EA Forum Prize: Winners for July 2019

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

In first place (for a prize of $750): “Why Na­tions Fail and the long-ter­mist view of global poverty,” by Ben Kuhn.

In sec­ond place (for a prize of $500): “Ex­tin­guish­ing or pre­vent­ing coal seam fires is a po­ten­tial cause area,” by kbog.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “There are a *ba­jillion* jobs work­ing on plant-based foods right now,” by Scott Weathers.

The fol­low­ing users were each awarded a Com­ment Prize ($50), for the com­ments linked to their names:

  • Hauke Hille­brandt for a cri­tique of an im­pact es­ti­mate on tree-planting

  • Linchuan Zhang on his ex­pe­rience work­ing at Im­pos­si­ble Foods

  • weeatquince for a set of ideas to in­crease long-term think­ing in government

  • Ikaxas for use­ful read­ing sug­ges­tions on con­sis­tency in eth­i­cal frameworks

  • Nix_Goldowsky-Dill for com­ments on the im­pact of cor­po­rate cage-free campaigns

For the pre­vi­ous round of prizes, see our June 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 win­ning posts and comments

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.

Why Na­tions Fail and the long-ter­mist view of global poverty

Ben Kuhn’s book re­view con­tains enough ideas for many good Fo­rum posts; in­stead, he com­bined them all into one ex­cel­lent post. I’m loathe to even at­tempt a sum­mary; you should re­ally read the whole thing.

Some es­pe­cially good fea­tures of the post:

  • Writ­ten in a col­lo­quial style. This seems likely to help read­ers (a) finish the post and (b) re­mem­ber the ideas. Us­ing a free­wheel­ing, SlateS­tarCodex-ish voice isn’t always ideal, but in this con­text, it works out beau­tifully.

  • Starts by defin­ing its terms. Ben’s list of fea­tures found in “long-ter­mist” and “short-ter­mist” wor­ld­views pro­vides use­ful con­text for the rest of the post, and also gives read­ers a model for how they might ap­ply each wor­ld­view to causes out­side of global de­vel­op­ment.

  • In­cludes prac­ti­cal take­aways — not just “EA should do more X,” but “EA may spend too much time on Y, and peo­ple with out­look Z should con­sider do­ing X”. (In this case, “long-ter­mists sym­pa­thetic to global poverty as a cause area should con­sider a root-cause ap­proach to prob­lem-solv­ing.”)

    • If you want to make a recom­men­da­tion in a post, it’s helpful to think about trade­offs and your tar­get au­di­ence. “Effec­tive al­tru­ism” isn’t an in­di­vi­d­ual en­tity that can do more or less of some­thing; ac­tions come from spe­cific peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions within the com­mu­nity.

Ex­tin­guish­ing or pre­vent­ing coal seam fires is a po­ten­tial cause area

It’s not of­ten that I hear about a po­ten­tial EA cause area that I’d liter­ally never thought about be­fore, but kbog’s post on coal seam fires gave me — and, I ex­pect, many other read­ers — that rare ex­pe­rience.

Some es­pe­cially good fea­tures of the post:

  • Pro­vides strong ev­i­dence for the claim that coal seam fires are ne­glected: they’ve never been men­tioned by the EA re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions that do the most work on cli­mate change, and they re­ceive rel­a­tively lit­tle fund­ing from out­side of EA.

  • In­cludes enough anal­y­sis to show that the in­ter­ven­tion is plau­si­bly more effi­cient than other means of emis­sions re­duc­tion, with­out try­ing to ar­gue that it is, say, the “best” cli­mate-re­lated in­ter­ven­tion.

  • Ends with a causal story for why the cause might be ne­glected. If you en­counter an im­por­tant idea that no one else seems to have picked up on, it’s good to go a step fur­ther and think: “Wait — how did this hap­pen? Why hasn’t some­one picked up the $20 bill already?”

    • Philan­thropy is far from an effi­cient mar­ket, of course, but it’s still worth think­ing about why a promis­ing in­ter­ven­tion in a hugely pop­u­lar cause area might be over­looked.

There are *a ba­jillion* jobs work­ing in plant-based foods right now

It’s no se­cret that there are many open jobs work­ing in plant-based foods. Many de­tails about these jobs are available on the pub­lic web­sites of fast-grow­ing com­pa­nies; 80,000 Hours ag­gre­gates many of them on its job board.

But some­thing be­ing “no se­cret” or “available” does not make it salient. There’s real value in writ­ing Fo­rum posts about ideas or in­for­ma­tion that’s available el­se­where, but that is still un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated and worth notic­ing. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if Scott’s post prompted at least a cou­ple of ap­pli­ca­tions to EA-al­igned po­si­tions that oth­er­wise never would have hap­pened.

(I es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ate that the post in­cluded po­si­tions with a wide range of skill re­quire­ments.)

The win­ning comments

I won’t write up an anal­y­sis of each com­ment, but I will make some gen­eral re­marks on what I looked for when nom­i­nat­ing the win­ners:

  • A sense that the com­ment was “coun­ter­fac­tual”: if the au­thor hadn’t writ­ten it, it’s un­likely that any­one else would. This could be be­cause they ap­plied their per­sonal ex­per­tise to the com­ment, or be­cause they thought es­pe­cially care­fully about the is­sue at hand.

  • Ad­her­ence to good Fo­rum stan­dards: The com­ment is in­for­ma­tive and easy to read; if crit­i­cal, it is also con­struc­tive.

  • (Up­date 12/​7/​19) I’m also on the look­out for con­ver­sa­tions where mul­ti­ple users all par­ti­ci­pated in a con­ver­sa­tion that I found valuable and con­struc­tive. Mul­ti­ple users may re­ceive com­ment prizes for these con­ver­sa­tions.

A com­ment’s karma doesn’t fac­tor in, so long as it wasn’t heav­ily down­voted. (I wouldn’t want to nom­i­nate a com­ment the com­mu­nity seemed not to find valuable.)

I read through ev­ery com­ment on ev­ery post, and found many more can­di­dates than I wound up se­lect­ing (the top-5 cut­off was some­what ar­bi­trary). This ex­pe­rience made me very happy. I’ve been a part of the com­mu­nity for many years, but I can still be sur­prised by the sheer depth and breadth of its col­lec­tive knowl­edge.

The vot­ing process

The win­ning posts were cho­sen by six peo­ple:

All posts pub­lished in the month of July 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.

We changed our vot­ing sys­tem this month. Judges each had 10 votes to dis­tribute be­tween the month’s posts (with a max­i­mum of three votes per judge, per post).

The win­ning com­ments were cho­sen by Aaron Gertler, though the five 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.

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