An adversarial collaboration is an effort by two people with opposing opinions on a topic to collaborate on a summary of the evidence. Just as we hope that a trial with both prosecutor and defense will give the jury a balanced view of the evidence for and against a suspect, so we hope an adversarial collaboration will give readers a balanced view of evidence for and against some thesis. It’s typically done for scientific papers, but I’m excited about the possibility of people applying the concept to to less formal writeups as well.
For example, a pro-gun activist might collaborate with an anti-gun activist to write a joint article on the evidence for whether gun control saves lives. We trust each person to make sure the best evidence for their respective side is included. We also trust that they’ll fact-check each other and make sure there aren’t any errors or falsehoods in the final document. There might be a lot of debating, but it will happen on high-bandwidth informal channels behind the scenes and nobody will feel like they have tailor their debating to sounding good for an audience.
I don’t know to what degree true adversarial collaborations are really possible. It might be that people who disagree on high-level issues might not be able to cooperate on a survey of the field at all. But I’d like to find out.
So I’m offering a prize, plus a chance to get the results published on SSC, to any teams (probably of two people each) who want to do adversarial collaborations. If you want to participate, comment on this post with what subject you’d like to work on and what your opinion is on the subject. Or look through existing comments, find someone who has the opposite opinion to you on a subject you care about, and reply to them saying you want to be their foil. After that you can exchange emails and start working.
If at least five teams participate, there will be a prize of $1000 for whichever team I think does the best work. There might also be a prize of $250 for a second-place team if they do exceptionally good work, though I am not promising this. Thanks to everyone who donates to this blog’s Patreon for providing the money to make prizes like these possible. Here are some more rules:
1. You will write an essay summarizing your joint summary of the evidence regarding a controversial topic you disagree on. Strongly recommend that this be a single factual issue, like “Does gun control save lives on net?”, rather than a vaguer moral question like “Guns – good or bad?”, though it can still be a pretty broad topic – I would love to see people write about Caplan’s case against education, for example. Even though most of the examples here are political, this doesn’t have to be; it could involve controversial topics in medicine, history, religion, et cetera.
2. You will write the essay as a united front. Please don’t write “Alice says this study proves guns save lives, but Bob says it’s wrong and this other study proves guns are bad.” Instead you are going to have to come to an agreement on how to describe each study. For example “Here is a study purporting to show that guns save lives. It seems to accurately describe what is going on in rural areas, but it might be of limited applicability elsewhere.”
3. You will come to at least some sort of unified conclusion, even if that conclusion is “There’s not enough evidence in this field to be sure either way and we should default to our priors/biases”.
5. By entering the contest, you are giving me permission to publish your essay on SSC (with full attribution to you, of course). You can also publish it wherever else you want. I will probably publish the winning essay, and I might or might not publish the others depending on how good they are.
6. Because of (5), please don’t research any topic that I would not be able to publish on SSC if you came to a taboo conclusion. If you want to do an adversarial collaboration on taboo topics, you can feel free to arrange it in the comments, but it won’t be considered an official entry, it won’t be eligible for prizes, and I probably won’t post it (I might link it if it’s posted somewhere else). If you’re wondering whether a specific topic is taboo, you can ask.
7. If you’re officially proposing a collaboration or responding to a proposal, please put those comments in bold so people can find them amidst the discussion in the comment section. I may edit the timestamps on comments to bring these to the top, or even to bring the most interesting ones furthest to the top. If you have many opinions you’d be willing to try an adversarial collaboration on, consider posting the one where you disagree most with the SSC consensus, so that you have the most chance of finding a collaborator. If you get many responses, please talk to the people involved, choose one, and mention your choice clearly on the comment so other people don’t keep asking.
8. I’ll update everyone on the next Open Thread about the state of the competition, whether it’s actually going ahead, whether there are at least five teams, et cetera. I’ll also post the closing date by which all entries must be completed and submitted to me by email. Assume for now this will be around July 1, though I’m happy to shift that a little bit if there’s strong demand.