In a polarized political environment like the US, ideas that start out neutral often end up aligned with one side or the other. In cases where there's an important idea or policy that's currently neutral, and multiple potential implementations that are also neutral, it would be much better to get polarization around which implementation to choose than on the core idea. Is there anything we can do to make this more likely?

Let's look at an example where this didn't happen: covid vaccination in the US ended mostly liberal-aligned. This was pretty unfortunate: the vaccines are very effective against death, and a lot of people died essentially because they had the bad luck to be part of a constituency that ended up opposed to them. This could have gone the other way: Operation Warp Speed came very close to getting out a vaccine before the 2020 election, there was a lot of talk among liberals about how they didn't trust a rushed Trump vaccine. If vaccination had ended up conservative-aligned instead, though, we'd have had the same downsides in the other direction; not an improvement.

But what if somehow we'd ended up with the mRNA vaccines (new, progress) as liberal-aligned and the adenovirus ones (traditional, reliable) as conservative-aligned? With vaccines for both sides of the political spectrum we'd likely have seen a lot more adoption and fewer deaths.

Or consider germicidal UV-C light, which is potentially valuable in reducing risk from future pandemics because it can purify air without noisy fans. There are two main approaches:

  • Upper room: shine it well above people's heads. Since it's not hitting people it's ok to use frequencies and levels that would be bad if they. This is the traditional approach, which pre-covid was mostly only still used in special-purpose medical settings like TB wards. Sometimes called "254" because that's the peak frequency low-pressure mercury lights produce, though if we were deploying this widely we'd probably use LEDs around 265nm.

  • Whole room: shine it down from the ceiling. You can't do this with 254nm, but with higher frequency light like 222nm (from KrCl) it should be safe to shine on people. Needs more research, but very promising.

It would be unfortunate if UV-C in general ended up politically aligned, where a large portion of the country wouldn't use it. But if, say, upper-room ended up conservative-coded (cost-effective, reliable, strong track record) and whole-room ended up liberal-coded (innovative, strategic investment will bring down cost, marginalized groups are more likely to have lower ceilings where 254 doesn't work) that would be a lot better. I'd love to see the debate:

D: Recent advances in science have given us a new weapon in the fight against disease: 222nm. This promising new technology can safely and effectively inactivate viruses and bacteria in the air and on surfaces. Putting 222nm to work in our schools, restaurants, businesses, and churches can help ensure we're ready for the next pandemic while protecting us from the seasonal infections that kill far too many of our vulnerable every year. By investing in innovation and the technologies of tomorrow, we stand poised to revolutionize public health for the better.

R: My opponent would rather sell you on science fiction fantasies than deploy the practical solutions we have right now, preferring utopian dreams over hard facts. They want to invest your money the pie-in-the-sky vaporware of 222nm, when 254nm is ready to fight for us today. The truth is 254nm is cheap, it's safe when used properly, and it's proven to work.

Or imagine if nuclear power had liberals advocating for large-scale thorium molten salt reactors (lower risk than currently operating plants, less waste, don't produce material usable for weapons) while conservatives advocated for small modular reactors (flexible, resilient, building them in low cost-of-living areas means more jobs in red states).

Now, you can't just choose how issues end up aligned; politics isn't an entertainment program where the same script writers are choosing what each side will push, or a system where the leaders of each side secretly meet to decide who'll get to advocate what. But if there are things you can do that make this kind of alignment more likely I think this is worth thinking about.

The main thing that comes to mind is leaving openings for your opponents to agree with you on the main issue while strongly opposing you on the specifics. You pick the solution you think is best and push it hard. Don't talk about how other solutions might also be good, and if you're asked about them point out they ways they're not as good. Leave the field open and people on the other side may see their opportunity. Or they may not, or may disagree for other reasons: this doesn't seem like the kind of strategy you can count on.

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In modern politics, simple messages tend to work a lot better than nuanced ones (which is a thing that Donald Trump masterfully exploited). "X is good/bad" is a much simpler message than "X is good, but only if it's X1, and not X2" and having primary opponents claim "By supporting X, [politician] argees with the evil other-siders in their support for X2! [Politician] is an our-sider-in-name-only!"

Lots of people did assert that adenovirus vaccines were old-fashioned. But this is false. The first such vaccine was approved in 2019 (maybe a more appropriate comparison date is is 2015). I am skeptical of trying to manipulate lies, even if it is easy to predict that people will ultimately believe many falsehoods.

Note the tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Germans who got the illegal Stöcker vaccine, a recombinant protein vaccine, that is, a 20th century vaccine, an actual old-fashioned vaccine. Were they just opposed to government sanction, or did they care about how old the techniques were and would have gotten the Novavax vaccine, had it been available? Maybe a better strategy would be to encourage actual diversity.

I recently went to a public space that advertised that its escalator handles were disinfected by UVC. Focusing on marketing can produce the worst of both worlds.

Viral vector vaccines aren't old fashioned, I agree, but they are an older technology. We've been playing around with them since a least the 1980s (summary). You're right that the first one to get US approval wasn't until 2019, but a lot of that was the FDA moves very slowly when it doesn't have a reason to move quickly (well, and still pretty slowly even when it does). As of the beginning of covid I'd say viral vector vaccines had a ~20y head start?

Not sure what level of playing around you're talking about, but there was also research on mRNA therapeutics as early as the late 1980s.

Right, Wikipedia cites a 1972 paper using viruses to deliver DNA, but no vaccine until 1984. Whereas, mRNA in lipids went from delivery in 1989 to a vaccine in 1993-1994. So twenty years on one metric, but ten years on another metric that probably screens off the first one by virtue of coming later.

But that's just playing around. Obstacles artificially created by the FDA are real obstacles. To the extent that the vaccine-hesitant mean anything by "old-fashioned," they mean large scale experience in humans. More people received vector vaccines in the Oxford trials than in all deployment before. If you want to know about Bell's palsy, that's the only way to find out. On the other hand, if you want years of follow-up, a 2015 trial of vector vaccines could have been an big advantage over mRNA vaccines, although I don't know if they actually followed up after years. With no placebo group, it's not clear what analysis they could make.

You may be right; I'm not very knowledgeable here and digging deeper into this isn't something I'm going to be able to do very well.

For the point I was trying to make in the original article, it seems like your other vaccine examples would have been better.

Upper room: shine it well above people's heads. Since it's not hitting people it's ok to use frequencies and levels that would be bad if they.

What about reflected light?

Most surfaces aren't very reflective in this range. When installing upper room UVC, though, you use a meter to confirm the levels at head height are low enough to be safe.

My vague impression is that for a while the US did have something like starting under FDR, but it broke in the post-Nixon era when politicians stopped being able to collude as well.

Interesting! Can you give any examples of historical policy positions that had a pre-arranged division?

This sounds really nice, but there are also foreign actors on internet, who are not interested in having Americans choose between two good options.

Even if you had a think tank for inventing pairs of good solutions like this, with a public Republican puppet and a public Democrat puppet, telling people to use classical/mRNA vaccines, I think that many people would still go antivax / ivermectin, because this is what the "contrarian" parts of the internet told them. But maybe those would only be a fringe minority.

I have no experience in politics, so I have no idea how much politicians can convince their voters about things, versus politicians merely publicly adopting things that the voters already believe.

Don't talk about how other solutions might also be good, and of you're asked about them point out they ways they're not as good.


Hmm, dictation typos

Fixed! While I still use dictation a lot that was a traditional typo.

I can't imagine the people who run this country being smart enough to actually understand the details of any of these controversies, much less take sides on them.