This post calls an official end to the LessWrong Sep/Oct 2021 Book Review Bounty Program!! A huge thank you to everyone who submitted! You've produced some superb content.

I launched the program with the goals of getting more great content on the site, encouraging people to practice useful skills, getting people to learn about many aspects of the world, and just surfacing some talented writers/thinkers. I think the program succeeded.

36 book reviews were posted in the last month. I have paid out $500 to nine of them so far, and expect to pay out several more once: (a) I've finished reading them all, (b) the authors have messaged me to request payment.

If you want to collect the bounty for your book review, please message me via Intercom or email (

In terms of encouraging people to learn about many aspects of the world, the submitted book reviews spanned parenting, history, philosophy, immigration policy, magic, the microbiome, operational excellence, mathematical logic, moral psychology, and yet more topics.

These are some of my personal favorites that I've read so far, in no particular order:

You can see all of the reviews in the Book Reviews tag. Make sure to click "load more"

As far as surfacing new talent goes, quite a few contributors were making their first post on LessWrong. Kudos to Sam Marks and TheRealSlimHippo, authors of two of my favorites listed above, who are new to posting. Great first contributions.

One review author told me that he was initially too shy to write anything on LessWrong, but that the $500 incentive was actually enough to get him to do it. He sent me this image:


The bounty program demonstrated to me that we can incentivize the creation of good content with bounties, perhaps (in this case) making it easier for people to spend the 10-30 hours required to produce a good review. I plan for LessWrong to experiment more with such programs.

If I have any reservations about this program, it's that I feel some of the entries were lacking in "core LessWrong virtue". Something like they were missing the epistemic focus that most LessWrong essays have, even when they were otherwise engagingly and enjoyably written. I don't think this is insurmountable–clearer and more actionable requirements, as well as better onboarding for new contributors, can be provided–but it is something to be mindful of in the design of these programs.

What comes next?

I expect to run more writing/research bounty programs in the near future! Probably we will cycle through a variety of writing/research tasks beyond book reviews, e.g. distillation/summarization tasks, writing wiki articles, answering open questions and similar.

If you have an idea for the kind of writing we should incentivize with bounties, please comment below.

Thanks again to everyone who wrote a book review! (Or three!)


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21 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:58 PM

Personal feedback. I think that, as for a lot of people, the discovery of LW radically changed my perspective about a lot of things. I may probably say that has been one of the most important intellectual mind-shifting events that happened in my entire life. But, given the language barrier (I am Italian and I learned English from scratch late in my life) and the high quality of the content here in LW, I've always been intimidated about writing something here, since I discovered the forum in 2017. It may sound superficial (is it?) but yes, the bounty program motivated me a lot about pushing myself outside the confort zone, and I learned a lot of things in the process. So thank you for the initiative, and I really hope this will be just the beginning of a personal journey here.

I've got to say, I don't think I would have thought you were a non-native English writer if you hadn't included that.  Kudos to you!

Likewise. Luca Parodi's written English is, to me, indistinguishable from a native speaker

Great to see my Churchill and Orwell review on your list of favourites - I had a lot of fun writing it, and it got some decent attention, but sadly no comments. I'd be interested in knowing what people thought, especially about my attempts to connect the two figures to current ideas about longtermism and rationality!

I'd definitely recommend cycling through different kinds of content as a way of picking the lowest hanging fruit. (Plus I'm pretty sure that readers have more than enough book reviews to last them for a while).

Hi, I wrote the Book-Review on Spark as my first post on LessWrong. Sadly I received no comments in response to it and I would love some feedback after spending so much time writing it. I am open to any kind of feedback about it. I really enjoyed this bounty program and I will probably partecipate also in the future ones.

It is on my list of the reviews to read, so never fear! Feedback will be available.

Bounty Idea:

Posts about open problems in rationality. Maybe specifically posts that discuss solutions or work toward a solution, but not posts that only describe the problem (That's if we think we understand them well enough to go to the solution phase). And maybe it's better if we choose a specific open problem, like Rationality Verification. Also, maybe making tags for them / improving existing tags can be included somehow.

I'd be happy to further brainstorm this idea.

It's an interesting idea, thanks!

Some genres of thing you might consider offering a bounty on in the future, ordered by how good of an idea I think they are:

  • Detailed walkthroughs, i.e. step-by-step instructions on how to do a thing
  • Overviews of a contemporary research field, i.e. "if you were writing a textbook on the state-of-the-art for subject X, what would the intro chapter look like"
    • Example: state-of-the-art for aging research
    • Examples I would like to see: what does technical biosafety research look like? What are the key research directions and challenges in studying C. elegans's brain? 
      • [disclaimer: I'm planning on writing something on this second topic, so I can't guarantee my suggestion of a bounty on this is entirely self-disinterested]
  • Life advice, i.e. "here's an easy thing you could try that might make your life better"
    • Lots of examples, but I'm mostly imagining something like Give it a Google
    • So many people have advice to give that probably it would be better to give a payout only to the top-N best advice posts during the bounty period. 
    • What exactly constitutes life advice? Does any rationality technique count here? 
    • Note also that this runs the risk of flooding LessWrong with billions of advice posts (because these are easy to write)
    • Probably a bad idea, oops

Another idea is to -- instead of putting a bounty on a specific genre of post -- offer to generally pay out to the top N posts submitted each week/month, to generally incentivize the creation of high-quality material of any type.

Detailed walkthroughs, i.e. step-by-step instructions on how to do a thing

Fairly niche, but I've been toying with the idea of creating one of these next time I do my UK self-assessment tax return (which I need to in the next few months).

offer to generally pay out to the top N posts submitted each week/​month

I'd worry about the incentive to wait until the end of the week to post, and delay if the past week seemed unusually high quality. Adding some amount of randomization might help, such that two things posted next to each other have a good chance of falling in different "weeks".

(Edit: or perhaps more simply, to make N variable, so an unusually high quality week gets more payouts.)

If you have an idea for the kind of writing we should incentivize with bounties, please comment below.

Summarizing research - either individual papers or work in a working group. Any fields could be interesting though you might want to incentivize certain fields. It could be done like The Best Textbooks on any Subject i.e. you have to compare it to two other papers on the subject though that would probably be very challenging. I am also thinking about somehow countering publication bias.

While I'm at it: I miss the polling feature of the old LW. It was a quick way to gather data. I see some people - esp. Robin Hanson - use it for good measure even with the max four options on Twitter.

Thank you for organizing this program. I really enjoyed the book reviews. Even though I am still a bit shy in commenting and using votes, these posts encouraged me to consider writing something myself in the future.

I'm so glad!

The bounty got me to add some books to my "to-read" pile. This includes books that were reviewed and books that I thought others might like to hear reviews of. 

I've got a rather good record of reading books in this pile rather than it just being a pile of books that I wish I would read but don't. 

So, your bounty, without paying me anything, is inducing me to read more and/or different things than I likely would have otherwise.

(Image is broken. Expired link?)

(Oops. Hopefully fixed now.)

Thanks again for organizing this!

I wasn't sure how successful such an initiative would be in getting more content produced, but that part exceeded my expectations.

One thing to consider for future contests: Insofar as people post close to the deadline, there can be a comparatively big influx of content at once, which might cause some posts to get buried. Looking at the book review tag, there are quite a few reviews with anemic scores and hardly any comments. Is that because they're low-quality / a bad fit for LW, or because they got overlooked?

It would be a shame if the part about incentivizing more content creation succeeds, only for some good stuff to slip through the cracks and never see any reactions. And especially if contest rewards are partly based on karma scores, it's particularly important to ensure that each review is seen by enough people so it has a chance to take off.

My impression so far is that the karma scores correlate very well with quality, though I agree it's something to watch out for.

Thanks a lot! I started writing my Selectorate Theory post 9 months ago and got to 3k words on it, but it was difficult to write and, though I still really wanted it done and published, I lost motivation to write it. So this gave me the push I needed and I can be even more sure now I'm on the other side that it wouldn't have been written without it - even if I came back to it I likely would have left it again after another 3K words or so, which would still leave me at less than half the 14K total it ended up being.

I bookmarked your post to read it slowly! It is not something that you can really read in passing and I would like to make the effort to understand the theory. It might be very long but I think is probably easier and more condensed than reading the original sources, so thanks for that!