EA Forum Prize: Winners for September 2019

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

In first place (for a prize of $750): “Some per­sonal thoughts on EA and sys­temic change,” by Carl Shul­man.

In sec­ond place (for a prize of $500): “Ex­is­ten­tial risk and eco­nomic growth,” by Leopold Aschen­bren­ner.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Global de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ven­tions are gen­er­ally more effec­tive than cli­mate change in­ter­ven­tions,” by Hauke Hille­brandt.

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


For the pre­vi­ous round of prizes, see our Au­gust post.

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 winners

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.

Some per­sonal thoughts on EA and sys­temic change

It was good to see Carl re­act to pos­i­tive feed­back on a com­ment by turn­ing said com­ment into a full-fledged post; I hope more users will con­sider do­ing the same!

This post is dense with in­for­ma­tion, and thus difficult to sum­ma­rize, but here are some el­e­ments of it that I ap­pre­ci­ated:

  • Carl uses ev­i­dence from a wide range of sources in EA, academia, and the broader world to make his points.

  • He also points at spe­cific or­ga­ni­za­tions (e.g. the Cen­ter for Global Devel­op­ment) that he thinks may be strong op­tions based on his views about sys­temic change.

    • If you’ve taken the time to de­velop a set of the­o­ries and be­liefs, it can be re­ally helpful to con­nect those to real-world ac­tions you’d recom­mend.

    • (Note that Carl doesn’t go as far as ac­tively en­dors­ing that read­ers donate to these or­ga­ni­za­tions.)

  • The post at one point notes that, while Carl doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily “en­dors[e] all the de­tails of” an im­pact es­ti­mate from Let’s Fund, he does see it as a le­gi­t­i­mate way to model a sys­temic in­ter­ven­tion.

    • It can be easy to slip into cat­e­go­riz­ing things as ei­ther en­tirely good or en­tirely bad, and “mixed” re­views of this type are a use­ful pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sure against this. In a field where in­di­vi­d­u­als and or­ga­ni­za­tions are con­stantly try­ing to solve very difficult prob­lems, it seems im­por­tant to ap­pre­ci­ate par­tial progress and steps taken in the right di­rec­tion.

Ex­is­ten­tial risk and eco­nomic growth

While Leopold’s pa­per was writ­ten away from the Fo­rum, his tak­ing the time to pub­lish it and ask for feed­back made him el­i­gible for the Prize; it was also good to see his de­tailed replies to ques­tions from other users.

Mean­while, the pa­per it­self is well-for­mat­ted (in the stan­dard style of many eco­nomics pa­pers) and seems easy to fol­low. I’d ex­pect an economist, or some­one else fa­mil­iar with the field’s math­e­mat­i­cal back­ground, to be able to track Leopold’s points and, if they dis­agree with any­thing, to be able to pin down where his ar­gu­ment goes awry.

Note: Since the Prize com­mit­tee won’t always have do­main ex­per­tise for posts on tech­ni­cal top­ics, we gen­er­ally care more about struc­ture, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and clar­ity than whether we think an au­thor’s con­clu­sion is cor­rect. A re­ally good Fo­rum post is one that ex­plains it­self point-by-point, such that crit­ics and sup­port­ers al­ike can en­gage more effec­tively with the au­thor.

Global de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ven­tions are gen­er­ally more effec­tive than cli­mate change interventions

My note on Leopold’s pa­per also ap­plies here, and in this case, we have at least some ev­i­dence that Hauke’s post was ac­cessible to crit­ics — one of them was able to point out a calcu­la­tion they be­lieved was mis­taken. After this, Hauke took the im­pres­sive step of cor­rect­ing the post, re­vers­ing his con­clu­sion, and chang­ing the ti­tle to re­flect these changes.

Good epistemic prac­tice aside, Hauke also or­ga­nized the post very well. He pro­vides a strong refer­ence sec­tion, a set of use­ful ap­pen­dices, and (my per­sonal fa­vorite) de­scrip­tions of sce­nar­ios un­der which some­one might reach differ­ent con­clu­sions about the rel­a­tive effec­tive­ness of cli­mate and de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ven­tions. Im­pact es­ti­ma­tion in­volves a lot of un­cer­tainty; good Fo­rum posts gen­er­ally find a bal­ance be­tween point­ing out this un­cer­tainty and ac­tu­ally draw­ing con­clu­sions that peo­ple can use to guide their ac­tions.

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 five peo­ple:

All posts pub­lished in the month of Septem­ber 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.


The win­ning com­ments were cho­sen by Aaron Gertler, though the other judges had the chance to eval­u­ate the win­ners be­fore­hand and veto com­ments they didn’t think should win.


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.