Chris Harmer

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Do you have any additional information here? Do you know which it was?

 

Based on what Cummings said, I believe the team survived his departure.

As ChristianKl suggested, I wish I'd made notes when listening to it. I've since thankfully found a transcript of the evidence. My beliefs about the team he assembled are based largely on:

  • A recruitment drive (02 January 2020) on his blog, which looks like the work of someone who took Inadequate Equilibria seriously:

"‘This is possibly the single largest design flaw contributing to the bad Nash equilibrium in which … many governments are stuck. Every individual high-functioning competent person knows they can’t make much difference by being one more face in that crowd.’ Eliezer Yudkowsky, AI expert, LessWrong etc."

"I don’t want confident public school bluffers. I want people who are much brighter than me who can work in an extreme environment. If you play office politics, you will be discovered and immediately binned."

"People in SW1 [centre of London] talk a lot about ‘diversity’ but they rarely mean ‘true cognitive diversity’. They are usually babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’. What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity."

 

(I'm not happy with these quotes; I tried to find statements representative of the whole, but failed. To summarise, he's looking for multidisciplinary talent in a range of areas which look promising to a layman rationality enthusiast.)

 

  • The following quotes from Cummings' testimony:

06:08.56-06:09.15 "The heart of the problem was, fundamentally, I regarded him as unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes, and he had the view that he was Prime Minister and I should just be doing as he wanted me to, and that's obviously not sustainable for very long."

06:14.26-06:14.42 "My goal in January was to try and recruit a whole bunch of people who were much smarter than me and much better able than me to deal with government problems so that I could make myself redundant, which I said publicly, and which I believed."


Q963: "After the election, I hired a guy, a physicist called Ben Warner, and brought him into No. 10 to try to start to build a proper data and analytical office in No. 10. Because one of the great problems that No. 10 had in 2019 when I was there was a huge lack of those kinds of skills."

Q1154: "The data team did not really exist in February/March, it was Ben Warner, but by now, there was a really, really good team of a mix of officials and SPADs in No. 10. They crunched all of these numbers with SAGE data and other stuff over that weekend. Then on the Sunday evening there was a meeting with a combination of SAGE scientists and some external people."


Q1154: "We set it all out to the Prime Minister. Remember, there is a huge contrast at this point with what I was describing in March. In March, there was no testing data, no proper data system, me with an iPhone scribbling things on a whiteboard. By now, we have got a completely professional team, really on it, and they had all the testing data and all the NHS data. It is all really clear. They set it all out."

Ah, thank you. I was unaware.

 

I've been thinking about the Cummings testimony for a while, considering whether to draw attention to it. I've been (unwisely) seeing all recent UK Gov. activity through that lens.

The UK Government apparently has a small team of PhDs tasked with translating complicated papers and other data for the leadership. This team was assembled by rationalist-adjacent Dominic Cummings, who has since left (essentially the Prime Minister stopped listening to him).

If UK Government policy appears sensible and forward thinking, this team is likely the source. I fear with the removal of their patron they may not last long.

 

For those curious about what happens when a LessWrong reader gets close to power:

Some people have mentioned Dominic Cummings' role as former advisor to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, describing him as rationalist-adjacent.

He recently gave >7 hours of testimony (available on Youtube, 26 May 2021) to a UK Gov Select Committee, giving his perspective on the UK Covid19 response from within Government. He uses terms familiar to rationalists, meaning I found it useful and the politicians he spoke to largely failed to grasp it. (Eg "Cummings: Politicians operate under perverse incentives," "Politician: Are you saying people were bribed?")

I should note, Cummings does appear to be playing politics in parts of his testimony. He is scathing in his comments on some people (Matt Hancock, Health Secretary), and describes others in glowing terms (Rishi Sunak, Chancellor).

My personal interpretation is that he knows this testimony will cause trouble, and is trying not to hurt people who may yet do some good. 

 

(This is my first LW post. Lets see if the formatting works...)