I've been wondering about good new topics for LW, and prediction might be one of them.

The effect of the Zika virus-- and human reactions to it-- on birth rates has the combination of being hard enough to be interesting, not being heavily plowed over by partisans, and having a quantitative outcome.

There's a lot of evidence that Zika causes microcephaly, but this isn't confirmed. There's also some reason to think it increases the rate of miscarriages.

Human reactions cover a wide range, including trying to wipe out the mosquitoes, increasing access to birth control, abortions, asking people to put off having children, creating a less-mosquito-friendly environment....

My assumption is that zika will cease to be a serious problem in not too many years, as more women get the disease and acquire immunity before their child-bearing years, but admittedly, this is assuming that zika (or some other disease with a similar infection pattern) is the problem.

Any other good prediction questions?

New Comment
5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:07 PM

I predict that we'll see at least a few Latin American countries relaxing their restrictions on abortion. I'd say that within next five years at least four countries will significantly relax their abortion laws (probability - 55 percent), and within next five years at least one of the countries where abortion is strictly prohibited will make a legal exception for women infected with Zika virus, or a legal exception that covers Zika cases even though it's not worded that way, or de facto legalize abortion in those cases by telling law enforcement to turn the blind eye on hospitals that perform abortions(probability - 80 percent).

Not sure about prediction questions, but here's a tradeoff question: What are the downsides to wiping out mosquitoes as an anti-disease and anti-annoyance practice? Do they prey on something we kind of need? Distribute pollen? Do anything more useful than make going outside at certain times of year a no-go?

Yes, mosquitoes do pollinate and do feed larger animals.

But there are a lot of species of mosquitoes, even a lot of species that feed on humans. If we wipe out a particular species that feeds on humans, it will probably be replaced by another species that feeds on humans and the animals that eat them will adapt. Pollination is usually more specific.

Reducing annoyance means reducing the total population of mosquitoes that feed on humans, at least locally. That would have a bigger consequence for the species that feed on mosquitoes, though I don't know how big.

The main focus for many newer efforts to control mosquitos, especially the efforts focusing on genetically modified vectors, is on temporary local extinction. For many mosquito borne human diseases (malaria, dengue chikungunya....) we, humans, are the only known hosts. Killing all of the mosquitos in an area, allowing all sick/infected people to be treated/recover, then allowing mosquitos to repopulate the area would, in theory, end disease transmission. I don't know if we fully understand the ecologic impacts of something like this but, listening to the experts you hear everything from mosquitos don't matter to dragonflies will go extinct. Hard to parse out the truth.

Most mosquito species don't pray on humans. For anti-disease and anti-annoyance practice we would only need to kill those mosquito species that bite humans.

In additional humanity likely killed a few species with DDT that was used against mosquitos. I think it's plausible that the world loses less species if we would remove the mosquitos that bite humans.

New to LessWrong?