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Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition

by Ben Pace2 min read21st Oct 202033 comments

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On Sunday 1st November at 12 pm PT, Divia Eden, Anna Salamon, Zvi Mowshowitz, Oliver Habryka and I (Ben Pace) are hosting a Town Hall at this Zoom link, for rationalists to share models of the ongoing pandemic and how we’re responding to it.

Topic of the Town Hall

We’re 8 months into a global pandemic, and there’s much to discuss, such as:

  • What are the likely trajectories for the pandemic to take over the next year?
  • What personal risk-avoiding measures should people be taking?
  • How is the pandemic affecting the rationality community?
  • What have rationalists done in response to the pandemic?

We will give some prepared thoughts, but we’re interested in hearing from many others in and around the rationality community about their thoughts, updates and plans.

It’s also the US election 2 days after the event. Several people have discussed tail-risk outcomes post-election, so it seems like a natural time to bring that up, get some clarity over the concerns, discuss whether they’re worth preparing for and what any such preparation would look like, so there’ll be some discussion of this towards the end of the event.

Who should attend? And how do I take part?

This is an event for the LessWrong and rationality community and those around it. You are welcome to attend even if you do not think of yourself as 'a rationalist'. For example, if you nonetheless care about the community, or think you may find the discussion personally valuable.

The majority of content during the Town Hall will be determined by the discussion here. If you have something you’d like to contribute to the Town Hall, please write it as an answer to this post. It could be something you’d like to let everyone know about, a question you’d like to see answered by the panel, or an issue you’d like to raise to the community.

A week from today, on Wednesday 28th October at 13:00PM (PT), the hosts will pick the speakers and topics for the event, informed by the Answers on this post. For a number of thoughtful and/or highly-upvoted submissions, we will invite the authors to speak at the event and take questions.

Most people will not get a chance to speak during the Zoom call. If you would like to talk further after that the Town Hall, the LessWrong Walled Garden will be open until 4pm (PT) for people to continue discussion, and many of us will be there to talk with.

Please RSVP with this Google Form, and/or sign up to the Facebook event so we know how many people to plan for.

Details

When? Sunday November 1st, 12:00PM (PT) to 14:00PM (PT)

Where? Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82465740322. After the Town Hall, discussion will continue in the LessWrong Walled Garden until 4pm (PT).

RSVP? It would help us if you RSVP's using this Google Form and/or with this Facebook event so we know how many people to plan for.

Advice for video calls? Aim for these three things:

  1. Be in a space without other people (to reduce background noise)
  2. Use headphones (so there's no audio feedback)
  3. Use a headset mic (to help block out ambient noise)

For more advice see Ben Kuhn's Tips for the most immersive video calls.

Update from Ben

Alright! I'll see you all at 12 noon.

The plan is:

  • Zvi will give a presentation on Covid updates over the course of the pandemic, followed by Q&A.
  • Then we'll have a more open discussion, framed around questions and comments from the attendees via the chat, involving me, Zvi, Divia, Anna, and Habryka and more.

For the latter part, I'll be taking a lot of discretion (semi-dictatorial) with managing who's talking and who isn't (i.e. around choosing when people's mics are on and off) because I've never been part of this kind of event with somewhere around 100 people on a Zoom call, and we'll be figuring it out as we go.

I think we can have a fairly real group conversation, but please bear with us as we figure out the conversational norms for an event this large.

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5 Answers

Is anyone taking the perspective that extreme lock down for >6 months is worse than the slight chance of permanent disability and death?

I have a social bubble that’s about 100 people which still represents social distancing via a 95% reduction in my real social interactions. I have hosted multiple outdoor parties confirmed as not super spreading events, including one favorably reviewed by the lead contact tracer for San Mateo County. I regularly get food delivery and eat in outdoor restaurants. I’ve been to the Black Rock Desert for four weekends this year. Eating inside a restaurant in a Vegas casino and transiting the Grand Sierra Casino in Reno to a hotel room have felt like the riskiest things I have done this pandemic and are around the level of things I regret doing.

I’m happy to be the punching bag for the fatalistic perspective that the cure is worse than the disease given how much we now know about the disease, but it seems like this perspective should be represented.

I also likely had “asymptomatic” covid in early February and took an experimental therapeutic/vaccine about a month ago that may provide me with another six months of immunity or resistance.

Realistically I’ll have difficulty making this event because I’m cleaning up an all night Halloween party in rural California with no 4G and spotty 3g, if you moved it to Monday or Tuesday on my account I could definitely attend.

FWIW I am pretty interested in having this question explicitly discussed.

4adamzerner1moRelated: We Are Over Preventing Covid [https://www.overcomingbias.com/2020/10/we-are-over-preventing-covid.html] by Robin Hanson.

I'd like to spend a little time acknowledging good projects executed and work done by rationalists in response to Covid. Here are some that come to mind, but it's definitely not all of them, can people help me add to the list?

Want to just give credit to all the non-rationalist coauthors of microcovid.org! (7 non-rationalists and 2 "half-rationalists"?)

I've learned a LOT about the incredible power of trusted collaborations between "hardcore epistemics" folks and much more pragmatic folks with other skillsets (writing, UX design, medical expertise with ordinary people as patients, etc). By our powers combined we were able to build something usable by non-rationalist-but-still-kinda-quantitative folks, and are on our way to something usable by "normal people" 😲.

We've been able to get a lot more scale of distribution/usage/uptake with a webapp, than if we had just released a spreadsheet & blogpost. And coauthors put everything I wrote through MANY rounds of extensive writing/copy changes to be more readable by ordinary folks. We get feedback often that we've changed someone's entire way of thinking about risks and probabilities. This has surprised and delighted me. And I think the explicit synthesis between rationalist and non-rationalist perspectives on the team has been directly helpful.

3Ben Pace1moThat's all awesome to hear :)
4Ben Pace1moAlso several other LW posts I found personally useful, including: * Bucky on the growth rate [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/KJBQ7GiyvFTBnSEEC/growth-rate-of-covid-19-outbreaks] * Jacobian giving people permission to prepare [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/5okDRahtDewnWfFmz/seeing-the-smoke] * Discussion of masks on LW [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/7K8fSFTnpfN4EBuZ8/how-useful-are-masks-during-an-epidemic] and SSC [https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/03/23/face-masks-much-more-than-you-wanted-to-know/] * Jim and Elizabeth's analysis of the CDC [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/h4vWsBBjASgiQ2pn6/credibility-of-the-cdc-on-sars-cov-2] gave me a bunch of data about how the CDC operated and how much to rely on them There's more at the Coronavirus tag page [https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/coronavirus].

I heard someone wanted to know about usage statistics for the microcovid.org calculator. Here they are!

 

2Ben Pace1moThat's great, thanks!

I would like to ask the panel:

How would you design a study in order to confirm whether or not there are long-term consequences after recovering from COVID-19?

Nothing I have seen so far seems convincing. 

I found this paper on a long term followup of SARS recoveries: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/415378

Naturally, not enough time has passed to do a similar follow up. 

6Kevin1moIt’s important to sample people from all severities of COVID-19 include “asymptomatic”. It seems likely that the mildest cases of COVID-19 come with no long term disability and that of course being intubated for a month on a cocktail of fentanyl, propofol, and valium comes with serious long term consequences. The question then is how severe and likely are chronic health problems of young to middle aged vitamin d sufficient people that experience Covid-19 with severity somewhere between a regular cold and flu.
2Ben Pace1moMoved to answers, seem like a fine question to ask.

I'd like to hear discussion of which COVID-related metrics are most useful for making personal risk decisions. Daily new cases per capita? Death rates? Test positivity rate? R0? Obviously, the right risk tradeoff will vary with a person's location (not to mention circumstances, values, etc.) so it would be very useful to have a better understanding of how to measure how bad the pandemic is in my area.

And I hope people from California or NYC will keep in mind that their governments are much, much stricter than most in the U.S.

2Ben Pace1moMoved to answer, is fine to make this request as an answer for people to vote on interest (you don't have to talk about this, it most just increases the likelihood Zvi will talk about this).
1Zian1moWhy do you think California is unusually strict?
4Kevin1moThe culture of local areas here varies enormously in California. Rural California is full of anti mask Republicans and indoor dining is open. I ate inside of an empty French Chinese restaurant in Contra Costa County two weeks ago. Parties on the delta have been wilder than ever over the course of the summer because there was nothing else to do. In SF and Berkeley, people give you weird looks for not wearing a mask, in Oakland outside of the hot spots people don’t really care. Politics towards strict lockdowns seem to overlap pretty strictly with liberal social justice advocating attitudes.
1remizidae1moI'm not an expert because I don't live there, but my understanding is California's initial stay-at-home order was exceptionally strict, and indoor social gatherings are STILL banned, with outdoor gatherings subject to tight rules. Indoor restaurant dining is also banned in some places, and masks outdoors are required. My guess would be that California is in the top three states, possibly the top one, as far as strictness goes. https://covid19.ca.gov/stay-home-except-for-essential-needs/
16 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:13 AM

Sunday November 1st, 12:00PM (PT) to 14:00PM (PT)

Can you please give the time in UTC? I don't trust myself to figure out whether daylight savings time applies to you.

The Facebook event page gives the time as 9 PM UTC – 11 PM UTC.

Currently for me it says 20:00 UTC - 22:00 UTC, and I think that's correct as California left DST this morning.

Yeah sorry, was hard to communicate around the daylight savings time shift that happened last night.

It's happening in 1 hour and 9 mins.

I'd like to see discussion on how a persons behavior should change after they have had covid, how much should we trust that immunity.

Six month immunity is well supported, twelve months is probably significantly too long.

Whoa, that's surprisingly specific! How do we know it's shorter than 12 months? Do we know many cases of reinfection?

What about cross-strain immunity? And how well do we know how many different strains there are, which of them are circulating where, different outcomes etc?

Alright! I'll see you all at 12 noon.

The plan is:

  • Zvi will give a presentation on Covid updates over the course of the pandemic, followed by Q&A.
  • Then we'll have a more open discussion, framed around questions and comments from the attendees via the chat, involving me, Zvi, Divia, Anna, and Habryka and more.

For the latter part, I'll be taking a lot of discretion (semi-dictatorial) with managing who's talking and who isn't (i.e. around choosing when people's mics are on and off) because I've never been part of this kind of event with somewhere around 100 people on a Zoom call, and we'll be figuring it out as we go.

I think we can have a fairly real group conversation, but please bear with us as we figure out the conversational norms for an event this large.

FYI, the Facebook link doesn't work. You might need to make the event public.

Thanks, was an old FB link.

I really would have loved to attend, but won't be able to make it at that time. Will you (with permission of the participants, I imagine) record the meeting, or maybe write some possibly anonymised summary of the discussion after?

Thanks!

I think this time I will probably not record it, while we're getting used to it all, because on the margin people don't feel comfortable being videoed. But probably we'll make some notes in a google doc during it that can be shared.

Out of interest, can you not make it because of time zone or because you're generally busy Sundays? 12-2 PT is the time I always pick when I want something to work internationally, so am interested to know why people can't make it.

I am not able to make it because of a one-off other appointment (a flight, actually). So I don't think this is very informative for the sake of planning. Usually my Sundays are unclaimed.

Halloween night is the biggest party night of the year in the SF Bay Area and it’s on a Saturday night this year.

Makes sense! Will make an extra effort to cause notes to get taken then.