Blog Prize Digest: October

Read on to hear about the winners of our latest Post Prize, some of our other favorite posts from the month, and the topic of our next Post Prize.

Post Prize #5: 

We’re excited to announce the winners of Post Prize #5. We asked you to write about a big-picture question or confusion about the world that you’re normally embarrassed to ask about. Here are our awards:

Dude, Where’s My Mars Colony by Connor James: Connor asks a simple question, “Why is space hard?” Space seems obviously hard in some respects–it’s a cold, barren wasteland–but sort of easy in others. After all, we went from the first vehicle in Space to a man on the moon in 12 years. So why haven’t we done more after another 50 years? 

Why is being vegan such a focal point in animal advocacy? by a few billion: It might seem obvious that animal welfare advocates should be vegan? But why should it be? Personal consumptive decisions have relatively small implications in the grand scheme of things. Some animals, notably bivalves, don’t seem to be sentient. A few billion investigates. 

Honorable mentions: We enjoyed Khazna Chami on wild animal suffering, Suhan Kacholia’s piece on how names works, and Isabel’s popular piece on why modern dating is hard

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

Georgism… in Space!

https://progressandpoverty.substack.com/p/georgism-in-space  

In Progress and Poverty, Sam Harsimony discusses how tax regimes might work in outer space. Looking at useful energy, matter, and physical space, Sam proposes a cosmic land value tax and severance-driven dividends on energy extraction.

“Georgism needs an update. So much has changed since George’s time that talking about land and natural resources is beginning to sound a bit dated. Hopefully, “space Georgism” can compete with the more forward-looking ideologies of today.  Extending the Georgist paradigm into space neatly solves problems with sharing resources and ensures that colonization proceeds at an appropriate pace”

Laurence Newport launches in Pursuit of Progress

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXY5GqIPz9U

Laurence Newport, who blogs at Dangerous Precedents, has started a new Youtube channel. In his first video, he takes account of the current state of the world: how good we have it by historical standards, and what challenges we face. He plans to cover topics related to progress, intellectual history, and effective altruism. 

Does Medical Education Entrench Bad Norms?

https://www.leahpierson.com/blog/badnorms

Leah Pierson writes on the downside of medical education. She argues that medical school infantalises students, so they don’t feel able to criticize practices. Instead, norms are smuggled in under the guise of “professionalism” which makes them harder to scrutinize. 

Missing women

https://byzeusmaybe.substack.com/p/missing-women 

Idil writes on “missing women,” the phenomenon of disparate proportions of women to men across the globe: ”If all else was equal, you would expect the ratio of men to women in the world to be about the same everywhere, since biology does not work differently in different corners of the world. But when you look at the figures, you see that this is not the case … Missing women are women who would have been part of the population but are not due to factors such as sex-selective abortions and higher mortality for girls at young ages.”

A case study in pseudoscience brought to you by CNN

https://www.epistem.ink/p/a-case-study-in-pseudoscience 

George of Epistemink writes about weight loss ads on the CNN website, breaking down the incentives and perversions that lead to pseudoscience being advertised on major websites, showing how easy it is to promote “harmless” and profitable misinformation.

How (not) to approach controversial genetics research

https://wyclif.substack.com/p/how-not-to-approach-controversial 

David Hugh-Jones argues that decisions to not publish politically sensitive research on genetics lead to poorer science and fail to tackle prejudice: Instead of building up research bureaucracies to evaluate stigma, scientists should “treat the public as intelligent and communicate complexity and nuance.” 

From the judges:

If you are still hungry for more posts

In case you missed it: October updates to the Blog Prize

We have a few updates to the blog prize contest that we shared on social media and our website. We’re adding them here, in case you missed them:

First, we originally announced that we would aim to award prizes within 2022. We now expect to award, at most, two prizes within 2022, and the contest will continue running in 2023. Don’t be afraid to jump in, even if you haven’t started a blog yet.

Second, based on the interest in the contest from young writers, we will be dividing one of the $100,000 prizes into five prizes of $20,000. This will allow us to recognize young writers who show promise but do not meet our bar to be a full prize winner. 

Third, we have some advice on what we would like to see from contestants before the major prizes are awarded:

  • So far, many entries have had insufficient engagement with the topics we think are of utmost importance. These include: the long term trajectory of humanity, preventing existential risk, and the use of reason and evidence to do good. We advise entrants to dive deeper into these topics. 
  • On a similar note, we’re watching for bloggers who generate and develop new, important ideas. 
  • Finally, we are excited to see bloggers cultivate themselves as important voices in the discourse, even becoming public intellectuals. We advise entrants to create a larger conversation about their writing, be that on Twitter, via a podcast, in discussion forums, etc

Post Prize #6: Independent Research

This month, we’re asking contestants to write about methods of independent research. How do you do your independent research? Share your insights about how (now) to do important research as a blogger. Note, this is not strictly a productivity tips or “How I Work” prompt but a combination of tools, methodology, and desired outcomes for research. How do you discover, write, and share ideas or data that are new to you?

Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces

Deadline: Opens November 1st, Closes November 30th.

How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #6. Looking forward to reading them!

Interesting meme of the month via Leah Pierson

October Blog Prizes Updates and Announcement

Effective Ideas Blog Prize October Updates and Announcements

Effective Ideas Team

We have a few updates to the blog prize contest we would like to share.

First, we originally announced that we would aim to award prizes within 2022. We now expect to award, at most, two prizes within 2022, and the contest will continue running in 2023. Don’t be afraid to jump in, even if you haven’t started a blog yet.

Second, based on the interest in the contest from young writers, we will be dividing one of the $100,000 prizes into five prizes of $20,000. This will allow us to recognize young writers who show promise but do not meet our bar to be a full prize winner. 

Third, we have some advice on what we would like to see from contestants before the major prizes are awarded:

  • So far, many entries have had insufficient engagement with the topics we think are of utmost importance. These include: the long term trajectory of humanity, preventing existential risk, and the use of reason and evidence to do good. We advise entrants to dive deeper into these topics. 
  • On a similar note, we’re watching for bloggers who generate and develop new, important ideas. 
  • Finally, we are excited to see bloggers cultivate themselves as important voices in the discourse, even becoming public intellectuals. We advise entrants to create a larger conversation about their writing, be that on Twitter, via a podcast, in discussion forums, etc. 

 

Thanks for reading, and best of luck!

The Effective Ideas team

Post Prize #4: Results

Post prize #4 winners

We’re excited to announcing the winners of Post Prize #4. We asked for reviews of Will MacAskill’s new book, What We Owe the Future, which was released on August 16th. The book has made a large splash in the media and in blogs, beginning an important discussion about what we can do to improve the future. Here are our awards for the best reviews:

My Take on What We Owe the Future by elifland

This post argues that What We Owe the Future does not give a clear sense of longtermists’ priorities. Specifically, Eli argues that MacAskill underestimates AI risk and is not clear that preventing harm from transformative AI is currently the foremost longtermist priority. We particularly admired how much useful and actionable discussion this review generated on the EA Forum, including a thanks from MacAskill himself. 

If not you then who by Isabel

Isabel writes about What We Owe the Future from a personal perspective. She writes that she typically likes to embrace the present, so can have trouble thinking about the future. But when she read the book, examples like the dropping glass on a hiking trail helped change her relationship to time: ”This book makes the future personal.” She also highlights and comments on her favorite passages from the book, ending with how the book changed her mind. 

Honorable mentions 

We enjoyed Michael Noetel’s concise, highly readable, review for The Conversation and Bessie O’Dell’s thoughtful review which discusses who should read the book. We also liked this review series by Hamish Doodles, which incorporates his sketches and takes on ideas in the book from a number of angles.

Click here to read about Post Prize #5.

 

Post Prize #5: Embarrassing Thinking

This month, we’re asking contestants to write about a big-picture question or confusion about the world that you’re normally embarrassed to ask about. (E.g., Why are first-past-the-post voting systems most common? Why are cats and dogs the most common household pets? Why is Shakespeare considered great literature?) Dig into the “whys” behind your question, without trusting traditional answers or simple explanations. You could do it in the style of a Minimal Trust Investigation, where you suspend your trust in others and attempt to dig into your question from first principles.  

Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces

Deadline: Opens October 1st, Closes October 31th

How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #5. Looking forward to reading them!

Blog Prize Digest: September

Read on to hear about the winners of our latest Post Prize, some of our other favorite posts from the month, and the topic of our next Post Prize.

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

The Decision Was Already Made

n the first post for her new blog, “by Zeus, maybe!“, Idil writes about the moment when we make moral decisions: Is it when we are confronted with a moral choice or earlier? Idil argues that moral decisions are like an exam: if you show up without studying, expecting to learn the material while taking the test, you are doomed to failure. 

Scraping training data for your mind

Henrik Karlsson discusses Karl Ove Knausgaard’s rocky start to writing, suggesting that individuals need to “scrape” knowledge and skills until they are able to find their niche. Karlsson tracks Knausgaard’s development against contemporary trends and questions what sort of domain knowledge and introspection is necessary for great work.

Improving “Improving Institutional Decision-Making”: A brief history of IIDM

Sophia Brown writes about the history of ‘improving institutional decision making’ in effective altruism. Early on, the discussion focused on how to direct government aid towards more cost effective initiatives. Later, IIDM came to mean an investigation of how insights from decision sciences could be integrated into organizations. Now, longtermists and those concerned with existential risk are considering how institutions might play a role in ensuring the future goes well. Sophia plans to follow up this post with more of her thoughts on the future of IIDM.

Can Nuclear Power Manage Another Comeback?

Austin Vernon recounts the history of nuclear energy and charts a path forward for the development of further nuclear power plants. Vernon aims for self-regulated, demand-driven energy production and has a pathway for getting there. 

B-minus Politics Are Best

Maximum New York writes on why good enough politics is preferable to perfect policy. Striving for real rather than abstract gains, a political theory of second best isn’t about solutions so much as making complex problems more manageable.

EA is not religious enough

“Pretty much every criticism of Effective Altruism has some claim that EA ‘is a lot like a religion’” but Lawrence Newport argues that EA should become more religious—especially in a manner similar to the Quakers. The Quakers, Lawrence writes, serve as a great model for how a community with a longterm vision of good policy and social productivity should interact and engage with others.

The Power of Challenge Trials

Saloni writes about how challenge trials actually work and how they might be used to develop vaccines against the Zika virus. In a regular vaccine trial (outside a pandemic), very few people who receive a vaccine dose are actually infected, so it can take thousands of volunteers to get a statistically significant sample. It can also take several years. Challenge trials could rapidly speed up the vaccine development timeline. Also, be sure to check out the work that is being done on challenge trials advocacy from 1Day Sooner.

From the judges:

  • Leopold and Avital at the Future Fund announced the Future Fund AI Worldview Prize—enormous prizes for changing the team’s fundamental assumptions about AI
  • Nothing new from Fin and Nick!

If you are still hungry for more posts

Flu Strain Frequency Over Time Graphic of the Month

The B/Yamagata strain of flu might have gone extinct during the pandemic, via @salonium

Blog Prize Digest: August

Just a quick update this month, as we’re giving two months to submit entries for Post Prize #4, for the best review of Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future.

 

Some of our favorites from the blogroll

 

Nick Bostrom is one of the most important philosophers in Effective Altruism and longtermism. Radio Bostrom highlights the his essential work, including “Letter from Utopia” (2008) and “The Vulnerable World Hypothesis” (2019), alongside a general introduction to Nick Bostrom’s thought. It is all available in audio form read by professional narrators. Give it a listen to learn more.
Radio Bostrom

Julian Hazell, an MSc student at Oxford, is writing a new blog about AI governance, global poverty, and more. We’ve already been impressed by his first post, “We are still in triage.” Make sure to check out his Twitter, too.
Blogger Dwarkesh Patel writes for the EA Forums on a paper from Tyler John and William MacAskill that proposes methods for governments to become more longtermist. Patel coins the term ‘State Capacity Longtermism’ and makes a distinction between medium-termism and longtermism. This forum post is an interesting addition to Dwarkesh’s regular blogging at The Lunar Society. Make sure to check out his podcast too, where he’s interviewed Sam Bankman-Fried, Will MacAskill, Tyler Cowen, and more.
Evaluation of Longtermist Institutional Reform – EA Forum

Post Prize #4
Continuing from August, Post Prize #4 will be for the best review of Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future. The book is MacAskill’s case for longtermism, the view that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time. The book addresses a host of fascinating topics like artificial intelligence, pandemics, global conflict, stagnation, population ethics, and much more. Order it here. Can’t afford a copy but want to compete in our review contest? Shoot us a Twitter DM and we will send you a copy.
We will be awarding prizes for the best reviews – positive or critical – of the book. Because the book comes out on August 16th, this contest will extend over the next two months, conclusion September 30th,
Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces
Deadline: Opens August 2nd, What We Owe the Future is released August 16th, and the prize will close September 30th.
How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #3. Looking forward to reading them!

Post Prize #4: What We Owe the Future

Post Prize #4: What We Owe the Future

 

Will MacAskill’s new book, What We Owe the Future, is releasing this month. The book is MacAskill’s case for longtermism, the view that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time. The book addresses a host of fascinating topics like artificial intelligence, pandemics, global conflict, stagnation, population ethics, and much more. We can’t wait. Preorder it here.
We will be awarding prizes for the best reviews of the book — positive, critical, or analytic. Because the book comes out on August 16th in the US, this contest will extend over the next two months, concluding September 30th.
Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces.
Deadline: Opens August 2nd, What We Owe the Future is released August 16th, and the prize will close September 30th.
How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #4. Looking forward to reading them!

Post Prize #3: Winners & Honorable Mentions

Announcing the winners from Prize #3, the Most Important Century
Zombie Universe by Toby Tremlett — One of the technologies Holden writes about in the Most Important Century is digital people, people who exist on computers. While Holden argues persuasively that digital people could be conscious, Toby writes of how important it is to understand whether they actual are conscious. If they aren’t, we could accidentally fill the universe with something analogous to philosophical zombies.
Re: the Social Science section of Holden Karnofsky’s Most Important Century by Zard Wright Weissberg — Zard writes about another aspect of digital people, their potential use for social science. What is the fundamental reason social science is so hard to learn from?
This Can Go On Pt 1 & 2 by Dwarkesh Patel — Holden writes about three key scenatios: Collapse, Stagnation, and Explosion. Dwarkesh argues that one other scenario is possible: Simmer.
In his follow up post, Dwarkesh argues that we can’t trust our intuitions about the limits to growth, and that “if our intuitions contradict the plausibility of large long-run growth rates, that’s so much the worse for our intuitions”.
Honorable mentions: we also enjoyed reading Maxwell Tabarrock on why The Most Important Century Is Not Unlikely, Robert Long on whether digital people would be conscious, En Kepeig In Favour Of Caution about AI, and Finn Hambly on attractors in history and whether we’re living in a simulation.
If you still want to learn more about the Most Important Centuryhypothesis, check out this great video from Rational Animations.
And stick around until the end to hear about Post Prize #4!

Post Prize #3: The Most Important Century

Holden Karnofsky’s Most Important Century series is some of the best blogging of all time. Seriously. This month, we will be awarding prizes for the best responses to it.

Investigate some part of his Most Important Century blog post series (including points you think it misses or gets wrong!). There’s a lot of ideas in it, so feel free to go deep on something small, rather than trying to take the whole thing on at once.

You could also take a look at Holden’s list of important, actionable research questions for the most important century. They’re probably too big to answer in a blog post, but you can still use them for inspiration: by suggesting pieces of the answers, or sketching out a plan for answering them.

Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces

Deadline: Opens July 1st, Closes July 31th

How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #3. Looking forward to reading them!

Blog Prize Digest: June

It’s been another huge month for the blog prize. Read on to hear about the winners of our second Post Prize, and read until the end to hear about the theme for June’s prize.

Post Prizes!

Announcing the winners of Post Prize #2: Increasing Agency

We had many great responses to our second Post Prize, on how to actually increase your agency — and were very excited to see so many new bloggers join the discourse. We’re awarding prizes of $1,000 to:

Seven Ways to Become Unstoppably Agentic by Evie Cottrell — Evie writes about strategies she has learned in the last year that have help her become more agentic. We liked that she has actually used the strategies and that she recognizes the difficulties they pose.

Agency and Epistemic Cheems Mindset by Richard Chappell — Richard writes about us lacking agency in our epistemics, what he calls the Epistemic Cheems Mindset. As he writes:

We need not just good epistemics, but also epistemic ambition: a willingness to form (tentative, revisable) judgments, even in the face of uncertainty.

We like that Richard looks at an unusual but profound aspect of agency: It’s not just about whether we send the cold email, but whether we are asking the right questions at all.

Validation as a Bottleneck for Agency by Finn Hambly — Finn writes about the limits to any advice on being more agentic. Agency, in his view, needs to be cultivated and nurtured by an environment. So Finn discusses what sorts of norms are needed in an enviorment for agenctic people to flourish.

Honorable mentions

Two old favorites on agency

These weren’t written for the Post Prize, but we wanted to highlight two other great posts on agency.

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

We won the war on infectious diseases, but now we need to learn from it

Eric Gilliam writes on our massive success in fighting infectious diseases, and how that success alone counts for much of the decline in mortality in the 20th century. But that decline isn’t all due to vaccines and modern hospitals, as popular conception often dictates. It turns out to have been due to a series of public health interventions, most of all clean water. Gilliam writes:

I’m excited to announce that this is the first post of the Engineering Innovation Newsletter in partnership with Good Science Project. Good Science Project is a new organization dedicated to improving the funding and practice of science.

Researching Alignment Research: Unsupervised Analysis

Jan Hendrik Kirchner writes on the state of AI alignment research, a field that seeks to align future AI values with human values, using a new dataset that he collected with AI Safety Camp. Some of the most interesting results include the growth of the field over the last 10 years and the clustering ofof subfields. We love to see participants using blogging as a way to share original research in an easily digestible way. Kirchner summarizes:

We collected and analyzed existing AI alignment research which we make publicly available. We found that the field is growing quickly, with several subfields emerging in parallel. We looked at the subfields and identified the prominent researchers, recurring topics, and different modes of communication in each. Furthermore, we found that a classifier trained on AI alignment research articles can detect relevant articles that we did not originally include in the dataset.

Two other exciting newsletter launches

Scientific Discovery

Saloni Dattani, Nick’s colleague at Works in Progress and a researcher at Our World in Data just launched a Substack, Scientific Discovery. She plans to send weekly updates on new good and important scientific research. Her most recent post explains one new study on the flu vaccine lowering risks of heart attack and stroke and another on the largest bacterium. Her second update writes on “Vaccines against heart attacks, giant bacteria, plus some great new books and podcasts.”

#2: Big studies and very big findings – by Saloni Dattani

The Swift Centre launches their first newsletter

It’s not for the Blog Prize, but the Swift Centre, a new forecasting organization backed by the FTX Future Fund regranting program, has launched a new newsletter. Their first post explains their current thinking around monkeypox. The Centre is aiming to make forecasting more useful by explaining the “why” behind their probability estimates and looking at conditional scenarios.

Monkeypox: the outlook for 2022

The last thing the world wanted to hear, as it started to put the two years of the pandemic behind it, was that a new infectious disease was spreading unexpectedly. That is, however, what happened, when towards the end of April 2022 cases of the viral disease monkeypox were detected.

From the judges:

If you are still hungry for more posts