Risks of an Effective Thesis Prize
-The entries (and winning dissertation) are low quality and make EA look bad.
-The judge(s) don’t have sufficient expertise to evaluate the submissions properly.
-The person who organizes the competition doesn’t have the skills to run it properly (eg the prize is awarded very late or not at all).
Waste of resources compared to counterfactual:
-Thousands of dissertations could be entered. Even if you spent 5 minutes evaluating each, that’s 100+ hours of your time. Depending on what your time is worth, if you spent the time working instead of evaluating dissertations, you could potentially save a toddler’s life from malaria.
-It’s unlikely that announcing a prize now will impact current PhD students, who probably chose their topic years ago (although it could potentially influence new students).
-Are we sure that prizes influence dissertations? Is there any evidence base for this?
Thanks for your comment and your insights, that’s precisely what I wanted. I do agree we lack evidence about the effectiveness of prizes as a way to incent studies on specific subjects – but that’s not unsurmontable (if I don’t find a paper about it, I’ll try to compare keywords frequency in academic databases before and after the establishment of a similar prize to check if there’s a correlation). Also, I hadn’t considered a prize could result in a reputational risk – even if it’s unlikely, but it might necessary to hedge against it; one possibility is to grant the commitee the right to abstain from declaring a winner, if no one is found worthy.
Concerning the other mentioned obstacles, I don’t think they would hinder the main goals of such a prize – to foment the ideas of EA and to incent the study of EA causes. Assuming these causes are worth of my time (even more than saving a toddler’s life), so it’d not be a waste of time.
As risk mitigation, we could start by requiring that applicants provide a brief essay summarizing their research and arguing in their favor; then a crowd of blind-reviewers would use such essay (and other « cheap signals », such as abstracts, conclusions, etc.) to reduce the number of candidates to a small set, to be scrutinized by a comitee of proeminent scholars; maybe we could put the theses online and ask everyone for feedback (people could vote on the best thesis in this first phase). Also, we could mitigate reputational risks and problems of scale if, instead of a global institution such as the CEA, we had such a competition in a more restricted environment– maybe some institution in a small country, such as the Czech Republic (well, they created the Effective Thesis project, right ?). So, if something went wrong, it wouldn’t hit the whole EA movement.
Actually, Forethought launched this one week ago: https://www.forethought.org/undergraduate-thesis-prize