The $100,000 Truman Prize: Rewarding Anonymous EA Work

Harry Truman once said: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”

The Truman Prize, now live on EA prize platform Superlinear, recognizes Effective Altruists with $5,000-$10,000 prizes for declining credit in order to increase their impact, in ways that can’t be publicized directly.

Theory of change: EA promotes caring about effectiveness over other goals like getting credit, but wanting credit or recognition for your work is natural. Rewarding people for maximizing impact over credit increases the health and future effectiveness of the community.

Example #1: Sam toils behind the scenes and makes a breakthrough on an important problem. Sam suggests the idea to, say, a political figure or other organization who can then take credit, because that leads to the breakthrough being more widely accepted.

Anyone that knows what happened, including the person/​org that gets credit, can nominate Sam for The Truman Prize on Superlinear. Superlinear passes on the nomination to a committee of well-respected EAs from diverse backgrounds. If one of them verifies that Sam actually did make a breakthrough and allowed someone better placed to take credit to increase impact, Superlinear awards Sam $10,000.

The Truman Prize is the brainchild of David Manheim, and the judges are:

  • Eliezer Yudkowsky

  • Peter Wildeford

  • Spencer Greenberg

  • Cate Hall

  • Julia Wise

  • Gregory Lewis

  • Luke Freeman

  • Ozzie Gooen

The criteria, generally speaking, is that if you can’t make an EA forum post about someone for doing something noteworthy in order to publicize what they have done, they could be eligible for the prize.

Example #2: Greg works for the government. There are political or career consequences if it is publicly acknowledged that he’s working on something potentially controversial. Greg contributes an important idea to a research field and helps make it happen behind the scenes. Someone nominates him for The Truman Prize, and the committee asks someone in a position to know about what occurred, and confirms Greg’s contribution. Superlinear awards Greg $5,000 (to be paid out in accordance with local laws), and announces that a prize was awarded to the originator of the research idea to a recipient to be named in 5 years.

Example #3: Max has a criminal record and troubled past. He’s reformed now, but his background makes him a liability for any person or org to publicly associate with him. He silently does good work behind the scenes, so someone that knows him nominates him for The Truman Prize on the basis of a specific critical contribution which was made to a now successful larger project. The committee awards the prize, and names Max, likely without naming the specific work done.

Example #4: Steve has extreme political beliefs. It is risky for any person or org to work with him due to reputation risks. Steve knows this, but does apolitical high impact work behind the scenes anyways. Someone that knows Steve nominates him for The Truman Prize on the basis of a specific project which was not previously disclosed. The committee awards the prize and discloses the project, but not the individual, or vice-versa, to avoid undermining the project.

Example #5: Morgan has recurring depression. Therefore, she does not want to work or associate with any specific people or orgs because she doesn’t want to let them down due to an episode. Morgan does a lot of high impact work for free, and gives credit to others who are better placed to continue executing on the project. Someone nominates her for the Truman Prize on the basis of two specific projects that were done without credit. The committee members award the money, and names the individual and the project.

How the payout mechanism works:

  1. You see someone that deserves the award, so you nominate them by submitting their info (you can keep things anonymous, but make sure enough detail is provided that the event is clearly verifiable by someone likely to be known.).

  2. If your submission looks promising, we’ll pass it along to one relevant member of our committee of well-respected EAs who is likely to be able to find someone who can verify the event actually happened. So, if the Truman Award nominee is in the biosecurity field, we’d forward it to our biorisk specialist committee member.

  3. The committee member who was selected chooses two additional people (that don’t have to be on the committee) they trust to assist. This allows them to, for example, delegate verification, discuss the award decision, potentially consider infohazards or reputational risks, and choose how much detail to provide publicly. The three people involved in the decision would inform Superlinear and sign off on the award. The three people involved in the decision would always be public. For example, it might be: “Gregory Lewis, Andrew Snyder Beattie, and Tessa Alexanian award $5,000 to John Doe for an unspecified Biosecurity project which was spearheaded by others,” in others it could be “Luke Freeman, Hilary Greaves, and Abie Rohrig award a $5,000 Truman Award to an undisclosed recipient, to be named no sooner than 5 years from now, for work which will remain anonymous.”


What is Superlinear? An EA prize platform and $500,000 prize fund

Superlinear Platform:

1) Browse prize competitions (make money and do good)
2) Submit your prize ideas (we’ll fund your idea if it’s good!)
3) Add to prize pools (e.g. “I’ll add $500 to that prize.”)

Superlinear Fund: We’re giving away up to $50,000 to 10+ “Superlinear regrantors”. These regrantors will generate prize ideas and fund them. What would you do if you had $50,000 to fund your best prize ideas? If that excites you, apply here.

Theory of change: Given enough prizes, there are hundreds of people working for EA orgs but thousands of lurker EAs (enjoyers of Dank EA Memes) that could be contributing directly.

Are you a grantmaker with rough prize ideas? Let us know. We’ll help make your prize ideas happen.

Are you a grantmaker looking for funding opportunities? Our vision: soon, you’ll browse 1,000+ prizes and, whenever you see a great idea (where you have comparative advantage) you can increase its prize pool.

Want to help others turn their rough prize ideas into reality? Let us know.

If this project resonates with you, join our Discord and come build with us!

Drew from Nonlinear/​Superlinear is going to be at EAG DC – feel free to book a time to meet on Swapcard.

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