$100,000: The Truman Prize

Drew Spartz
Altruistic contributionEffective Altruism

Harry Truman once said: "It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."

This award recognizes Effective Altruists with $5,000-$10,000 prizes for declining credit in ways that can't be publicized directly, and where their work is more impactful because of that.

Example #1: Sam toils behind the scenes and makes a breakthrough on an important problem. Sam suggests the idea to and then gives credit to a more well-known person/org because that leads to the breakthrough being more widely accepted.

Anyone that knows what happened, including the person/org that gets credit, can nominate Sam for the EA Truman award on Superlinear. Superlinear passes on the nomination to a committee of well-respected EAs from diverse backgrounds. If one of them verifies that Sam actually did make a breakthrough and allowed someone better placed to take credit to increase impact, Superlinear awards Sam $10,000.

Our committee members are: Eliezer Yudkowsky, Peter Wildeford, Spencer Greenberg, Gregory Lewis, Cate Hall, Ozzie Gooen, Luke Freeman, and Julia Wise.

Example #1: John is an EA who works for the government. There are political or career consequences if it is publicly acknowledged that he’s working on something potentially controversial. John contributes an important innovative idea to AI governance, and helps make it happen behind the scenes. One of the people he worked with nominates him for the EA Truman Award. Then, a committee member like Julia Wise asks two people she trusts, Alice and Bob, to investigate. They confirm John’s contribution. Alice and Bob conclude that this qualifies for the prize, but that John cannot receive prize money due to the government job. Superlinear announces “Julia Wise, Alice, and Bob recommend a non-monetary Truman prize to be awarded for John’s contribution to AI governance.”

If you can’t make an EA forum post about someone receiving credit for doing something noteworthy, this is the prize for you.

Payout mechanism:

  1. You see someone that deserves the award, so you nominate them by submitting their info below (you can keep things anonymous, but make sure enough detail is provided that the event is clearly verifiable by someone likely to be known.). 
  2. If your submission looks promising, we’ll pass it along to relevant members of our committee of 5-10 well-respected EAs who can verify the event actually happened. So, if the Truman Award nominee is in the biosecurity field, we’d forward it to our biorisk specialist committee member.
  3. The committee member selected chooses 2 additional people (that don’t have to be on the committee) they trust to assist, to allow them to, for example, delegate verification, and discuss the award decision and how much detail to provide publicly. The 3 people involved in the decision would inform Superlinear and sign off on the award. The people involved in the decision would always be public. For example, it might be: "Gregory Lewis, Andrew Snyder Beattie, and Tessa Alexanian award $5,000 to John Doe for an unspecified Biosecurity project which was spearheaded by others," in others it would be "Toby Ord, Hilary Greaves, and Abie Rohrig award a $5,000 Truman Award to an undisclosed recipient, to be named no sooner than 5 years from now, for work which will remain anonymous."

Theory of change: Rewarding people for maximizing impact over credit increases the health and future effectiveness of the community.

Example #2: Max has a criminal record and troubled past. He’s reformed now, but his background makes him a liability for any person or org to publicly associate with him. He silently does good work behind the scenes, so someone that knows him nominates him for The Truman Prize on the basis of a specific critical contribution which was made to a now successful larger project. The committee awards the prize, and names Max, likely without naming the specific work done.

Example #3: Steve has extreme political beliefs. It is risky for any person or org to work with him due to reputation risks. Steve knows this, but does apolitical high impact work behind the scenes anyways. Someone that knows Steve nominates him for The Truman Prize on the basis of a specific project which was not previously disclosed. The committee awards the prize and discloses the project, but not the individual, or vice-versa, to avoid undermining the project.

Example #4: Morgan has recurring depression. Therefore, she does not want to work or associate with any specific people or orgs because she doesn’t want to let them down due to an episode. Morgan does a lot of high impact work for free, and gives credit to others who are better placed to continue executing on the project. Someone nominates her for the Truman Prize on the basis of two specific projects that were done without credit. The committee members award the money, and names the individual and the project.


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