Ben Stewart

718Sydney NSW, AustraliaJoined Feb 2020


Hi, I'm Ben. I just graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Sydney. I'm currently working on forecasting bioterrorist groups, supported by Open Phil, and in the forecasting tournament on existential risks run by UPenn. In 2023 I'll be going through the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program.

 I studied an undergraduate double-degree (BA, BSc) triple-majoring in philosophy,  international relations, and neuroscience. I've spent my MD doing bits and bobs in global health and health security. I've also conducted some research projects at the Future of Humanity Institute, the Stanford Existential Risk Initiative, the vaccine patch company Vaxxas, and the Lead Exposure Elimination Project. 

[Nov 5-Dec 20 I'll be trekking in Nepal, so will have limited access to reply - if you'd like to reach out about anything you can reach me on LinkedIn here: 


Thanks for this - it seems honest and useful. I also enjoyed your entry! Some additional data from my own case, which may be helpful for analysing this (for context I won first prize):

  • I also probably spent around 2-3 full-time weeks total (but hard to judge as I did lots of little bits and then a big block of work - could be more, but not substantially less)
  • I entered the prize because I thought after a few hours reading/thinking that I had a decent (10-20%) chance of one of the top prizes. I probably would have entered the contest with approximately the same effort if both top and runner prizes were $5K less (so $20K and $10K). Less than that and I probably would have still entered but not tried as hard. A big motivator was that there were 3 generous runner up prizes - so I thought my odds of winning one of the major prizes were at least worth it.  I have fairly good writing and generalist research skills and some experience in the EA context, but was new to my cause area (aside from a useful academic background in medicine/neuroscience + being familiar with the case for lead as a developmental neurotoxicant, which is the key precedent). My higher than base-rate hope for a major prize was probably due to a combination of believing in my idea, thinking that not that many others (<80) would enter, thinking that I was probably at least a little above average compared to the imagined average of entries, and some over-confidence. 
  • After finishing I worried I had spent too much effort/time on it for it to be worth it, given the high likelihood of not winning a major prize. 
  • I didn't have significant opportunity cost to prepare my entry. I was meant to be studying for my final exams, but they were still >6 weeks away and I had already decided to just aim to confidently pass, rather than attempt to do very well on them. So I had considerable freedom/time to work on the project. I also had high upside to participating in the contest - I did't have significant achievements or reputation in the community, nor a full-time role. 
  • It's hard to judge my own work objectively and I can't confidently assign quality to the other good entries I read (I don't know OP's desiderata well enough nor the other entries' fields well enough) - plus there's plenty I didn't read beyond a skim. Having said that, I agree my entry is not close to 50X higher quality than a majority of the other entries (there's a few low-effort entries where 50X better is maybe not crazy, but I'm uncertain on this).
  • I haven't thought enough about prize structure to have a strong view. I'd imagine a top-heavy structure probably leads to a more heavy-tailed distribution - i.e. more lowish quality efforts, a few higher quality ones. Whether this distribution is good would depend on the purpose - for finding new cause areas I can see the motivation for a heavy-tailed distribution. For finding good arguments/criticisms I would probably want a less extreme distribution (if indeed that arises from less steep prize structures). A motivation there would be wanting a cluster approach to a problem. 

I agree, there's lots of cases where there isn't robust empirical literature or trustworthy expert views. But the relationship between factory farms and zoonotic spillover doesn't seem like such a case, such that casual speculation without citing evidence is not very useful.

Interesting! Can participants other than the question writer add options? Setting the available choices  is quite a powerful ability, and fairly arriving at consensus may depend on dealing with this fairly too. It's one feature I find attractive about (though is has sig. downsides too).

Agreed! Especially since Charity Entrepreneurship is starting efforts in health security, and I'd expect increasing longtermist entrepreneurship efforts over the next few years.

No I didn't. I had some vague sense of your background being in software engineering from looking at your profile a few months ago, and some sense of your views from seeing many of your comments over time. Why do you ask?

Does 'figure out who I am' mean 'Charles He' is a pseudonym? If so I wasn't aware.

Edit: although I seem to remember seeing something about software, I may be mis-remembering and guessing due to the tagged subscription under your name, which is probably a new thing/maybe misleading.

I think scientific citation is good when done cluefully and in good faith. However, there are levels of knowledge that don't interact well with casual citations in an online forum and this is difficult to communicate. For literatures, I think truth/expertise can be orthogonal to agreement with some literatures, because knowledge is often thin, experts are wrong or the papers represent a surprisingly small number of experts with different viewpoints[1].

I don't know what you mean, and to the extent that I do understand, I think I disagree. If you are making an empirical claim, you should back it up with clear arguments and evidence. If there's a relevant expert field/literature, you should cite it and if you differ from its distribution of consensus, you should signal that and argue for why.  For example, I think your second comment is much better in this regard than your first. The tendency to skimp on this is detrimental to the discourse, I think.

If you just want to say "This is what I reckon" then fair enough, it's only an internet forum. But this should be signalled. And it would lead me to put near-zero weight on the content. 

You've probably already seen, but O'Brien & Nelson (2020) is good on health security implications 

His 'Just Six Numbers' is great too, on the apparent fine-tuning of cosmological constants for life.

As a start, most people who have a non-fatal suicide attempt don't attempt again. This article suggests the broad pattern  following a first non-fatal suicide attempt is ~70% don't attempt again, 20% attempt but don't succeed, and 10% commit suicide. 

I couldn't find much that was directly relevant to long-term quality of life, but this very small French study looked at 29 adolescents who had attempted suicide, and followed up 10 years later (with significant potential for selection bias - only two thirds could be traced and of those, two thirds responded). Over 75% said they were happy in their personal lives,  over 50% were satisfied or very satisfied with their professional lives, and 2/3rds had no significant psychiatric problem reported. 17% had an ongoing chronic psychiatric problem, and 14% were in-between these groups. 

This study looked followed up physical trauma cases in adults - they found 65 patients who had the trauma due to a suicide attempts, and followed them up at 6+/- 3 years. 14% had died before follow-up, none due to suicide and all were reported as coping well by next-of-kin. 3 patients couldn't be traced and 2 declined follow-up. Psychosocial measurements of follow-up patients suggested a majority had decent functioning, with around 20-25% experiencing severe impairment of some kind. None had re-attempted suicide. 

I suspect that the key determinant of quality of life after attempting suicide is mental illness, especially depression, and not the suicide attempt itself. But I'm uncertain about this, and even more uncertain given both the literature and my clinical training are based on a high-income country context - things could be very different in low/middle-income countries or those in absolute poverty. 

Thanks for this. Understanding how prospective beneficiaries value their lives is difficult but important work. It seems a reasonable assumption that people who attempted suicide would lead negative lives. However, I think we can do better than resting on this assumption, and I think deeper analysis suggests this assumption is false. 

Here's CPSP's answer on their FAQ in response to 'Should people who want to kill themselves be allowed to die?':

A high proportion of pesticide suicides are impulsive, with people contemplating harming themselves for less than 30 minutes. In fact, most persons who engage in suicidal or self-harming behaviour are ambivalent about wanting to die, with the act serving as a response to psychosocial stressors. Self-harm is used as communication – expressing for example pain, hurt, shame or anger.

Replacing the often lethal HHPs with less toxic alternatives allows more people to survive the acute stress and receive the community and medical help they need.

This is clearly shown by the Sri Lankan experience in which the bans of HHPs resulted in a remarkable 75% overall reduction in suicide. People who no longer died from pesticide poisoning with the less toxic pesticides did not then go out to kill themselves with another lethal method. This is because the spontaneity of pesticide poisoning results in the nearest pesticide often being drunk, with little thought. If this is highly hazardous, many people die. If it is less hazardous, because HHPs are no longer available, the person will survive.

We also believe that people with mental illness require mental health services and support to get better and live fulfilling lives.


The duration of the suicidal process: how much time is left for intervention between consideration and accomplishment of a suicide attempt? (Deisenhammer et al. 2009) 

Low-planned suicides in China. (Conner et al. 2005) 

Choice of poison for intentional self-poisoning in rural Sri Lanka (Eddleston et al. 2006) 

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