EA Forum Prize: Winners for February 2021

post by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-04-27T09:32:08.732Z · EA · GW · 1 comments


  What is the EA Forum Prize?
  About the winning posts and comments
  Killing the Ants
  Why I find longtermism hard, and what keeps me motivated
  Project Ideas in Biosecurity for EAs
  Report on Running a Forecasting Tournament at an EA Retreat
  Why EA groups should not use ‘effective altruism’ in their name
  The winning comments
  The voting process
1 comment

CEA is pleased to announce the winners of the February 2021 EA Forum Prize! 

The following users were each awarded a Comment Prize ($75):

See here [? · GW] for a list of all prize announcements and winning posts.

What is the EA Forum Prize?

Certain posts and comments exemplify the kind of content we most want to see [? · GW] 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.

Killing the Ants [EA · GW]

The choice to kill the ants had had, for me, a quality of unreality. I had exerted some limited advocacy, in the direction of some hazy set of norms, but with no real sense of responsibility for what I was doing. There was something performative and disengaged about it [...] I was hoping for some kind of conformity, some kind of “pass” from the moral “authorities.” But I wasn’t looking down my arm, at the world I was creating, and the ants that were dying as a result. I wasn’t owning it.

This isn’t the typical Forum Prize winner — there’s no summary and no set of action items. The post is a dense essay that ought to be read in full, and I won’t try to summarize it here. But I will talk about two of the things I liked:

Why I find longtermism hard, and what keeps me motivated [EA · GW]

I find working on longtermist causes to be — emotionally speaking — hard: There are so many terrible problems in the world right now. How can we turn away from the suffering happening all around us in order to prioritise something as abstract as helping make the long-run future go well?

A lot of people who aim to put longtermist ideas into practice seem to struggle with this, including many of the people I’ve worked with over the years. 


This issue is one aspect of a broader issue in EA: figuring out how to motivate ourselves to do important work even when it doesn’t feel emotionally compelling. It’s useful to have a clear understanding of our emotions in order to distinguish between feelings and beliefs we endorse and those that we wouldn’t — on reflection — want to act on.

This post tackles a very common problem for people in the community and makes a lot of strong, practical suggestions for addressing it.

This impressed me because I hadn’t thought of “longtermism sometimes isn’t very motivating” as the sort of problem one could address, other than by reading more philosophy and hoping to find an argument that sank in. And because “trying to convince yourself of one side of a debate” generally isn’t what we ought to do, that “solution” seemed awkward.

Michelle argues for what seems to me like a more effective approach — understanding our own emotions and beliefs, and trying to figure out which of those come from a place we could reflectively endorse.

I’ll stop my summary here and focus on how good the writing is here. Michelle doesn’t repeat herself or go off on long tangents. Every sentence makes one clear point. Every paragraph in the advisory section [EA · GW] of the post offers a different piece of advice, or at least a new way to view the problem. This is the kind of post that rewards rereading (so much useful material in such a small space!), and one I can imagine people in Michelle’s situation revisiting in difficult times.

Project Ideas in Biosecurity for EAs [EA · GW]

In conjunction with a group of other EA biosecurity folk, I helped brainstorm a set of projects which seem useful, and which require various backgrounds but which, as far as we know, aren't being done, or could use additional work. Many EAs have expressed interest in doing something substantive related to research in bio, but are unsure where to start - this is intended as one pathway to do so.

Sometimes, a great post is very simple. The process of (a) getting some experts together and (b) working with them to develop a list of open questions/projects is one I’d love to see people repeat for pretty much any EA-adjacent cause area, and David’s post shows how to do it well. Things I liked:

Report on Running a Forecasting Tournament at an EA Retreat [EA · GW]

This post describes a simple forecasting tournament I ran during the 2021 Effective Altruism New Zealand retreat as an experimental exercise in improving judgement and decision making [...] The tournament was surprisingly fun, and went in many unexpected directions. I would strongly encourage other EA retreats and similar gatherings to run their own prediction tournaments, and I provide some resources to get started.

My personal standards for identifying a good event report:

This post does all three! I especially like the conclusion’s link to a Google Drive folder with all of Hamish’s resources. It’s also written in an engaging way that really set a scene in my mind (e.g. the part where Hamish forgot to collect the prediction sheets and had to dig them out of a rubbish bin, a story which will also help readers remember to collect those sheets).

Finally, I laughed out loud at this line:

I don’t think it’s ever going to make sense for me to spend several hours learning the principles of Italian ministerial politics just for the sake of getting one bit of feedback half a year from now.

Why EA groups should not use ‘effective altruism’ in their name [EA · GW]

We think we should have a movement wide conversation about “Effective Altruism” as the name for local and university groups [...] We think picking a different name for your EA chapter could have some great advantages.

When I saw the title of this post, I was 80% excited for its potential and 20% concerned about a potential flame war. Once I read the post, I was 95% excited, and when I saw the first comments, I was safe at 100% (in general, our users can be trusted to take the path of wisdom in these situations).

While I still think that EA groups should usually have “effective altruism” in their names, I appreciate that Koen’s post was driven by a positive experience with an alternative option (rather than pure theory about the downsides of the name). I also like his acknowledgement that going with an EA name might have had advantages for his group — as with most ideas, his proposal comes with advantages and disadvantages.

But my favorite thing might be the post’s use of times — explaining how many minutes or hours various things took. It’s really easy for groups (and individuals!) not to appreciate how useful it can be to sit down and think about things for half an hour, or to spend an hour or two putting together a quick survey for people whose opinions they value. Had I been thinking of starting a group, the emphasis on how little time it takes to consider name options would likely have convinced me to go through the same exercises as Koen’s group.

Finally, the comments on this are excellent. While Koen didn’t make comments past the original post, the conversation could have been a lot less illuminating if the post had been less thoughtful.

The winning comments

I won’t write up an analysis of each comment. Instead, here are my thoughts on selecting comments for the prize [EA · GW].

The voting process

The current prize judges are:

All posts published in the titular month qualified for voting, save for those in the following categories: 

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 other judges had the chance to nominate and veto comments before this post was published.


If the Prize has changed the way you read or write on the Forum, or you have an idea for how we could improve it, please leave a comment or contact me.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-04-27T12:24:03.302Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I see that someone strong-downvoted this post, which is unusual for the prize announcement posts. To that voter, in case they see this: if you have any specific feedback, I'd be really grateful to hear it.

I know that my post summaries don't always capture the winners' best features, and if that's the problem, I'm open to making edits if someone points out "hey, you totally overlooked feature X of post Y" or "hey, this thing you said about post Y isn't accurate, fix it".