Szilard Fortified Essay Contest

Prize Pool
End Date
Feb 1, 2022


Update 1.14: New to Metaculus? We've made a short FAQ that provides some helpful background for participating in the Szilard Fortified Essay Contest. If you're already familiar with Metaculus you may still find the FAQ valuable, but also feel free to dive straight into the contest below!

Update 12.7: Click here to watch a video that walks you through the process of drafting an essay, using the editor's functionality, and submitting your essay to the Szilard Fortified Essay Contest. Note that essays can be formatted in a text editor such as Google Docs and then pasted into the essay editor where they will retain formatting. Essays can also be written in markdown and pasted into the editor where they will be automatically formatted.

In this essay contest, we open the floor for investigations of long-term nuclear risks and what might be done to reduce them. 

As of November 12, 2021, through the Nuclear Risk Forecasting Tournament and Nuclear Risk Horizons Project, 151 Metaculus users have provided a total of 3503 forecasts on 113 questions. These will be used by Rethink Priorities and other stakeholders to guide decisions about funding, research, and policy, hopefully helping to secure and improve the long-term future of humanity. 

But the aggregate forecasts are in themselves silent about what mechanisms are driving the probabilities up and down, what actions should be taken to affect the probabilities or in light of the probabilities, and what lines of reasoning or sources may be worth considering. Forecasters sometimes address those topics in comments, and this is sometimes highly valuable, but it’s not directly incentivized, it’s not common, and it rarely goes into substantial depth. 

This Fortified Essay competition is intended to fill that void, to leverage and demonstrate forecasters’ knowledge and intellectual labor in ways that the forecast questions themselves don’t. Essays should reference Selected Forecasts from this page’s feed and should focus on one of the Essay Topics listed below. While addressing this topic, writers can explain the reasoning behind their predictions, discuss the factors driving the predicted outcomes, explore the implications of these outcomes, and can offer their own recommendations. By placing nuclear risk forecasts into this larger context, fortified essays are better able to inform stakeholders’ decision-making, helping them to more deeply understand the forecasts as well as how much weight to place on them.

Three additional goals of this competition are to:

  • Identify and reward insightful thinkers and forecasters on the topic of nuclear risk
  • Provide a probabilistically and quantitatively minded arena for discussion and exchange of ideas regarding nuclear risk
  • Provide exemplars of a style of writing that’s quite distinct from most writing on nuclear risk (and other topics), in that that writing, despite many strengths, often leaves its predictions about the future too unclear to act on or falsify

Fortified Essay writers will have their work reviewed by a distinguished panel of judges:

Peter Scoblic is a Fellow with the Social Innovation and Change Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership, where he researches the ways in which organizations navigate uncertainty. He is also the co-founder of Event Horizon Strategies, a senior fellow with the International Security Program at New America, and an instructor in Harvard’s Professional Development Program.

Matt Korda is a Senior Research Associate and Project Manager for the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, where he co-authors the Nuclear Notebook. Matt is also an Associate Researcher with the Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Michael Aird is a Research Scholar at the Future of Humanity Institute, as well as a Senior Staff Manager at Rethink Priorities. His research interests include the long-term future implications of various matters related to politics, policy, and security, such as nuclear weapons and authoritarianism.

Evaluation criteria

An expert panel of judges will be instructed to rate the entries based on the extent to which the essay:

  • clearly and coherently addresses one of the essay prompts (see below)
  • synthesizes at least 3 of the forecasts made in the Nuclear Risk Horizons Project and draws out their key implications. Referencing more forecasts is only desirable if it meaningfully contributes to the analysis
  • demonstrates a solid understanding of both forecasting and relevant aspects of nuclear risk 
  • provides relevant evidence and reasoning and has high reasoning transparency
  • is well written, so that it is comprehensible, enjoyable to read, and accessible to a well-educated but non-specialist audience (aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature) 

Essay Topics

Each essay must address one of the topics below:

  • What is/are the most likely way(s) a nuclear war involving hundreds of detonations could end up occurring by 2050? That is, how might the war start, and why would it either (a) start out involving hundreds of detonations or (b) escalate to that point? Justify the view that this/these way(s) are the most likely.
  • If there’s a nuclear war involving hundreds of detonations by 2050, what would the short- and long-term effects be? Justify the view that these would be the effects.
  • What actions would most effectively reduce nuclear risk - especially risks posed by nuclear weapons to the long-term future of humanity? I.e., which actions would have the highest expected value from this perspective (taking into account - roughly speaking - both the likelihood the action is successful and the amount by which risk would be reduced if so)? Justify the view that these actions would be especially effective. You can consider actions that funders, policymakers, researchers, or whoever else could take. 
  • What is one novel or very rarely discussed action that might effectively reduce nuclear risk - especially risks posed by nuclear weapons to the long-term future of humanity? How could this action best be taken? Justify the view that this action might be effective. You can consider actions that funders, policymakers, researchers, or whoever else could take.
  • Overall, has nuclear risk risen or fallen in the last three decades, and will it rise or fall over the next three decades? Justify your view.


A total of $1,000 will be awarded for the contest. The prize allocation by rank is as follows:

  1. $300
  2. $250
  3. $200
  4. $150
  5. $100

With each author’s permission, all 5 winning essays will be published on the EA forum under Metaculus’s account. Metaculus will also make a post announcing the winners and linking to their essays on the Metaculus site, the EA Forum, and LessWrong.

Submission Rules

  • Submissions must be made through Metaculus’s Notebook feature between November 16, 2021 and February 1st, 2022 (click + at the top of this page)
  • Submissions must include at least 3 forecasts from the Nuclear Risk Horizons Project
  • Each participant may submit only one essay per prompt, but may submit an essay for as many of the prompts as they wish (so up to 5 total)
  • An entry should differ substantially from any previously published piece by the author
  • Submissions should be between 750-1500 words (excluding bibliography and footnotes)

Related Forecasts

View Forecasts related to this Contest. Authors should use these questions to fortify their essays.

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