People often parse information through an epistemic consensus filter. They do not ask "is this true", they ask "will others be OK with me thinking this is true". This makes them very malleable to brute force manufactured consensus; if every screen they look at says the same thing they will adopt that position because their brain interprets it as everyone in the tribe believing it.

- Anon, 4Chan, slightly edited

Ordinary people who haven't spent years of their lives thinking about rationality and epistemology don't form beliefs by impartially tallying up evidence like a Bayesian reasoner. Whilst there is a lot of variation, my impression is that the majority of humans we share this Earth with use a completely different algorithm for vetting potential beliefs: they just believe some average of what everyone and everything around them believes, especially what they see on screens, newspapers and "respectable", "mainstream" websites.

This is a great algorithm from the point of view of the individual human. If the mainstream is wrong, well, "nobody got fired for buying IBM", as they say - you won't be personally singled out for being wrong if everyone else is also wrong. If the mainstream is right, you're also right. Win-win.

The problem with the "copy other people's beliefs" algorithm is that it is vulnerable to false information cascades. And when a small but powerful adversarial group controls the seed point for many people's beliefs (such as being able to control the scientific process to output chosen falsehoods), you can end up with an entire society believing an absurd falsehood that happens to be very convenient for that small, powerful adversarial subgroup.

DEFUSING your concerns

This is not a theoretical concern; I believe that brute-force manufactured consensus by the perpetrators is the cause of a lack of action to properly investigate and prosecute what I believe is the crime of the century: a group of scientists who I believe committed the equivalent of a modern holocaust (either deliberately or accidentally) are going to get away with it. For those who are not aware, the death toll of Covid-19 is estimated at between 19 million and 35 million.

Covid-19 likely came from a known lab (Wuhan Institute of Virology), was likely created by a known group of people (Peter Daszak & friends) acting against best practices and willing to lie about their safety standards to get the job done. In my opinion this amounts morally to a crime against humanity.

And the evidence keeps piling up - just this January, a freedom of information request surfaced a grant proposal dated 2018 with Daszak's name on it called Project DEFUSE, with essentially a recipe for making covid-19 at Wuhan Institute of Virology, including unique technical details like the Furin Cleavage Site and the BsmBI enzyme. Note the date - 3/27/2018.

Wait, there's more. Here, Peter Daszak tells other investigators that once they get funded by DARPA, they can do this work to make the novel coronavirus bond to the human ACE2 receptor in... Wuhan, China. Wow. Remember, this is in 2018! Now, DARPA refused to fund this proposal (perhaps they thought that this kind of research was too dangerous?) but this is hardly exculpatory. Daszak et al had the plan to make covid-19 in 2018, all they needed was funding, which they may simply have gotten from somewhere else.

So, Daszak & friends plan to create a novel coronavirus engineered to infect human cells with a Furin Cleavage Site in Wuhan, starting in mid-2018. Then in late 2019, a novel coronavirus that spreads rapidly through humans, that has a Furin Cleavage Site, appears in... Wuhan... thousands of miles away from the bat caves in Southern China where the closest natural variants live, and only a few miles from Wuhan Institute of Virology

... and we're supposed to believe that this is a coincidence? For the love of Bayes! How many times do you have to rerun history for a naturally occurring virus to randomly appear outside the lab that's studying it at the exact time they are studying it? I think it's at least 1000:1 against.

From Twitter:

There are >800 known sarbecoviruses. Only one--SARS-CoV-2--contains a furin cleavage site, as planned for insertion in EcoHealth DEFUSE proposal (P<0.002)

So not only is there a coincidence of timing and location, but also the virus has unique functional parts that occur in no other natural sarbecoviruses?

And they even got the WHO (World Health Organization) to allow them to investigate their own potential crime scene.

How are they getting away with this?

It seems that when Daszak, Fauci and others in the pro-gain-of-function virology community realized that covid-19 might be their own work escaping from the lab, they embarked upon a strategy of Brute Force Manufactured Consensus. They needed people to believe that covid-19 didn't come from their lab, so they just started manufacturing that consensus. And it worked!

Daszak and Fauci organized a letter in The Lancet which condemned any discussion of the possibility that covid-19 might be a lab leak as a "conspiracy theory".  Daszak's name appears as one of the authors. That letter and the aura of officialness granted to it by The Lancet guided the mainstream media to denounce lab-origin theories as conspiracy theories, and that in turn caused most social media sites to ban any content discussing that, and even permanently delete people's social media profiles in some cases.

By 2022, things had calmed down a bit and people started to question whether there was a conflict of interests whereby the authors of the Lancet Letter which claimed that covid-19 Lab Leak theories were silly conspiracy theories might be part of an actual conspiracy to cover up the fact that covid-19 had escaped from their lab. Yikes!

But since then there have been further rounds of Brute Force Manufactured Consensus; for example a NYT article based on a paper by Worobey said that new evidence suggests that covid-19 started in Raccoon Dogs in a wildlife meat market. There are two problems with this: one, it's still an unlikely coincidence that a natural spillover event would just happen to occur right on the doorstep on WIV and right at the point in time when the Daszak/Ecohealth group was working on making a humanized coronavirus. Second, these papers have various fatal flaws, such as drawing heatmaps based on biased sampling - essentially they went and looked for covid-19 RNA around the raccoon dogs and they found it. But they didn't look as much elsewhere - obviously if you look more in one place, you'll find more in that place! But these downgrades to the credibility of the Worobey paper have not been widely reported on.

My personal breaking point on this is that yesterday, 2nd Feb 2024, The Global Catastrophic Risks institute released a report which found that in a survey of 162 "experts", about 80% of them thought that covid-19 had a natural origin.

However, about 80% of these "experts" said that they had not heard of the DEFUSE grant from 2018 that I just showed you above. You know, the one with Daszak's name on it, pictures of flappy bats and a step-by-step recipe for how to make covid-19.

So it seems that Brute Force Manufactured Consensus works on most (but not all) "experts" too. I mean, why wouldn't it? Some guy in 2024 working on his own little subfield of virology or epidemiology has no particular reason to deviate from the New York Times orthodoxy, and this is probably why only 22% of the experts said they had heard of DEFUSE but 33% said they had heard of Hanlen et al, 2022 - which is a fake study that doesn't exist and was inserted to check whether respondents were paying attention.

Now that public attention is off covid-19, the people responsible for it are mounting a perpetual delay-and-denial operation. UNC-Chapel Hill is in the process of hiding key documents which could contain further evidence about covid-19's origins right now. Scientists like Joseph Osmundson seem to think that killing 20 million people with an engineered virus is something to joke about and not take seriously, for example:


Small exchanges like this show the power of social consensus. If you can manufacture the right social consensus, control the key nodes in our social epistemology-plex, you can get away with just about anything and nobody will care, except a few very determined contrarians. But I will not go gentle into that good night.

EDIT, Afterthoughts:

Some people are claiming that there's a separate, honest case that covid-19 is probably a natural virus, so I thought I'd strengthen the Bayesian arguments against a natural origin a bit.

Here's an argument you could have made in early 2020 that covid-19 was not natural (and I did, on Metaculus). Wuhan has a population of 10 million or so, which is about 0.7% of the population of China. It is nowhere near Yunnan. Wuhan is also special with respect to dangerous biological work though, with China's first BSL-4 lab.

"As China's first BSL-4 laboratory put into operation, Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory conducts studies on highly pathogenic viruses. Since January 2018, the laboratory has been in operation for global scientists who wish to conduct scientific experiments on BSL-4 pathogens" *

See also this Nature article from 2017:

Inside the Chinese lab poised to study world's most dangerous pathogens
A laboratory in Wuhan is on the cusp of being cleared to work with the world’s most dangerous pathogens. The move is part of a plan to build between five and seven biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) labs across the Chinese mainland by 2025, and has generated much excitement, as well as some concerns. Some scientists outside China worry about pathogens escaping.

If we search Google Scholar for "Coronavirus China" from 2000 to 2019, the top result is the WIV group. Granted, publicity since then may have boosted the scholar rank for WIV results more than for other groups, and Scholar doesn't allow you to easily see what the results would have been in 2019. But if we add the term "bat" to the search, Daszak, Ecohealth or WIV are included in all 8 of the top 8 results, for example in highly cited pre-2019 papers going back as far as 2007. Then there's this paper by Daszak from 2013 on coronaviruses and the ACE2 receptor which has 413 citations from before the pandemic. 

Also, if we search Google limiting results to before 2019, we get various articles on WIV, Ecohealth and Daszak. There are some other groups who work on this. But the Wuhan/Ecohealth group is the most prominent by a long shot. 

What are the chances that the bat coronavirus which caused a once in a century pandemic managed to navigate its way all the way from a Yunnan cave and home in on the city with the lab having the top Google hits for "Coronavirus China" and also the location of China's first BSL-4 lab? Well, that would be approximately 1 in 200, since that is the fraction of China's population in Wuhan. 

We must also account for the timing here. Each year in the modern period from, say, 1970 until today has a decently large chance of human-animal transmission, perhaps with some bias towards the present due to more travel. But gain of function is a new invention - it only really started in 2011 and funding was banned in 2014, then the moratorium was lifted in 2017. The 2011-2014 period had little or no coronavirus gain of function work as far as I am aware. So coronavirus gain of function from a lab could only have occurred after say 2010 and was most likely after 2017 when it had the combination of technology and funding. This is a period of about 2 years out of the entire 1920-2020 hundred-year window. Now, we could probably discount that hundred year window down to say an equivalent of 40 years as people have become more mobile and more numerous in China over the past 100 years, on average. But that is still something like a 1 in 20 chance that the worst coronavirus pandemic of the past hundred years happened in the exact 2-year window when gain of function research was happening most aggressively, and that is independent from the location coincidence.

For a natural coronavirus century-scale pandemic spillover event to start in the specific location of the first BSL-4 lab and top Google hits for "coronavirus China", and to hit in the 2-year window of gain of function research after the funding moratorium is something like a 1 in 4000 chance; I can see this being knocked down a bit - maybe 1 in 1000 or even 1 in 500, depending on more complicated details of how natural spillovers would actually distribute in space and time. But not lower than that I think.

Another way to look at this is if gain-of-function research is safe and WIV is safe, then we'd typically expect the once-in-a-century pandemic to happen a long time before or a long time after gain-of-function research gets going, and quite a long way away from the biggest lab that does it. Perhaps it would have happened in say Xiamen in 2038.

These arguments are fairly robust to details about specific minor pieces of evidence or analyses. Whatever happens with all the minor arguments about enzymes and raccoon dogs and geospatial clustering, you still have to explain how the virus found its way to the place that got the first BSL-4 lab and the top Google hits for "Coronavirus China", and did so in slightly less than 2 years after the lifting of the moratorium on gain-of-function research. And I don't see how you can explain that other than that covid-19 escaped from WIV or a related facility in Wuhan.

Some of the more involved arguments about enzymes and stuff are pretty neat. But they are more involved, there are more places to go wrong or make a false assumption, and more places for an adversary to mess with the evidence.

One final way to look at this is imagine a time traveler appears to you in the 2000s and tells you that a massive global pandemic caused by a bat coronavirus happens at some point before 2020. If that pandemic is a natural spillover you shouldn't be able to use Google results from 2019 and Google Scholar results from 2019 to predict where and when it will occur by googling the type of virus and the host.  

EDIT, AGAIN: I found one final thing in a twitter thread which is particularly damning - this Nature article from 2015: 

Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research

In an article published in Nature Medicine1 on 9 November, scientists [Zhengli-Li Shi from Wuhan Institute of Virology & Ralph S Baric who is on DEFUSE] investigated a virus called SHC014, which is found in horseshoe bats in China. The researchers created a chimaeric virus, made up of a surface protein of SHC014 and the backbone of a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and to mimic human disease. ... other virologists question whether the information gleaned from the experiment justifies the potential risk. Although the extent of any risk is difficult to assess, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that “grows remarkably well” in human cells. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory” 







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So I would've agreed with you even a month ago, but then I was informed of the Rootclaim debate over the origins of Covid19 with $100,000 at stake. And oh boy, did that debate (and Daniel Filan's helpful coverage!) change my mind on the likelihood of the lab-leak hypothesis. Franky, this is the minimum standard we should've held as to the inquiry of such an important topic as a society. Regardless, it change my mind from about 70% likelihood of a lab-leak to about 1-5%. Manifold seems to agree, given the change from ~50% probability of lab-leak winning to 6%.


EDIT: To clarify, this comment was a recommendation, not an argument. Second, I didn't watch the whole debate. Instead, I watched the opening arguements, snippets of later parts of the debate, and read through Daniel's thread which made sense given the content I had watched. I apologize for not making that clear. Mea culpa. Third, the debate covers the Defuse proposal. [1]

I still recommend looking at parts of the debate (they're handily timestamped!) which consists of written, and verbal segments. Or you can wait until the condensed 2-hour version is released. Either way, the breadth of evidence considered, and the a... (read more)

Regardless, it change my mind from about 70% likelihood of a lab-leak to about 1-5%. Manifold seems to agree, given the change from ~50% probability of lab-leak winning to 6%.

Manifold updating on who will win the debate to that extent is not the same as manifold updating to that extent on the probabilty of lab-leak (which various other markets seem to roughly imply is about 50/50, though the operationalization is usually a bit rough because we may not get further evidence).

Could you please list your relevant object-level arguments for the lab-leak being unlikely?

(Posting a link to an extremely long, almost 17 hours, YouTube debate, and to bets on it based on a judgement of unknown judges, is not very helpful and doesn't itself constitute a strong counterargument to the lab-leak arguments in this post. This is similar to how pointing to the supposed "winner" of a recent AI risk debate isn't a strong argument against AI risk.)

I have only skimmed the early parts of the Rootclaim videos, and the first ~half of Daniel Filan's tweet thread about it. So it's possible this was discussed somewhere in there, but there's something major that doesn't sit right with me:

In the first month of the pandemic, I was watching the news about it. I remember that the city government of Wuhan attempted to conceal the fact that there was a pandemic. I remember Li Wenliang being punished for speaking about it. I remember that reliable tests to determine whether someone had COVID were extremely scarce. I remember the US CDC publishing a paper absurdly claiming that the attack rate was near zero, because they wouldn't count infections unless they had a positive test, and then refused to test people who hadn't travelled to Wuhan. I remember Chinese whistleblowers visiting hospitals and filming the influx of patients.

It appears to me that all evidence for the claim that the virus originated in the wet market pass through Chinese government sources. And it appears to me that those same sources were unequipped to do effective contact tracing, and executing a coverup. When a coverup was no longer possible, the incentive would have been to confidently identify an origin, even if they had no idea what the true origin was; and they could easily create the impression that it started in any place they chose, simply by focusing their attention there, since cases would be found no matter where they focused.

This is my concern. Data from Wuhan in early 2020 is "dirty". It had to pass through Chinese government hands, and then maybe also got filtered by the 2021 WHO investigation which was headed by... well you know who ;-)
But the government would need to have started the coverup while they were suppressing evidence. It's weird to think they simultaneously were covering up transmission, and faking the data about the cases to make it fit the claim it originated in the wet market.
It is weird, but there are two different groups (China, Daszak/Ecohealth) with different incentives. In fact there are more than two different groups - Wuhan local authorities and Chinese central party officials had different incetives. The Chinese initially wanted to cover it up, but they couldn't keep that up forever. Daszak and Echohealth (and likely parts of the US intelligence agencies and military) desperately wanted this to not be a lab leak, as shown by FOIA'd emails from early 2020. So, who faked what? Who molested the data before I get to see it?
Whoever publishes or sends out notices may or may not have others they check with. That's sometimes the local health authority directly, but may go through the national government. I don't know enough about how that works in China to say in general who might have been able to tell Wuhan Municipal Health Committee or WCDC what they were and were not supposed to say when they made their announcements. However, we have lots of information about what was said in the public statements and hospital records from that time, most of which is mentioned here. (You don't need to trust him much, the descriptions of the systems and what happened when are well known.) But data is also disseminated informally through lots of channels, and I don't know who would have been getting updates from colleagues or sending data to the WHO or US CDC.
I see. So the claim is that these early cases were reported via channels that could not have been messed with, and they could not have been cherry picked because it was not known what the disease was. But I suppose it is still possible that maybe these records were actually messed with, or that someone from WIV or SKVL or whatever deliberately infected the market with covid-19 as they knew it would make for a fairly bulletproof cover of an actual leak that they already knew about. Or something else weird like that - maybe intel did it on purpose for some convoluted set of reasons, knowing that it would create an ambiguous situation with some people pointing at a lab leak and some people pointing at the market. Weird things happen in the murky world of human conflicts.
I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm saying it's implausible. (So if this is a necessary precondition for believing in a lab leak, it is clear evidence against it.)
Given that they were already caught in two separate coverups, it is not only not implausible it is highly likely that some kind of cover-up of the early cases was attempted. The only question is whether they succeeded to the extent of making it look like the wet market was the origin.
-4M. Y. Zuo22d
True, but you still need to demonstrate that your suppositions are more credible/reliable/falsifiable/etc... than someone else's suppositions, in this case many someone else's. Which you have not done yet.  Can you write down something actually rock-solid, (that requires more than a few dozen hours to credibly dismiss)?
Credibly dismiss? What?
1M. Y. Zuo15d
If your confused about something in the prior comment, can you specify the exact issue?
  As I said in another comment, that seems very, very hard to continue to believe, even if it might have seemed plausible on priors.
That just shows different intel orgs have different ideas. We know from declassified docs that the spate of UFO sightings in the 1940s and 1950s were caused by various US spy balloon projects, but different parts of the US military and intel are very heavily siloed from each other so even most of the military thought the UFOs were real.
There's the state department's effort to investigate the lab leak hypothesis by building some Bayesian model which was shut down because it might "open a can of worms". From the memo notes: There are also the whistleblower complaints that CIA analysts were bribed to rule against lab leak hypothesis.  The FBI analysts came to a different conclusion than the major US intelligence agencies while probably having similar access to evidence.  There are limits of how much the intelligence agencies can bias the findings by putting pressure on analysts. It seems that they didn't totally rule out the lab leak hypothesis because that would be pretty hard to justify. 
State department isn't part of "US intelligence agencies and military," and faces very, very different pressures. And despite this, as you point out there are limits to internal pressures in intel agencies - which at least makes it clear that the intel agencies don't have strong and convincing non-public evidence for the leak hypothesis.
With the amount of leaking going on, I think it would have leaked if they had picked up through their surveillance efforts acknowledgments of how Chinese leaders admitted a lab leak to each other.  There seems to be some evidence of the unusual activity at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) with reduced cell phone traffic and possible roadblocks as mentioned in the NIH letter to the EcoHealth Alliance. The US intelligence community should have more details about this. There also seems to be some evidence pointing towards three employees of the WIV being hospitalized with COVID-19 before the COVID-19 cases that we publically know about. This evidence seems to be illegally withheld from Congress. I see no reason for the intelligence agencies to violate the law and not disclose that evidence if they aren't interested in discouraging people from believing in the lab leak hypothesis.
Sorry, I'm having trouble following. You're saying that 1) it's unlikely to be a lab leak known to US Intel because it would have been known to us via leaks, and 2) you think that Intel agencies have evidence about WIV employees having COVID and that it's being withheld? First, I think you're overestimating both how much information from highly sensitive sources would leak, and how much Chinese leaders would know if it were a lab leak. This seems on net to be mostly uninformative.  Second, if they have evidence about WIV members having COVID, (and not, you know, any other respiratory disease in the middle of flu/cold season,) I still don't know why you think you would know that it was withheld from congress. Intel agencies share classified information with certain members of Congress routinely, but you'd never know what was or was not said. You think a lack of a leak is evidence that  would have been illegally withheld from congress - but it's not illegal for Intel agencies to keep information secret, in a wide variety of cases.  And on that second point, even without the above arguments, not having seen such evidence publicly leaked can't plausibly be more likely in a world where it was a lab leak that was hidden, than it would be in a world where it wasn't a lab leak and the evidence you're not seeing simply doesn't exist!
I'm not sure what you mean with "known to". There's evidence. If we believe reporting that at least some people within the intelligence agencies who were willing to leak information to Schellenberger/Taibbi believe that this evidence feels conclusive to some members of the intelligence agencies about three WIV employees being ill with COVID but it doesn't seem conclusive to other people. Evidence often is in a form where it looks conclusive to some people but not others, especially when some of the people engage in motivated reasoning.  The COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 puts a legal obligation on the Director of National Intelligence to disclose among other things: The report that was created in response does not provide that information. I think from the reporting we have, we can be relatively certain that the intelligence agencies have reports of three WIV employees falling ill. How strong the evidence happens to be that this was COVID-19 is not publically known but would be publically known if the Director of National Intelligence had followed the law.  There has to be some reason why the Director of National Intelligence decided not to follow the law passed by Congress and release that information in his report. The unwillingness shows that the Director of National Intelligence (as representative of the intelligence communities) is biased. EDIT: According to the State Department:  
Thanks. I was unaware of the law, and yes, that does seem to be strong evidence that the agencies in question don't have any evidence specific enough to come to any conclusion. That, or they are foolishly risking pissing off Congress, which can subpoena them, and seems happy to do exactly that in other situations - and they would do so knowing that it's eventually going to come out that they withheld evidence?!? Again, it's winter, people get sick, that's very weak Bayesian evidence of an outbreak, at best. On priors, how many people at an institute that size get influenza every month during the winter? And the fact that it was only 3 people, months earlier, seems to indicate moderately strongly it wasn't the source of the full COVID-19 outbreak, since if it were, given the lack of precautions against spread at the time, if it already infected 3 different people, it seems likely it would have spread more widely within China starting at that time.
I'm not as familiar with the details but I don't see why a subpoena would have a stronger force of law than the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 when it comes to making information public. If they send a subpoena to the Director of Intelligence a subpoena I would expect him to claim executive privilege. They withheld evidence. The only question we don't know is how strong the evidence they withheld happens to be. Congress specifically wrote the section into the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 because they know that there's evidence about those three employees from the State Department quote from above. Michael Schellenberger et al suggest: This suggests that the evidence was strong enough to convince some of the U.S. government officials with access to the evidence to convince them. According to that article, the three employees of the WIV were not random members of the institute but working on coronavirus gain-of-function. They also seemed to be ill enough to go to the hospital which is not typical with influenza.  That kind of information wasn't in previous government disclosures and wrote the COVID-19 Origin Act of 2023 to make the government disclose it. For some reason, the Director of Intelligence is withholding information for which Congress explicitly asked them. Given that the Director of Intelligence is willing to withhold evidence that Congress can be certain to exist, they might also be withholding pieces of evidence over which we have no clue, and that might be protected enough that the sources with whom journalists talked didn't know either or were unwilling to share.  As far I remember previous reporting was about them being ill in November so not multiple months earlier.
FWIW: in the debate, Rootclaim don't really push the line that alleged evidence for zoonosis is a Chinese cover-up, but mostly take reports as-is, and accept that one of the first outbreaks was at the Huanan Seafood Market. I think in some cases they allege that some cases weren't tracked or were suppressed, and maybe they say that some evidence is faked in passing, but it wasn't core to their argument.

My impression from that is that Peter Miller is engaging in sophistry and is very good at it, and Rootclaim is very bad at debating. But I don't have 17 hours to get into the weeds of that exercise.

Edited: having skimmed the comments section on Manifold which is a lot faster than watching 17 hours of debates, it seems that Miller is just better at rationality than the Rootclaim guy. I don't see anything there to lead me to believe that WIV is unconnected to covid-19, but it looks like Miller has the better arguments and considers things from many angles. 

I think this kind of gladiatorial format is bad for getting at the truth; Miller and Rootclaim should just lay out their arguments in a hierarchical form so it's easy for many eyes to spot the weak points.

9Charlie Steiner1mo
My impression is that this is motivated reasoning. I'm reminded of . Dismissing complicated arguments out of hand, and instead directing attention to a single fact that is either meaningful or a 1 in 100 coincidence, doesn't have a great track record.
It's not 1 in 100, it's 1 in 4000. I do not particularly want to dismiss Miller and Rootclaim's arguments. They have just made it very difficult to see their arguments by burying them in a 17-hour long debate series. My hourly rate is $200. I will accept a donation of $5000 to sit down and watch the entire Miller/Rootclaim debate and write a 2000 word piece describing how I updated on it and why, feel free to message me if you want to go ahead and fund this. Alternatively, once it has been judged I'm sure someone will write it up and I can read that and potentially change my mind. I'm not dismissing the complicated arguments. I'm dismissing a specific highly obfuscated bundle of data unless you pay me to un-obfuscate it or someone else does. I have addressed (some of, but not all) the complicated arguments in the post

I honestly think most people who hear about this debate are underestimating how much they'd enjoy watching it.

I often listen to podcasts and audiobooks while working on intellectually non-demanding tasks and playing games. Putting this debate on a second monitor instead felt like a significant step up from that. Books are too often bloated with filler as authors struggle to stretch a simple idea into 8-20 hours, and even the best podcast hosts aren't usually willing or able to challenge their guests' ideas with any kind of rigor. By contrast, everything in this debate felt vital and interesting, and no ideas were left unchallenged. The tactic you'll often see in normal-length debates where one side makes too many claims for the other side to address doesn't work in a debate this long, and the length also gives a serious advantage to rigor over dull rhetorical grandstanding- compared to something like the Intelligence Squared debates, it's night and day.

When it was over, I badly wanted more, and spent some time looking for other recordings of extremely long debates on interesting topics- unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

So, while I wouldn't be willing to pay anyone to watch this debate, I certainly would be willing to contribute a small amount to a fund sponsoring other debates of this type.

I think it's less your obligation to weed through a 17 hour debate than it is Algon's obligation, who implies he watched the debate, to list here the arguments that convinced him that the lab-leak hypothesis is false.

I think it is Roko's obligation to do a better job of researching and addressing counter-arguments before making a post like this one. It contains absolutely nowhere near sufficient justification for the accusations it is leveling. 

So, from my perspective there are two different issues, one epistemic, and the one game-theoretic.

From the epistemic perspective, I would like to know (as part of a general interest in truth) what the true source of the pandemic was.

From the game-theoretic perspective, I think we have sufficiently convincing evidence that someone attempted to cover up the possibility that they were the source of the pandemic. (I think Roko's post doesn't include as much evidence as it could: he points to the Lancet article but not the part of it that's calling lab leak a conspiracy theory, he doesn't point to the released email discussions, etc.) I think the right strategy is to assume guilt in the presence of a coverup, because then someone who is genuinely uncertain as to whether or not they caused the issue is incentivized to cooperate with investigations instead of obstruct them.

That is, even if further investigation shows that COVID did not originate from WIV, I still think it's a colossal crime to have dismissed the possibility of a lab leak and have fudged the evidence (or, at the very least, conflicted the investigations).

I think it's also pretty obvious that the social consensus is against lab leak not because all the experts have watched the 17 hour rootclaim debate, but because it was manufactured, which makes me pretty unsympathetic to the "researching and addressing counter-arguments" claim; it reminds me of the courtier's reply.

What the social consensus is and why it exists are not relevant to the point I was making. This post is accusing specific individuals of mass murder, claiming they are responsible for millions of deaths. If you just want to say that you don't believe the expert consensus, that's one thing, but that just leaves you in a state of uncertainty. This post expresses a tremendous amount of certainty, and the mere fact that debate was stifled cannot possibly demonstrate that the stifled side is actually correct.  I think it's plausible--perhaps even likely--that the FBI, Secret Service, and various other agencies may have messed up the investigation in to the JFK assassination as well as acted or even colluded with each other to hide their own incompetence at protecting the president and during the aforementioned initial investigation. But this doesn't mean they were the ones who assassinated him!   There is a large amount of material that is publicly available to be analyzed that might weigh on the question of Covid's origins, as well as many arguments one could make. The Rootclaim debate covers much of it, but I'm sure not all. These data could be evaluated. Roko has not done that; the arguments and evidence here and in their other threads is extremely weak compared to the level of confidence that is expressed, or the level of confidence that would be required to level these accusations. Roko has clearly spent a lot of time making this post, his other 2 posts, various comments, and obnoxious comments on the Manifold thread about who would win the rootclaim debate, and has apparently done at least some research to support his claims. But when it's pointed out that his grasp of the facts is lacking, his response is to say "pay me $200 an hour." This is such obviously motivated reasoning that it is frankly an embarrassment for this post to have over 200 net upvotes.  This might have strategic usefulness, but that doesn't mean it's accurate. There are reasons why this vide
Agreed on the second half, and disagreed on the first. Looking at the version history, the first version of this post clearly identifies its core claims as Roko's beliefs and as the lab as being the "likely" origin, and those sections seem unchanged to today. I don't think that counts as tremendous certainty. Later, Roko estimates the difference in likelihoods between two hypotheses as being 1000:1, but this is really not a tremendous amount either. What do you wish he had said instead of what he actually said? As I clarify in a comment elsewhere, I think we should treat them as being roughly equally terrible. If we would execute someone for accidentally killing millions of people, I think we should also execute them for destroying evidence that they accidentally killed millions of people, even if it turns out they didn't do it. My weak guess is Roko is operating under a similar strategy and not being clear enough on the distinction the two halves of "they likely did it and definitely covered it up". Like, the post title begins with "Brute Force Manufactured Consensus", which he feels strongly about in this case because of the size of the underlying problem, but I think it's also pretty clear he is highly opposed to the methodology.
"Brute Force Manufactured consensus is hiding the Crime of the Century (emphasis mine). Although the post contains the statement "I believe" it doesn't really express any other reservations, qualifiers, or uncertainty. It doesn't present or consider any evidence for the alternatives.  It certainly seems like it's supposed to a lot:  If it's not a lot of evidence, then taking this post at face value, what would one conclude is the probability that covid came from a lab? edit: And if it's not a lot of evidence, is it ok to accuse someone of mass murder with that amount of evidence?  Well I think this is pretty wild, but that's beside the point, as this isn't what the post actually says:  It would also be very strange for the post to have a bunch of content which is clearly supposed to be evidence that Covid was, in fact, a lab leak, and not just evidence that Peter Daszak tried to bury evidence if the point is simply that hiding evidence is bad. 
So, in the current version of the post (which is edited from the original) Roko goes thru the basic estimate of "probability of this type of virus, location, and timing" given spillover and lab leak, and discounts other evidence in this paragraph: I don't think that counts as presenting it, but I do think that counts as considering it. I think it's fine to question whether or not the arguments are robust to those details--I think they generally are and have not been impressed by any particular argument in favor of zoonosis that I've seen, mostly because I don't think they properly estimate the probability under both hypotheses[1]--but I don't think it's the case that Roko is clearly making procedural errors here. [It seems to me like you're arguing he's making procedural errors instead of just combing to the wrong conclusion / using the wrong numbers, and so I'm focusing on that as the more important point.] This is what numbers are for. Is "1000-1" a lot? Is it tremendous? Who cares about fuzzy words when the number 1000 is right there. (I happen to think 1000-1 is a lot but is not tremendous.)   1. ^ For example, the spatial clustering analysis suggests that the first major transmission event was at the market. But does their model explicitly consider both "transfer from animal to many humans at the market" and "transfer from infected lab worker to many humans at the market" and estimate probabilities for both? I don't think so, and I think that means it's not yet in a state where it can be plugged into the full Bayesian analysis. I think you need to multiply the probability that it was from the lab times the first lab-worker superspreader event happening at the market and compare that to the probability that it was from an animal times the first animal-human superspreader event happening at the market, and then you actually have some useful numbers to compare.
I would describe that as dismissing counter-evidence out of hand; it's trivially easy to answer the question as stated, even if you don't believe that particular story. In any event, this seems like arguing over semantics. I think that accusing someone of a being responsible for several million deaths requires quite strong evidence, and that a pretty key component of presenting strong evidence is seriously addressing counter-arguments and counter-evidence. None of Roko's posts do that.  Sure. For example, he's making the exact procedural error you describe in your footnote, by failing to consider how likely the genetic evidence is under the lab leak hypothesis, or if any other cities would look suspicious as the starting location of a pandemic, etc. He's failing to apply consistent levels of skepticism to sources. But the biggest issue, in my mind, is still just not giving the question the level of consideration it requires. (I'm drafting an actual post so more detailed object-level arguments can go there when I'm done).  I'm not sure what the point of arguing about the definition of "tremendous" is. If I had written "a lot" instead of "a tremendous amount" would anything substantial change? 
There are two ways I can read this. The first is that when we catch people covering up evidence that points to them committing a crime, we should assume that they're guilty of the underlying crime. That seems pretty bad because it's not necessarily true (altho the coverup is some evidence for it). The second is that you should assume they're guilty of the crime of covering up relevant info, and treat them as such. That does sound right, but it doesn't justify you in talking about the underlying crime as if you know who's guilty of it. I agree that the virology and epidemiology communities didn't watch the rootclaim debate, but I feel like this is jumping to the conclusion that they're gullible, rather than that they're just familiar with a bunch of data and are integrating it sensibly. The main thing that plays against it is low familiarity with the DEFUSE proposal in the GCRI survey, but I think that's plausibly explained by people not having read the whole thing (it's really long!).
I mean a third way, which is that covering up or destroying evidence of X should have a penalty of roughly the same severity as X. (Like, you shouldn't assume they covered it up, you should require evidence that they covered it up.) I think you're pushing my statement further than it goes. Not everyone in a group has to be gullible for the social consensus of the group to be driven by gullibility, and manufactured consensus itself doesn't require gullibility. (My guess is that more people are complicit than gullible, and more people are refusing-to-acknowledge ego-harmful possibilities than clear-mindedly setting out to deceive the public.) ---------------------------------------- To elaborate on my "courtier's reply" comment, and maybe shine some light on 'gullibility', it seems to me like most religions maintain motive force thru manufactured consensus. I think if someone points that out--"our prior should be that this religion is false and propped up by motivated cognition and dysfunctional epistemic social dynamics"--and someone else replies with "ah, but you haven't engaged with all of the theological work done by thinkers about that religion", I think the second reply does not engage with the question of what our prior should be. I think we should assume religions are false by default, while being open to evidence. I think similarly the naive case is that lab leak is substantially more likely than zoonosis, but not so overwhelmingly that there couldn't be enough evidence to swing things back in favor of zoonosis. If that was the way the social epistemology had gone--people thought it was the lab, there was a real investigation and the lab was cleared--then I would basically believe the consensus and think the underlying process was valid.
I'm open to sponsorship to do further research at $200/hr. DM me if you're interested.
This is the kind of thing you do before you make a big post accusing someone of "the crime of the century." I don't know how you even thought this was remotely reasonable. This is basically just Pascal's mugging, except that the worst you can do is harm the reputation of the community... "pay me or I might make really bad posts."
I mean I am responsible for my own thoughts. If I am wrong it is my fault.
2the gears to ascension25d
well your shapley value on your own thoughts is certainly the highest, but others' input isn't zero
I read summaries and watched some of the debate, because I too am lazy. That's why I linked to Daniel Filan's thread on the debate. Also, Peter and Rootclaim are working on a condensed version of the three debates, which should be couple hours long.
I tried to look at Daniel Filan's tweets. The roughly 240 posts long megathread is a largely unstructed stream of consciousness that appears hard to read. He doesn't seem to make direct arguments so much as it is a scratchpad for thoughts and questions that occured to the author while listening to the debate. The mere act of pointing to such a borderline unreadable thread IMHO doesn't itself constitute a significant counterargument, nor does the act of referring to the prospect of a future summary article. Reasonable norms of good debate suggest relevant counterarguments should be proportional in length and readability to the original argument, which in this case is Rokos compact nine-minute post. Again, imagine me making a case for or against AI risk by pointing to a 17-hour YouTube debate and to an overly long and convoluted Twitter thread of the thoughts of some guy who listened to the debate. I think few would take me seriously. I also note that you originally seemed to suggest you watched the debate in whole, while you now sound as if you watched only parts of it and read Daniel Filan's thread. If this alone really got you "from about 70% likelihood of a lab-leak to about 1-5%", then I think it should be easy for you to post an object-level counterargument to Roko's post. (Apart from that, Daniel Filan himself says he is 75-80% convinced of the zoonosis hypothesis, in contrast to your 95-99%, while also noting that this estimate doesn't even include considerations about genetic evidence which he apparently expects to favor the lab-leak hypothesis. He also says: "Oh also this is influenced by the zoonosis guy being more impressive, which may or may not be a bias." Though pointing to other people's credences doesn't provide a significant argument for anything unless there is also evidence this individual is unusually reliable at making such judgements.)
> Reasonable norms of good debate suggest relevant counterarguments should be proportional in length and readability to the original argument, which in this case is Rokos compact nine-minute post. This seems entirely *un*reasonable to me. Some arguments simply can't be properly made that concisely, and this principle seems to bias us towards finding snappy, simplistic explanations rather than true ones. Someone else mentioned 'The Pyramid and the Garden', but I'm reminded of the sort of related argument about Atlantis in : sometimes, boring reality and 'it's actually just a series of coincidences' requires a lot more explaining than a neat little conspiracy theory. Not to tar the lab leak hypothesis by calling it a conspiracy theory- while of course it literally is one, it doesn't deserve to be demeaned by the term's modern connotation of zany insane-person nonsense- but it is easy to see why 'these facts seems unlikely to be a coincidence' might be easier to argue concisely than its rebuttal, and a norm where the person that can state their argument more persuasively in shortform wins doesn't seem like one that's going to promote optimal truth-seeking.
The problem with "lab-leak is unlikely, look at this 17-hour debate" is that it is too short an argument, not a too long one. Arguments don't get substituted by merely referring to them. The expression "the Riemann hypothesis" is not synonymous with the Riemann hypothesis. The former just refers to the latter. You can understand one without understanding the other. On average, every argument gets more indirect the less accessible it is, and inaccessibility is strongly dependent on length, as well as language, intelligibility, format etc. It may be that the 17-hour debate cannot be summarized adequately (depending on some standard of adequacy) in a nine-minute post, but a nine-minute post would be much more adequate than "lab-leak is unlikely, look at this 17-hour debate".
It isn't an argument, it's a citation.  I don't think a 17 hour debate is "inaccessible" to someone who is invested in this issue and making extremely strong, potentially very seriously libellous claims without having investigated some of the central arguments on the question at hand. A foundational text in some academic field might take 17 hours to read, but you would still expect someone to have read it before making a priori wild claims that contradicted the expert consensus of that field very radically. I don't think you'd take that person seriously at all if they hadn't, and would in fact consider it very irresponsible (and frankly idiotic) for them to even make the claims until they had. That's not to say that this debate should be treated as foundational to the study of this question, exactly, but... well, as I said elsewhere: I think that makes familiarising yourself with those arguments (whether from the debate or another equivalent-or-better source) a prerequisite for making the kind of strong, confident claims Roko is making. At the moment, he's making those claims without the information necessary to be anywhere near as confident as he is.
There's a good reason why the foundational text in an academic field would be a text and not a video. Evaluating arguments is easier to do when they are done via text. I don't think anyone has shown that the debate contains specific arguments that Roko is unfamiliar with. 
See: Which to me strongly suggest Roko was unfamiliar with multiple (imo) strong evidence for the zoonosis origin.
Isn't there a transcript? In any case, this seems to be highly subjective, and in my opinion not hugely relevant anyway. To extend the analogy, your expectation of someone's having read foundational texts before making strong claims would hardly be lessened by the objection that the texts were hard to read. Do we need to positively show that? As I mentioned, many intelligent, thoughtful people who were already very familiar with this question and its relevant facts updated significantly based on the debate. And Roko certainly hasn't explicitly addressed all of the arguments therein. Isn't that enough to suggest that he should at least watch it? It's equivalent to watching a season of a TV show- is that really such an onerous requirement for making incredibly strong, potentially libellous claims about a contentious issue with serious real-world ramifications?
No transcript, but the judges have documents where they outline their reasoning: * Will van Treuren's doc * Eric Stansifer's doc
If you watch a debate the way you would a TV show where you aren't critically evaluating everything, that's not a good basis for forming beliefs about the real world.  Youtube videos tend to encourage you to consume them in that way, but that doesn't make it a good epistemic practice and that's part of the reason why scientific debates usually happen in text. 
I watch TV in a pretty focused way where I take things in. But I wasn't suggesting you watch it like a TV show; just that's a similar time commitment (ie not an unreasonable one).
Notes: * Yep, the tweet thread is just me jotting down thoughts etc while watching the debate. * I was 75-80% convinced when I tweeted that, which was before I had finished the debate. After watching the debate, I made a sketchy Bayesian calculation that got me to 96%, but I've since backed off to maybe 66%. * Basically: the key question for me is whether you think one of the first outbreaks of COVID happened at the Huanan Seafood Market. Rootclaim conceded this, and as far as I can tell if this is true then it's dispositive evidence, but I have since began to doubt it. * One thing in favour of my judgements is that I'm at number 5 on Metaculus' leaderboard of how accurate predictors were compared to their peers, altho that mostly comes from predictions made between 2016 and April 2020, when I burnt out from forecasting on Metaculus. * I'm currently in the Diamond league on Manifold, which is much less impressive, and in part driven by my prediction of which way the debate would go.
Oh - it could be that my peer score is artificially high due to using Metaculus back when there were fewer peers who were good at forecasting.
1. Sure, my post doesn't rebut Roko's. It isn't an arguement, after all. It is a recommendation for some content.  2. Yep, I didn't watch the whole debate. I apologize if I gave that impression. Mea culpa. 3. How much you update on the evidence depends on your priors, no? Daniel went from "probably lab-leak" to "probably zoonosis", and I went from "IDK" to "quite probably lab-leak". That is the similairity I was pointint at.  4. I found Daniel's thread helpful after watching some hours of the debate, as he noticed numerous points I missed. Plus, I had watched enough that the rest of the data in the thread made sense to me. So you're right, Daniel's thread probably isn't that helpful. At least, not without watching e.g. the opening arguements by rootclaim and peter miller. 
I don't think someone should need to pay you thousands of dollars to engage with full arguments for and against a proposition before you claim near-certainty about it. It's just sort of a pre-requisite for having that kind of confidence in your belief, or having it be taken seriously. Perhaps particularly when you're not only disagreeing with the expert consensus, but calling that expertise into question because they disagree with you.
5Thane Ruthenis25d
That seems to generalize to "no-one is allowed to make any claim whatsoever without consuming all of the information in the world". Just because someone generated a vast amount of content analysing the topic, does not mean you're obliged to consume it before forming your opinions. Nay, I think consuming all object-level evidence should be considered entirely sufficient (which I assume was done in this case). Other people's analyses based on the same data are basically superfluous, then. Even less than that, it seems reasonable to stop gathering evidence the moment you don't expect any additional information to overturn the conclusions you've formed (as long as you're justified in that expectation, i. e. if you have a model of the domain strong enough to have an idea regarding what sort of additional (counter)evidence may turn up and how you'd update on it).
I would say that it generalises to 'one shouldn't make a confident proclamation of near-certainty without consuming what seems to be very relevant information to the truth of the claim'. Which I would agree with. I think what is missing here is that this debate has been cited repeatedly in rationalist spaces, by people who were already quite engaged with the topic, familiar with the evidence, and in possession of carefully-formed views, as having been extremely valuable and informative, and having shifted their position significantly. I think it's reasonable to expect someone to consume that information before claiming near-certainty on the question.
I'm not sure who you're referring to and can't think of examples, but in case it's me, I wasn't already very engaged with the topic or in possession of carefully-formed views.
The full arguments for a proposition can be arbitrarily long. You have to select a finite subset to even engage with.
This is fair, but as I said elsewhere: The arguments there seem like they have to be worth at least familiarising yourself with and considering before you claim as high a confidence as you are claiming (especially given that most people seem to have been swayed in the opposite direction to your claim). In other words: yes, you have to select a finite subset to engage with, and I think there is good reason to include this debate within that subset.
What evidence do you have for that claim?
For the claim that people generally seem to have updated towards zoonotic origin as a result of the debate? No formal evidence, of course, but do you spend much time on LW/ACX/other rationalist internet spaces? It seems an unavoidable conclusion, if a difficult one to produce evidence of. Only the other day there was a significant debate on /r/ssc about whether the emphatic win for the zoonotic side meant that we were logically compelled to update in that direction, due to conservation of evidence (I argued against that proposition, but I seemed to be in the minority).
Here is the end of a tweet thread with links to all the slides, as well as questions the judges asked and the debaters' answers. IDK if they count as being in a 'hierarchical format'.
Rootclaim sold the debate as a public good that would enhance knowledge but ultimately shirked responsibility to competently argue for one side of the debate, so it was a very one-sided affair that left viewers (and judges) to conclude this was probably natural origin. Several people on LW say the debate has strongly swayed them against lab leak.  The winning argument (as I saw it) came down to Peter's presentation of case mapping data (location and chronology) suggesting an undeniable tie to the seafood market. Saar did little to undercut this, which was disappointing because the Worobey paper and WHO report have no shortage of issues. Meanwhile, Peter did his homework on basically every source Saar cited (even engaging with some authors on Twitter to better understand the source) and was quick to show any errors in the weak ones, leaving viewers with the impression that Rootclaim's case stood on a house of cards. Peter was just infinitely more prepared for the debates, had counterpoints for anything Saar said, and seemingly made 10 logical arguments in the time it took Saar to form a coherent sentence. It wasn't exactly like watching Mayweather fight Michael Cera, but it wasn't not that. Didn't seem a fair fight. 
It seems to me we should have a strong prior that it was lab-produced by the immediate high infectiousness. What evidence does Peter Miller provide to overcome that prior?
1Logan Zoellner17d
Rootclaim's value as a source of truth to me will remain at "essentially zero" so long as they continue to have this on their homepage.

I heard about a practice that people perform the work for which they ask the grant - before the application.

First, because why not to cover my expenditures? 

The second reason is that if the biggest part of the work for the grant is already performed, it is much easy to be sure that the idea will work and much clear what actually write in the grant. Your grant application will look great if it will based on already performed work.

Thus the grant may describe the work they already performed.

(They deny this explicitly. But of course the whole accusation is that they are lying egregiously.)
If they confirm, they will get life in jail or even death penalty, so it may be not surprising that they will deny in any case. 
What makes you think they could get the death penalty? In what jurisdiction, and consequent to what conviction? It doesn't seem likely that they would be convicted of murder if they were doing what was at the time considered normal science, surely, and while I suppose they could get a manslaughter or equivalent conviction via negligence, that wouldn't ever carry a sentence so severe.
If they continued to suppress information, this may contribute to additional deaths and they could know it. In that case they can get first degree murder.
5Michael Roe25d
i will admit that something a bit like this sometimes happens in computer science (grant application to cover the cost of something you've just done; you know it's possible, because you've just done it)   some years ago, I am giving a presentation to some senior honchos from our own Ministry of Defense, and afterwards I get asked about exactly this,. "so,  you're saying it's like how people handled the Five Year Plan in the Soviet Union?" asks military dude who knows about Russia. Me, who knows how the sausages are made in academic research: "Basically, yes." so, maybe. Happens sometimes.   P.S. Was actually MoD, rather than DoD. DARPA principal investigators can also encounter a tough crowd.   P.P.S. And then theres the EU ones, where as PI you get a questioning that feels like a combination of your thesis defense and being audited by the tax authorities, and you gave no idea which type of question might be next,
1Michael Roe25d
Unlike the EU, DARPA is very fond of contract extensions, so you get "ok, we'll pay you to do phase 1 of this, and if it works and we like it we might think about negotiating a contract extension for phase II" ... which possibly reduces the need for PIs to adopt the Soviet Union Five Year Plan strategy, (like, you might really not have done phase I at the point where you're negotiating a contract to do it).
4Michael Roe25d
There is an argument to the effect that if you can write down in advance what you're going to discover by doing an experiment, then it is not, in fact, scientific research....

This is written in a sensationalist style that I find frustrating - especially because in the intro I was beginning to get interested in how you were going to dive into the mechanics of manufactured consensus. I agree that it seems plausible it's a lab leak. However, I would have expected you, of all people, to want to reserve "crime of the century" for a different group of scientists. Small downvote for unnecessarily political-emotionally charged writing, especially when trying to counter existing political-emotionally charged writing. I agree that the intro describes accurately a large part of why I am having this reaction in the way I am, and that ducking under manufactured consensus to discuss this is useful - but I actually think that if we're going to be trying to discuss under manufactured consensus, that it's more and not less important to avoid sensationalism, in order to honor the emotions of people who will feel threatened by thinking they're going to be the odd one out. I mean, like, the ratio of that problem on lesswrong is somewhat reduced, but it's not zero. In any case, I agree that if gain of function research was the cause, it's one of the worst crimes of the past century so far, and that it is plausible. After all, manufactured consensus occurs even when something is true, because outside of certain kinds of scientific communities people have a significant amount of trouble being predictively calibrated at all. Even when they are observing things directly, their views about them tend to be an oversimplified over-weighted consensus.

1John A11d
I'd argue that the covvid cascades were a failure of manufactured consensus. The dynamic Roko described in the intro, people acting upon the perceived acceptability of others, is very similar to the concept that when faced with some novel thing people act based on the actions of those around them. I once read somewhere that the toilet paper hoarding was an example of this. With no idea of how to respond to an epidemic, everyone started doing the first thing they saw others were doing and that happened to be stories of people hoarding tp. Extending that kind of herding behavior to Roko's specific dynamic, one other behavior that gained acceptance as the proportion of individuals who publicly espoused the beliefs was engagement with conspiracy. Now that I'm typing it out I could see this diverging of consensus reality as a sort of "manufactured consensus" as it established the bounds of acceptable discourse, it just doesn't seem to be a very effective one if we're looking at it from the pov of a 'conspiracy of control' from some shadow cabal. It's this lack of effectiveness, in coalescing society to flock in some specific direction to meet a very pressing challenge, that leads me to call it a failure of manufactured consensus.
One death is a tragedy, 27 million is a statistic

I am quite aware of the severity of the harm done by the virus, and if that was caused by gain of function research, that's obviously terrible and an atrocity on the scale of the worst ones of the past century, compare eg colonial starvation of india, holocaust, holodomor, etc. However, I think discussing it in a way that explicitly invites the readers to give themselves time to evaluate the evidence piece by piece will produce better reactions in people who subscribe to consensus. If you simply want to push false consensus in the other direction, sensationalism is appropriate; otherwise, it is not effective.

edit: Roko's reply seems to me to have missed the point, but he's absolutely correct, it's just not related to my point; so, strong agree vote, no karma vote.

Given that only 22% of surveyed experts had heard of DEFUSE, the main barrier may simply be getting any attention on this at all
2the gears to ascension1mo
that's possible. perhaps I will be an outlier.
Well, had you already heard of DEFUSE?
1the gears to ascension1mo
I had not. it's interesting evidence. I can't share this link with people who should hear it because of how they will react, and my comments are about that.

How do we know that this DEFUSE proposal really exists? I've seen some pay-walled articles from (to me) reputable news sources, but they are pay-walled so I couldn't read them fully. The beginning of one says they were released by some DRASTIC group I've never heard of. I would appreciate if you could provide some more direct evidence.

Thank you for answering, I'm sure this will convince a big fraction of the audience!

Maybe, as an European I'm missing some crucial context, but I'm most interested in the pieces of metadata proving the authenticity of the document. I can also make various official-seeming pdfs. (Also, I'm kinda leery of opening pdfs) Do you have, for example, some tweet by Daszak trying to explain the proposal (which would imply that even he accepts its existence) ? (or a conspicuous refusal to answer questions about it or at least a Sharon Lerner tweet confirming that she did upload this pdf)

"Peter Daszak @PeterDaszak Exactly. In fact the DEFUSE grant proposal was based on 10+ yrs of research on CoVs in the lab & in nature, which is why it accurately targeted the viral groups most likely to emerge. But conspiracists should also remember that this was a 'proposal', not a 'grant'."

5Malentropic Gizmo1mo
Ah, very nice, thank you!

A historical analogy might be the assassination of Bardiya, who was the king of Persia and the son of Cyrus the Great. Darius, who led the assassination, claimed that the man he killed was an impostor who used magic powers to resemble the son of Cyrus. As Darius became the next king of Persia, everyone was brute forced into accepting his narrative of the assassination.

Zhao Gao was contemplating treason but was afraid the other officials would not heed his commands, so he decided to test them first. He brought a deer and presented it to the Second Emperor but called it a horse. The Second Emperor laughed and said, "Is the chancellor perhaps mistaken, calling a deer a horse?" Then the emperor questioned those around him. Some remained silent, while some, hoping to ingratiate themselves with Zhao Gao, said it was a horse, and others said it was a deer. Zhao Gao secretly arranged for all those who said it was a deer to be brought before the law and had them executed instantly. Thereafter the officials were all terrified of Zhao Gao. Zhao Gao gained military power as a result of that. (tr. Watson 1993:70)


From Wikipedia.

What is the proper Latin way to name a virus after its inventor? (Coronavirus Daszakis?)

Apparently that is the classical way to do things, though naming stuff after people is no longer done in modern biosciences.

Small nitpick:

Then in late 2019, a novel coronavirus that spreads rapidly through humans, that has a Furin Cleavage Site, appears in... Wuhan... thousands of miles away from the bat caves in Southern China where the closest natural variants live, and only a few miles from Wuhan Institute of Virology

I don't think it's thousands of miles away. The caves where RaTG13 (one of Covids closest relatives and the same virus that was sampled by the Wuhan institute of virology) was first discovered are in Mojiang Hani Autonomous County, Yunnan, about 930 miles away (you can check on Google maps). 

Separately, the bat populations being far away makes sense in the context of "natural origin" theory,  which purports that the virus didn't jump straight from bats but passed first through an intermediate (pangolin or what have you) before jumping to humans. That the bat population isn't in Wuhan doesn't necessarily make it less likely to be natural origin. This might not have been what you implied (though it's how I read it).

In the case of SARS CoV-1, the first case we know of appeared in Foshan. However, the most likely originating bat population reside in a cave 1,000km away (621 miles)

A... (read more)

right, an intermediate host or some other mechanism could have moved the virus a long way before it went exponential. But why to Wuhan, specifically? If the virus moves around randomly, it should appear somewhere at random in a large radius of the animal reservoir, and it's unlikely to make it to specifically the lab where it was being studied!

Isn't the fact that it's the largest wet market in central China relevant here? Surely that greatly increases the chance of it travelling to Wuhan specifically in a zoonotic origin scenario, because animals are brought there from all around.

Got a source for that? My impression of Huanan Seafood Market is that it contained only a very small number of animals that are even potential candidates for the virus, and is mostly fish (seafood). Wikipedia contradicts itself on this, claiming circa 100 animals in one section and then circa 10,000 in a different section. Do you know what is going on here?
My source for that was Wikipedia, which in turn cites this article in the South China Morning Post: Having now actually read the article, I didn't see the claim that it was the largest, so that may actually be made up. But the article does make it clear that there was much more than seafood, with all sorts of animals including foxes, wolf cubs, snakes, hedgehogs, rats, frogs and palm civets.
Exactly. I'm confused why this might make you skeptical when it's generally accepted as having happened with SARS CoV-1. Could you explain? Sure, but this is a separate point. That it turned up in Wuhan beside the WIV is surprising.  That it turned up hundreds of kilometers away from the precipitating reservoir isn't. 
But that's my point. Going so far and turning up AT WUHAN is surprising. There are about 700 million people within that radius of the specific cave in Yunnan. That's 100 times more people than live in Wuhan. So there's a 100:1 update in favor of the lab leak hypothesis. And then there's the timing. How did the virus know to spill over in 2019, just 15 months after the DEFUSE proposal, and not in say the 1990s, or the 2030s? We're already at a 1000:1 based on these two, which is enough to close the case. The fancy stuff about enzymes and stuff is just further icing on the cake.
I somewhat agree with this,  though it's separate from the point I was making.  It seems to me (and I could be misinterpreting you) that in your post, you're suggesting the greater the distance between the cave and the initial site of infection, the less likely natural origin theory is true. I wanted to point out that this is inaccurate. 

It doesn't directly strengthen the lab leak theory: P(emergence at Wuhan & caves distant | leak) is pretty similar to P(emergence at Wuhan & caves nearby | leak).

It does greatly weaken the natural origin theory: P(emergence at Wuhan & caves distant | natural) << P(emergence at Wuhan & caves nearby | natural).

If those are the only credible alternatives, then it greatly increases the posterior odds of the lab leak hypothesis.

Partly disagree - the relevant question isn't distance, it's the amount of wildlife from specific places. New York is further from Atlanta than from Litchfield, CT, but there are more people from Atlanta in New York at any given time. And we know that there's a lot of trade in wildlife in Wuhan from distant places, which is the critical question.
I've always wanted to see some hard data on this. All the wet markets in China and Vietnam, numbers of animals per month, etc. That kind of model would be extremely useful in pinning down just how unlucky an innocent WIV would be.
Looks like such data doesn't exist, and post-2020 wildlife trading ban, new data won't tell us anything about pre-ban conditions - but we know there is lots of cross-border and long distance transport of wildlife. See, for example, this. And elsewhere in Asia, we see similar descriptions of very large volume of wildlife trade over long distances.
Good point! 
I am not suggesting that.
Your post appears to, by repeatedly emphasising the distance in the context of arguing that a zoonotic origin is unlikely.
Why not? Are you pointing at that the relevant factor is "population within that distance" instead of "distance"?
A bit late to the discussion on this point, and way out of my depths. Even so, I am wondering about one aspect here. Rhetorically, you seem to cast the question of why not elsewhere in terms of only some other specific location. Is there a reason why one might not think that rather than some single (as apposed to major) point of origin that a zoonotic transmission might not have multiple points -- with "export" transmissions rates that differ based on local characteristics? Appreciate the post and suspect this is not bad to have a solid debate around. For both the specific of what happened with regard to the pandemic and the whole manufactured consensus aspect -- but suspect the latter might be better explored on its own in terms of how best to prepare oneself to recognize the event and one's own susceptibilities to such events.

If you're interested in the first principles/psychological dynamics that this phenomenon is downstream of is Social Status, well described in Simler's Social Status: Down the Rabbit Hole, and tendency towards excessive self-importance (and the equilibria where we excessively anticipate that excessive tendency in others), described in Carnegie and Gull's post Win friends and influence people: the bombshell.

My model of the US Natsec community's secret activities indicates that they would engage in ambitious suppression of information about lab leak hypothesis, regardless of whether it was true, or their imagining of the odds that it was true or false. This is because:

1) such information, if public, would damage US-China relations, regardless of whether or not it was true. Failing to suppress this information incentivises information operations by third parties who benefit from destabilizing US-China diplomacy, potentially including Russians, North Koreans, or war hawks within the Natsec comminity itself who profit off of worsening US-China relations.

2) Compartmentalization and funding turf wars within the Natsec community can cause information asymmetry and lack of trust between agen... (read more)

Strong evidence against this theory and predictions is the actual statements by intel orgs, which were notably less skeptical than other sources of lab origin.

Since a few people have mentioned the Miller/Rootclaim debate:

My hourly rate is $200. I will accept a donation of $5000 to sit down and watch the entire Miller/Rootclaim debate (17 hours of video content plus various supporting materials) and write a 2000 word piece describing how I updated on it and why.

Anyone can feel free to message me if they want to go ahead and fund this.

I would be very interested to see a broader version of this post that incorporates what I think to be the solution to this sort of hivemind thinking (Modern Heresies by @rogersbacon) and the way in which this is engineered generally (covered by AI Safety is dropping the ball on clown attacks by @trevor). Let me know if that's not your interest; I'd be happy to write it.

That does sound interesting. I think I have a solution.

The post titled "Most experts believe COVID-19 was probably not a lab leak"  is on the frontpage yet this post while being newer and having more karma is not. Looking into it, it's because this post does not have the frontpage tag: it is a personal blogpost. 

Personal Blogposts are posts that don't fit LessWrong's Frontpage Guidelines. They get less visibility by default. The frontpage guidelines are:

  • Timelessness. Will people still care about this in 5 years?
  • Avoid political topics. They're important to discuss sometimes, but we try to avoid it on
... (read more)

Mod here: most of the team were away over the weekend so we just didn't get around to processing this for personal vs frontpage yet. (All posts start as personal until approved to frontpage.) About to make a decision in this morning's moderation review session, as we do for all other new posts. 

FYI: I think it's entirely reasonable to leave this post as a personal blogpost if the LW mod team feel that it is too "spicy" to associate with the LW brand. If in a few years it turns out that the thesis here is proven correct one can discuss how to handle controversial but plausibly true posts.
3Malentropic Gizmo23d
I see, I didn't consider that. Sorry.
LessWrong has been very inconsistent about covid in particular. Just of my own posts: * Nitric oxide for covid and other viral infections (frontpage) * Long Covid Risks: 2023 Update (frontpage) * Home Antigen Tests Aren’t Useful For Covid Screening (personal) * I Caught Covid And All I Got Was This Lousy Ambiguous Data (personal) * Bazant: An alternate covid calculator (personal) * What would you like from How valuable would it be to you? (frontpage) * Long Covid Informal Study Results (frontpage) * Niacin as a treatment for covid? (Probably no, but I’m glad we’re checking) (personal) * The remaining two may be from the period where even highly topical covid posts were frontpaged, due to importance, I forget when that kicked in.  * Long Covid Is Not Necessarily Your Biggest Problem (frontpage) * Exercise Trade Offs [with covid risk] (front page)   I can come up with justifications for any one of these, but I've found no way to make them consistent. The Informal Study post (frontpage) directly fed into the Niacin post (personal), so they either should rise and fall as a unit, or the Informal Study post should be penalized for lack of importance and be the one to stay in personal. Long Covid Risks (frontpage) expires far faster than the Niacin or Bazant Calculator posts (personal)). Bazant Calculator (personal) was strictly more useful and timeless than the request for input on microcovid (frontpage). I Caught Covid... staying on personal is a 100% reasonable call, but other case studies of mine have been frontpaged.  I think inconsistency around covid posts is a mix of changing policy (because covid had an exception to timeless requirements for a while, and importance became a factor for all frontpaging when it hadn't been before), and variation between team members. I find it frustrating, but AFAICT it's not sinister. I'm technically a mod. I do almost no modding but am in the slack and can be sure my complaints will be heard, and they
For COVID in-particular we added a specific threshold that is "yes, this is news based, but important enough that we will frontpage the most important posts in this category anyways". I think we announced it somewhere, let me look it up...  Here is the comment where we announced we would no longer frontpage Zvi's COVID updates:  Here is where Ruby writes about "Long COVID" posts being frontpage:  I feel like I remember a comment or post where we stated publicly we would start frontpaging some COVID stuff, but I can't find it quickly.  In any case, in the domain of COVID the frontpage/personal stuff is particularly confusing.
I think that explains some but not all of the sorting (e.g. the niacin post was partially about long covid, and similar posts about the flu should be and previously have been approved). I think this is probably not worth the effort to fix, which is why I didn't push back. But I do think it's worth making common knowledge of the inconsistency of the sorting process.
Oh, yeah, I totally think what happened here is "we had more rules/guidelines about COVID, which increased the complexity of the rules we had to follow, which caused us to be more inconsistent in applying those rules". I didn't mean to imply that we actually flawlessly followed the rules.
I believe that that is the case and may be appropriate for LW

This isn't anywhere near the only example of this happening. It's just one of the few large examples where it's possible to find enough evidence that people won't just dismiss you as crazy.

 I recall seeing most of this evidence before. It was dumbed on chan boards years ago. They even hacked the Wuhan lab, WHO, and Bill gates, and posted the files for everyone to see. I think some research data was included along with "evidence" of human engineering, but I would have to access illegal data and be competent enough to judge its validity in order to conf... (read more)

I appreciate you writing this post! I was curious about the evidence for lab leak, but was too lazy to investigate on my won.

You point out COVID-19 is the only sarbecovirus with furin cleavage site. But couldn't it have evolved by switching host from some other species? According to Nature, "viruses more often evolve by jumping from one host species to another than by remaining within a particular species."

So the general prevalence of furin cleavage sites seems relevant too. Did anyone look into what that is?

I think it is implausible that an unrelated coronavirus with a FCS would magically make itself very genetically similar to existing sarbecoronaviruses. Of course it could make itself phenotypically similar (like whales are to sharks) but the genome would look very different.
Most very large changes is viral evolution is lateral transfer between viruses, rather than accumulation of point mutations. The better claim would be that this was acquired by a proto-SARS-CoV-2 virus that way, not that it was the result of cross-species changes alone.

Biggest update for me was the FBI throwing their weight behind it being a lab-leak.

But gain of function is a new invention - it only really started in 2011 and funding was banned in 2014, then the moratorium was lifted in 2017. The 2011-2014 period had little or no coronavirus gain of function work as far as I am aware. So coronavirus gain of function from a lab could only have occurred after say 2010 and was most likely after 2017 when it had the combination of technology and funding. 

Ralph Baric's lab was doing work that he thought would fall under the gain-of-function ban in 2014. He published the paper where Fauci said in front ... (read more)

... and we're supposed to believe that this is a coincidence? For the love of Bayes! How many times do you have to rerun history for a naturally occurring virus to randomly appear outside the lab that's studying it at the exact time they are studying it? I think it's at least 1000:1 against.

When I was thinking about this question earlier, I was imagining explaining my reasons to various different people (I think that imagining their response sometimes allows me to come up with counterarguments that otherwise I wouldn't think of). One of the things I w... (read more)

The odds given in the OP are based on 3 coincidences: * Location * Timing * What kind of disease it was Your number is only based on 1 of those coincidences (location).  It is not surprising that the probability of one of those things is higher than the probability of all 3 at once.
"What kind of disease" has Bayes Factor 1. It's exactly the kind of disease that has caused pandemics in the same region of the world within the past 20 years, and which comes from the kind of wild animal trade that has been known to be happening in Wuhan for years. I discussed this in the very next paragraph.  The timing is given by such a weak argument that I did ignore it, yes. WIV has been studying bat coronaviruses for years, and probably will continue to do so for years, and the only thing to tie it so closely in time is a rejected grant proposal that emphasized having the actual work done at UNC.  Actually, I think timing is actually evidence against the relevance of the grant proposal. I don't think they could have done anything like creating Covid (which, based on everything I've heard, would have required vastly new and different techniques from what existed in 2018, and which is several thousand mutations away from the nearest known natural virus) in a year and a half.
This was in a section of the OP marked as an edit, so it's possible this level of detail wasn't there the first time you looked: Note this reasoning does not rely on the grant proposal. You appear to have more knowledge of virology than I do, but this is far too implausible (on my model) for me to believe it merely because you declared it.  I've heard of many plagues that were not bat coronaviruses.  Your prior on the next naturally-occurring pandemic being a bat coronavirus cannot plausibly be ~100% unless you know some hitherto-unmentioned information that would be very startling to me.
I did see this, but didn't find it convincing. China has become substantially more urban, more interconnected, more populous, and more connected to the outside world even over the past 10 or 20 years. A claim like this requires substantially more thorough analysis. And, again, is it reasonable to start researching and make COVID in the ~2 year time window given? Like suppose covid started 1 month after this moratorium was lifted, would we just say the probability is 2/1920? I think that whatever the next pandemic out of Southern or Central China or Southeast Asia is, the WIV (or some other lab in the region) is extremely likely to have a sample of a related virus and studied it. Sars-Cov-2, as the name might imply, is closely related to the Sars-Cov-1 1 pandemic of 20 years ago; as far as I know, the original reservoir animal of neither virus has been conclusively identified, although bats are the most obvious candidate.  Scientists have been identifying this region, specifically wet markets, as a likely source of viral pandemics, particularly from bat coronaviruses, for years. This is the exact region of the world they come from. I'm not an expert on virology, but the exact market in Wuhan where the first cases all cluster was identified as a likely place for a pandemic to start in 2014: I'm somewhat surprised that you're so skeptical of this; I don't think anyone was ever in doubt that bat coronaviruses spilling into humans in Southeast Asia this part of China has been considered a likely problem for a long time. 
Your first comment seemed to take the position that the OP's number was not merely different from yours, but indefensible, and you gave a lower bound for a defensible prior that was 1.4x higher than the number you were complaining about. I feel like you have softened your position to the point where it no longer supports your original comment (from "timing is not even a consideration" to "this timing argument is less thorough than I think it ought to be").  If this is because you changed your mind, great!  If not, then I'm confused about how these comments are meant to be squared. Are you claiming the timing argument is so weak that no reasonable person could possibly estimate its Bayes factor as >1.4?  I don't feel like you've come close to justifying a claim like that. I have no idea!  What's your 90% CI for how long it would take them, and what evidence are you relying on for that? I previously thought you were claiming "the unconditional probability of a naturally-occurring pandemic to be a bat coronavirus is ~1".  This claim differs from that in several ways.  Thank you for clarifying! Making the probability conditional on location of origin:  Absolutely fair, we already accounted for the improbability of the location.  I missed this. On the category of the disease we are matching:  "bat coronavirus" may be too narrow (though I got that phrase from you), but "have a sample and have studied it" seems too broad.  What's your probability if we change that to "are currently performing gain-of-function research on it"? (I also notice your claim is phrased such that it presumes any pandemic will be caused by a virus, but I'm assuming that was accidental and your claim generalizes to all vectors.) "This is likely to happen" and "there's approximately a 100% chance that the very next problem in this general category will be this" are not the same, and are not close to being the same.
Roko gave a fairly high-level argument that didn't dive too much into the details. I don't believe it is possible for such an argument to reasonably give a probability of "at most 1/1000" that we see what he described with no lab leak. The location and type of disease make a great deal of sense for zoonosis and the timing factor is quite complicated--simply putting a uniform distribution over 80 years is not remotely valid.  It might be possible, with detailed argument and actual data, to come to the conclusion that the level of evidence from these factors gives a Bayes Factor of 1000 or more in favor of lab leak. I don't think it's likely, but it is at least complicated enough that I won't say for sure it's impossible.  I don't know. What I do know is that many relevant experts are skeptical that Covid could have been "created" in a lab, or if possible, think that it would have taken a very long time, and this does not seem to have changed from this old reddit post: to the recent Rootclaim debate. It would be theoretically possible that the WIV figured a bunch of things out that no one else knew, and kept them secret, but this of course has to be argued for and put a probability on before you can use it to generate any Bayes Factor at all. It's the responsibility of the person saying that the timing provides strong evidence to demonstrate that.  Sorry for not being clearer on this. I can't remember if I emphasized this above, but I don't think the pieces of evidence that Roko mentions in this post are independent, so A) actually analyzing them is kind of hard, and B) you can't just multiply the numbers together.  I have no idea, probably pretty low. But that's because we don't actually know that the WIV is performing "gain of function research" or how closely related the viruses it worked on were to Covid. The closest viruses that we know the WIV had sampl
I'm trying to get better at noticing when the topic of a conversation has drifted, so that I don't unwittingly feel pressured to defend a position that is stronger, or broader, or just different, from what I was trying to say. I was originally trying to say:  When you said Roko's number implied he thought people in Wuhan were less likely than the global average to be patient zero in a pandemic, I think that was an important misrepresentation of Roko's actual argument. I notice that we no longer seem to be discussing that, or anything that could plausibly change anyone's opinion on that.  So I'm going to stop here. (I'm not necessarily claiming this is the first point in this conversation where I could have noticed this.  Like I said, trying to get better.)
Ok. I don't think that Roko necessarily thought of the situation that way; rather, I thought if it as a way to contextualize what a 1:1000 probability of a natural bat coronavirus pandemic starting in Wuhan meant. 
You heavily implied that Roko had assigned that probability to that event, and that implication is false.

A bit off-topic, but one of my favourite positions is the "which cultural mores could allow this to happen?" angle. To get a feel for that you've got to think about what role vaccines play. They're part of health infrastructure and a matter of economic security, so enemy nations work hard to undermine these systems. An outbreak of measles and a load of blindness in the West would be great news for, say, Russia, so they spend to attack Western vaccination programmes. We do similar things like ship heroin from Afghanistan into Russia, while China floods West... (read more)

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