Who should / is going to win 2020 FLI award 2020?

post by Ramiro · 2020-06-11T19:20:11.364Z · score: 11 (6 votes) · EA · GW · 5 comments

This is a question post.


    24 Peter_Hurford


Every year, the Future of Life Institute (FLI) awards U$50,000 to an unsung hero - an "individual who, without receiving much recognition at the time, has helped make today dramatically better than it may otherwise have been". Previously, the prize went to Vasili Arkhipov, S. Petrov and Matthew Meselson.

I think it might be interesting to discuss the subject in this Forum.

On the other hand... well, there's money to be made. Maybe that's why people don't debate it openly?


answer by Peter_Hurford · 2020-06-12T15:48:32.226Z · score: 24 (14 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't know who would win, but if people are taking nominations I'd like to nominate Maurice Hilleman:

Maurice Ralph Hilleman (August 30, 1919 – April 11, 2005) was an American microbiologist who specialized in vaccinology and developed over 40 vaccines, an unparalleled record of productivity. Of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended in current vaccine schedules, he developed eight: those for measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. He also played a role in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses, and the potentially cancer-causing virus SV40.
comment by Julia_Wise · 2020-06-12T20:35:45.650Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wow, that's astonishing. I imagine it's more complex than a single person single-handedly developing each vaccine, but still.

comment by Ramiro · 2020-06-12T22:56:04.826Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

A very strong candidate, indeed. But my nomination goes to a classical: Viktor Zhdanov, the soviet bioweapons expert who convinced WHO to eradicate smallpox. (I just realized that it would be the third soviet citizen winning the award)


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comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-06-12T21:28:48.354Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I wonder what the point of giving them $50K is. Are the kind of people who would do these kinds of things motivated by this kind of money? What's the extra benefit of the money over just cashless recognition? Extra publicity? Are there cheaper ways to get that extra publicity? What about naming things after them?

Or do we need to give them cash to get them to accept the reward or for the public to not look down on the award?

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-06-17T09:33:16.668Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

In the case of Petrov, I'm under the impression (based on a documentary about him) that he probably didn't have much money, and that the prize had an element of "help a hero live in comfort." This isn't an impact-focused reason to give money, but does play into the "unsung hero" element (by creating the impression of the hero finally being "sung"/rewarded).

It's also plausible to me that the prize could have been funded by a donor who really wanted to give out cash rewards, and just worked with FLI to implement their idea (but I have no idea whether this is true and I don't think it's likely).

comment by MichaelStJules · 2020-06-17T13:32:03.328Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Petrov's family received the award a bit over a year after he passed away, though, in this case. Of course, I'd imagine he would have wanted his family to live in comfort, too, or maybe the decision was made before his passing.

comment by Ramiro · 2020-06-12T23:03:20.918Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good point. I do think it has to be an expensive signal, but why not U$25k instead of 50?

comment by ESRogs · 2020-10-14T07:54:41.925Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

The Nobel Prize comes with a million dollars (9,000,000 SEK). 50k doesn't seem like that much, in comparison.