EA Forum Prize: Winners for November 2019

Note: Aaron has been a bit be­hind on these, but the De­cem­ber post will be out later in Jan­uary, bring­ing the Prize back up to date.

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

In first place (for a prize of $750): “Why and how to start a for-profit com­pany serv­ing emerg­ing mar­kets,” by Ben Kuhn.

In sec­ond place (for a prize of $500): “In­sti­tu­tions for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” by Tyler John.

In third place (for a prize of $250): “Eight high-level un­cer­tain­ties about global catas­trophic and ex­is­ten­tial risk,” by Siebe Rozen­dal.

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

See this post for the pre­vi­ous round of prizes.

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 (Aaron) write this sec­tion in first per­son based on my own thoughts, rather than by at­tempt­ing to sum­ma­rize the views of the other judges.

Why and how to start a for-profit com­pany serv­ing emerg­ing markets

This novel ca­reer pro­file, de­rived from di­rect ex­pe­rience, goes into im­pres­sive de­tail on sev­eral key points:

  • Choos­ing where to found an emerg­ing-mar­ket startup

  • Select­ing a product that might provide value to a large pop­u­la­tion of emerg­ing-mar­ket users

  • Chang­ing the usual “Sili­con valley startup play­book” to ap­ply to your lo­cal context

It’s hard to imag­ine some­one with an in­ter­est in this path read­ing Ben’s post and not dis­cov­er­ing some­thing use­ful. While I haven’t tracked its true im­pact, there are enough ideas here to launch a dozen plau­si­ble com­pa­nies. But im­por­tantly, there are also enough caveats that read­ers should get a strong im­pres­sion of how difficult the work can be. This post is a won­der­ful ex­am­ple of “scout mind­set”: Ben’s pri­mary aim isn’t to per­suade, but to provide in­for­ma­tion that helps peo­ple make an ac­cu­rate de­ci­sion.

In­sti­tu­tions for fu­ture generations

I have a soft spot for posts that fea­ture a long list of ideas, with just enough de­scrip­tion to spark a reader’s imag­i­na­tion.

While Tyler’s full re­port on these ideas re­mains un­finished, I ap­pre­ci­ate that he shared the ini­tial list to gather feed­back and ad­di­tional ideas. And I es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ate that he was very clear about the pur­pose of the post and how read­ers could con­tribute to his work (this may be one of the rea­sons it brought in so many thought­ful com­ments).

Eight high-level un­cer­tain­ties about global catas­trophic and ex­is­ten­tial risk

Note: Siebe asked me to look over this post be­fore it was pub­lished. I made a few minor com­ments but didn’t con­tribute any of the post’s con­tent.

“Open ques­tions” are a key driver of new aca­demic re­search, and can be a good way for aca­demics to ap­proach a new field.

For this rea­son, I like see­ing lists like Siebe’s — it’s not quite a set of open ques­tions, but it lays out key un­cer­tain­ties that could be used to pro­duce such ques­tions. It also pro­vides a strong set of cita­tions, giv­ing the afore­men­tioned aca­demics a sense for where to start if they want to work on one of these ar­eas.

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 four peo­ple:

  • Aaron Gertler, a Fo­rum mod­er­a­tor.

  • Two of the high­est-karma users at the time the new Fo­rum was launched (Peter Hur­ford and Rob Wiblin).

  • One user who has a re­cent his­tory of strong posts and com­ments (Larks; Khor­ton didn’t vote this month).

All posts pub­lished in the titu­lar month 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.