this month off).

The others were the three highest-karma users at the time the new Forum was launched (Peter Hurford, Joey Savoie, and Rob Wiblin).

Voters recused themselves from voting on posts written by their colleagues. Otherwise, they used their own individual criteria for choosing posts, though they broadly agree with the goals outlined above.

Winners were chosen by an initial round of approval voting, followed by a runoff vote to resolve ties.

Note: This month, Tegan McCaslin’s article on brain architecture (posted by “AI Impacts”, the organization she worked for at the time) received enough votes to be entered into a runoff vote for a prize.

However, because Tegan was already set to be a recipient of the first-place prize, we elected to leave her second article out of the runoff process. Nevertheless, we wanted to acknowledge her outstanding contributions!

Feedback

If you think the Prize has changed the way you read or write on the Forum, or you have ideas for ways we should change the current format, please write a comment or contact Aaron Gertler.

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