CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the June 2019 EA Forum Prize!
In third place (for a prize of $250): “Invertebrate Sentience: A Useful Empirical Resource,” by Jason Schukraft.
For the previous round of prizes, see our May post.
Note: Claire and Luke asked that their prize money be donated to the Long-Term Future Fund, because Open Phil has a policy against grantmakers receiving funds from Open Phil grantees.
What is the EA Forum Prize?
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
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.
Career-choice posts like “Information security careers for GCR reduction” help members of the EA community in several ways:
- They give people who are in a position to choose or change their career a sense of what areas might be useful.
- They alert people who already work in a certain area that they might be able to have more impact than they had realized.
- They help funders and organizations that have influence over the career choices of others to make better decisions. (For example, by sponsoring a scholarship for a PhD focused on a particular field, or conducting research on how firms in that field choose new hires.)
In this particular post, Claire and Luke offer an excellent summary beforehand, explaining not only their reasoning for the potential of the career path but also the timelines involved (“some organizations [...] would hire [infosec experts] now, if they found them”). They also clarify their uncertainties and provide a follow-up step for anyone with an interest in the field, whatever their level of experience.
In June, Luisa Rodriguez published a book’s worth of material about risks from nuclear war, beginning with “Which nuclear wars should worry us most?”
Her collection of posts was well-organized:
- Each post included a summary of its individual findings and an explanation of how it fit into the overall series.
- The articles were packed with links and footnotes.
- She went back to add corrections on multiple posts when she (or commenters) noticed mistakes. While it’s good to acknowledge in a comment when you change your mind, it’s even better to adjust the post in this way, so that readers don’t need to dig into comments to get the most up-to-date version of a post.
Overall, though, I don’t think I need to say much about the posts — they speak for themselves. (If that’s not enough, Alex Tabarrok also speaks for them.)
Note on voting: Fewer judges voted for at least one post in the series than voted for this month’s first-place post. This was the standard I used to select winners for June; it’s possible that we may change the way we handle voting on “series” posts in the future.
Jason Schukraft published several posts on invertebrate sentience in June, but judges were especially impressed by “A Useful Empirical Resource”, which ably summarizes more than 1000 citations’ worth of research on the behavior of ants, bees, cows, and many other creatures.
Questions about the experience of other species are inherently very difficult to think about (we still don’t know what it’s like to be a bat), but I appreciate the work of Schukraft (and other contributors from Rethink Priorities) to attack the problem from many different angles. Learning about the spatial memory of spiders hasn’t helped me settle whether I should stop squashing the ones I find in my shower, but as I read this post, I felt myself developing a more sophisticated model of how I’d define “consciousness”, and how my moral intuitions related to different features of cognition.
I’d also like to point out the author’s exemplary “Limitations” section. Including this makes the post far more useful, by helping readers understand how they should update on its findings, providing a jumping-off point for discussion, and giving future researchers a sense of how they might be able to improve on the work.
The voting process
Prizes were chosen by six people:
- Two Forum moderators (Aaron Gertler and Denise Melchin).
- Two of the highest-karma users at the time the new Forum was launched (Peter Hurford and Rob Wiblin). Joey Savoie decided to leave the panel this month to focus on other work.
- Two users who have a recent history of strong posts and comments (Larks and Khorton).
All posts published in the month of June 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)
- Linkposts with no additional content
- 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.
Winners were chosen by an initial round of approval voting, followed by a runoff vote to resolve ties.
Adding Comments to the Forum Prize
Starting next month (in the July prize post), we will be experimenting with a new prize structure:
- First-place post: $750
- Second-place post: $500
- Third-place post: $250
An additional $250 will be split among the authors of several comments that… well, to plagiarize myself, “exemplify the kinds of comments we’d like to see”.
Comments provide a substantial fraction of the Forum’s value, and give users a way to contribute even if they don’t have the time or desire to publish original work. We’d like to reward comments that are especially well-thought-out, and which we believe add a lot of additional value to the post they accompany.
We also hope that a “comment prize” will make it easier to recognize people who contribute their ideas without publishing full-fledged research posts. It would be easy for the Prize to become something akin to a research award, but while we do value research, we also care about the culture of discussion and constructive criticism which has formed on the Forum through hundreds of small-scale interactions.
The number of comments that receive a prize may vary from month to month. We may sometimes reward a series of related comments instead of a single comment (as we did for Luisa's series of posts on nuclear war this month).
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.