Szilard Fortified Essay Contest

Prize Pool
End Date
Feb. 1, 2022

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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 labour in ways that the forecasting questions themselves don’t. We seek essays that reference long-range nuclear risk forecasting questions (and, optionally, other forecasting questions) while putting them into context and discussing mechanisms, recommendations, and reasoning. These essays can then be used by stakeholders to inform their decisions, and to help them better understand the nuclear risk forecasts themselves and how much weight to put 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

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 December 6, 2021 (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)

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