Alex Forman

86 karmaJoined



Currently a senior in high school. In the past I've been an Atlas Fellow + taught a bit at Atlas as a junior counselor, and am now working at to lower the cost of distributing medical supplies.


The relevance of this quote to EA writing is left as an exercise to the reader.

Thanks for this post, a ton of good insights! I think this has quite a bit of relevance to internal EA community communication, aswell as pitching EA concepts to the general public

I've wondered quite a bit about how we can improve the broadcasting of EA Cause Areas to reach more potential researchers. I think the people who are pretty killer at this are scientific communicators on Youtube (Veritasium, Tom Scott, Physics Girl, etc..). I wonder if it'd be worth trying to get a few people working on reaching out to the top 50 science channels on Youtube to pitch different cause areas in EA as video concepts (Alignment research, novel approaches to Animal Welfare, BioRisk tech, etc...)?

I'm equally curious about all the questions you raise. I briefly skimmed this paper, which seems to have a few interesting points in reference to succesful intervention methods:

By this criterion, our meta-analysis suggests certain interventions, particularly those which use cognitive behavioral therapy, can reduce loneliness.

Authors have suggested that interventions that enhance opportunities for social interaction via group activities or group-based interventions tend to be more successful (Cattan & White, 1998; Cattan, White, Bond, & Learmouth, 2005). However, simply bringing lonely people together may not result in new friendships because the thoughts and behaviors of lonely individuals makes them less attractive to one another as relationship partners (Jerrome, 1983; Stevens, 2001)

An important finding of the randomized group comparison studies is that the four interventions that addressed maladaptive social cognition yielded greater reductions in mean loneliness scores compared to the other intervention types.

In response to your question of:

A question I'm curious about is what are the biggest barriers to lonely people going out and making friends on their own?

The answer seems to be that extreme loneliness may be based on having a poor social environment, where loneliness no longer becomes a motivating factor to just go out and socialize, but instead isolate?

For individuals who have a rich and forgiving social environment, loneliness has a high probability of accomplishing its purpose of motivating interactions and enhancing a sense of connectedness and belonging. For other individuals, however, loneliness becomes inescapable, and it is for these individuals that interventions are perhaps most necessary. Results from this meta-analysis suggest that correcting maladaptive social cognition offers the best chance for reducing loneliness.

This 2nd paper concludes:

Accordingly, we posited that interventions that targeted maladaptive social cognition (e.g., cognitive behavioral therapy that involved training to identify automatic negative thoughts and look for disconfirming evidence, to decrease biased cognitions, and/or to reframe perceptions of loneliness and personal control) would be more effective than interventions that targeted social support, social skills, or social access.

The results for social cognitive therapy are promising, but this intervention type appears not to have been widely employed to date relative to other types of loneliness therapy. Moreover, existing social cognitive therapies have had a small effect overall (0.20) relative to the meta-analytic mean effect of over 300 other interventions in the social and behavioral domains (0.50)

This all seems to suggest that building programs to adjust social patterns may be the most effective form of preventing/reducing loneliness. It strikes me that this form of intervention would likely be expensive if done 1-1 (as it'd most likely be done through trained therapists, which are quite expensive), but possibly could be done en masse for cheap? Possibly a website or app to intake symptoms and suggest changes to one's behavior could be somewhat effective? [Reducing CBT to an app/AI platform seems to currently be failing.] (

I have no education/experience in analyzing psychological papers though, so hopefully someone with more experience can chime in and let me know if my 10-minute skim and analysis is incorrect.

Full disclosure: I am an Atlas Fellow, and after attending the first summer session, was hired by Atlas as a junior counselor to teach at the last 2 programs in the summer. I have no ongoing employment contract with Atlas, and am writing from my own personal beliefs. Most of these thoughts on the purpose of the scholarship were developed before I was hired, as I asked quite a few instructors/fellows "Do you think this is an effective use of $10m?", and developed some of my own takeaways (these opinions are not directly those of any Atlas Instructor, as I don't want to incorrectly echo someone else's take).

I agree with most replies on this post, but I figured I'd give some thoughts as a fellow, aswell as answer a few questions people haven't replied to yet.

Edit 3: Someone also DM'd me this. To add to my point of too much money to teenangers, there is an 18-year-old Atlas Fellow who has both the Open Philanthropy Undergraduate Scholarship (which covers all tuition and living expenses) and the Atlas Fellowship (which is a $50k scholarship).

Besides this being false (based on moderator comments), I think this comment + your point on students who can already pay for college, leads me to believe that you may misunderstand the point of the scholarship. The appeal/benefit of the scholarship to myself, as well as many other fellows I've spoken to is that it explicitly does not need to be spent on college tuition.

Nearly all large scholarships I'm aware of (both in and outside of EA) require you to spend the money on college tuition. Pursuing research, funding small projects, hiring tutors/experts for 1-1 learning, traveling to conferences, etc... are all things that are quite hard to do as a teenager in high school. Having $50,000 to go do these things and learn in the most optimal way for every student, is the benefit I see with the Atlas scholarship. This is true for students who could/couldn't already afford college.

In the case that you were correct about this student who received the OP scholarship, I still would disagree with you that it is bad that they got both OP/Atlas funding, based on my reason above. I can think of a plethora of ways that student could greatly increase their trajectory outside of college, which again, the Atlas scholarship allows.

"This makes me question why some people are accepted as $50k to the Against Malaria Foundation, which would save over ten lives."

I've wondered quite a bit if Atlas was the best use of $10 million, and I support that you are posing this question.

I think the efficacy of Atlas can only be feasibly noted 5-10 years from now (possibly sooner, not super sure on time frame here), but I think in theory, Atlas's effectiveness beats AMF.

In the instance of AI alignment, taking ~60 students (assuming 60 or so fellows meet this criteria) who are planning on majoring in Comp-sci/math/something adjacent, and exposing them to arguments around AGI risk, seems worth it. Afaik, there are <500 full time alignment researchers (if not many fewer), and this exposure may lead to a significant increase in future researchers in this field. This is notably hard to pin a value on, and it is hard to estimate how many fellows will actually turn into AI researchers. Given that the money is available before attending the program, fellows simply could not give a shit about the curriculum, but from what I personally observed, this wasn't the case. Anecdotally, most of the people I've kept up with from the program have kept up their interest into AI risk (though this is subject to selection bias on who I've kept up with).

There are numerous other parts of the curriculum outside AI risk, and I think exposing young people who are about to enter their career to these ideas is valuable. I just use AI risk as an example here. Atlas's thesis is not simply to birth AI researchers, so I don't want to falsely convey this.

Even outside of fellows, the application process included analyzing an essay on AI risk, and the $50k scholarship incentivized applicants to truly comprehend the argument presented, and build a thoughtful counterargument. I think there is some value purely in this incentive, and given that you believe a high amount of applicants were recruited from "Olympiad communities worldwide", I imagine a high percentage of these students had never deeply considered AI risk before.

I'm curious if others think this is valuable, but my main point is the high value of the scholarship leads to a high incentive to carefully digest and think about these readings.

From the projects I have seen Atlas fellows go on to pursue, I believe this past cohort of Atlas/Atlas India fellows will collectively save >2000 lives (assuming all $10m could have gone to AMF). I don't have hard evidence for this claim, and it is frankly anecdotal.

Edit 6: After this post came out, the Atlas Fellowship website was updated to remove Sydney from the cofounders. See now vs earlier (on Why was she removed? Was this only publicly to prevent further controversy regarding grantor-grantee relationships and she will still be helping out behind-the-scenes or was she actually removed?

Sydney left Atlas as a co-founder in mid-december. This was announced to all fellows then, so I imagine there was just some lag in removing her from the website.

  1. Atlas is planning on running a school called Atlas Academy Beta, as outlined in this document. Why does this make sense?

The document addresses the reason fully.

Additionally the document notes that it shouldn't be shared publicly. I think you ask some important and good questions in this post, but I think this combined with you unnecessarily outing an employee, not engaging with most comments that provide answers to your questions, and your spreading of unconfirmed rumors are all harmful norms to promote on a public forum. I think posts like this raise similar questions while not being harmful and fostering beneficial discussion, and I wish this post was written similarly.

I'm curious why you think the encryption is bad? The information is still effectively public to anyone reading the post, the encryption purely makes it so search engines/searching the forum for "XNAME + Poly " doesn't return any results. Habryka's comment explains why this info should be regarded as somewhat sensitive.

I too was an Atlas Fellow and I agree with this comment. I personally am fortunate enough where I could afford college at full cost, even without Atlas. Despite this, the money from Atlas is allowing me to pursue opportunities that I definitely couldn't have before. Earlier this year I was discussing taking a gap year to go work abroad for a company that I believe can greatly improve the world. I wasn't sure if I would be paid,  I knew my parents likely wouldn't have given me money to  travel and do this work for a year, whereas with Atlas, I had pretty high confidence I could use my money to make this possible. The scholarship is still helpful for students who could already pay for college.