All of Dumbledore's Army's Comments + Replies

Monastery and Throne

Your arguments about health care systems collapsing in the absence of lockdowns are highly emotive but not factual. The experience from Sweden, from Serbia, from the US states which didn't do second lockdowns, is that the health care systems didn't collapse. You are arguing from the unexamined assumption that no lockdown means failed health care system and your assumption is empirically, provably false. Please update your views accordingly. 

-1Lukas_Gloor13dNow you're moving goalposts. Of course you can find places that didn't need lockdowns. I thought your position was that lockdowns were almost never/nowhere worth it. If your position is just "some locations didn't need lockdown (e.g., the ones where governments decided not to do it)" – that's extremely different. Whether lockdowns make sense is to be assessed case-by-case, because the virus (and new variants of concern) affected different locations differently. In your other comment, you attribute a claim to me that I haven't made ("you have provided zero support for your own claim that lockdowns do more good than harm"). All I did was saying that I'm already skeptical since you were making the opposite claim with extremely poor and flawed arguments; I didn't say I confidently disagreed with your conclusion. Pointing out the favorable mention of Ioannnidis's 0.15% IFR estimate isn't "nitpicking of your evidence." It's damning that you rely on a source that does this – it's off by a factor of three to seven. After more than a year of the pandemic, you simply cannot be off about the IFR by this much without looking quite poorly. If someone (the person you were citing/recommending) writes an entire report on how bad lockdowns are but thinks the virus is at least three times less deadly than it actually is, this person seems incompetent and I cannot trust their reasoning enough to buy into the conclusion. I will drop out of this discussion now.
Monastery and Throne

I see a lot of nit-picking of my evidence, but you have provided zero support for your own claim that lockdowns do more good than harm. I challenge you to come up with a published cost-benefit analysis that proves the same. 

What would a good cost-benefit analysis include? There are a lot of harms caused by lockdowns. Some of them are difficult to quantify (eg my last point), but I think it's reasonable to demand a cost-benefit analysis takes into account at least three of the following six harms (which are far from an exhaustive list): 

  • Increased
... (read more)
Monastery and Throne

Lockdowns are more harmful than beneficial with the few exceptions of those countries like New Zealand that successfully kept the virus out. For any country where the virus is already endemic, the damage done by lockdowns was immense, and the benefits relatively limited. Remember that the counterfactual is not 'do nothing'. It's 'enact some more reasonable set of restrictions'. 

Prof Douglas Allen of SFU just did a really good takedown of bad arguments in favour of lockdown. In his most unrealistic extreme scenario intended to steelman the pro-lockdown... (read more)

1mukashi17dThanks for the link. I have read the first part of the study. I tell you the things that make me suspicious about it: 1. First, it starts with a very broad definition of lockdown: "is used to generically refer to state actions that imposed various forms of non-pharmaceutical interventions". Then, it proceeds to redefine the lockdowns of countries such as New Zealand as something else, "isolation". To me, the thing that comes to my mind when we talk about a lockdown is that you forbid people to leave their houses for an X number of days. Correct me here if I am mistaken, I am not an English native speaker. 2. Convenient ignore that China has been one of those successful countries dealing with the Covid (not a single mention to it in the full document). I see that many times. New Zealand is used always as an example by people sceptical of lockdowns, for the reason that it comes with a built-in justification: it is an island. Well, China is much more densely populated than the US and they also succeeded, and it is not an island. Would have been capable of replicating the success without enforcing lockdowns? Why is China not discussed more in general? 3. Wrong use of counterfactuals. Those counterfactuals nicely generated do they really present realistic counterfactuals? Take for instance the blue line. It suggests that by taking some social distancing measures the number simply go down in a matter of ~3 months and then everything is over. That's far from true. As soon as there is a single case out of control (and this is what countries like NZ, Australia or China understood very well), the pandemic is not under control, you go back right to the beginning. If you do apply strict lockdowns early you can aim to effectively eliminate the virus (but as I said before, you need to enforce mandatory quarantines and keep a very high level of testing and contact tracing). Is this counterf
2Lukas_Gloor18dThe report you're linking to contains this: >Estimates of the IFR have continued to fall over the year. The latest meta-study by Ioannidis (March 2021) estimates the average global IFR at 0.15%. That's completely off, and so obviously and indefensibly so that it discredits the entire thing, IMO. Maybe there are economic arguments that suggest that alternatives to lockdown could be better, but it would be irresponsible to update on that based on arguments made by a person who cites Ioannidis's IFR estimates favorably. Ioannidis is a crackpot when it comes to Covid. It's ironic that you write "This image is a good example of how distorted pro-lockdown arguments are." I have looked into IFR estimates quite a lot when I was following Covid and I won a large forecasting tournament (and got 3rd in the year-long version): [] Also, from the anti-lockdown side I've always wanted to know how to justify letting hospitals get so overwhelmed that people will die of appendicitis – basic health care collapses for at least 2 weeks. Do we really want that if it's avoidable? How would anyone feel as a doctor, nurse, caretaker, etc. if the government expects you to do triage under insane conditions when it's totally avoidable? The anti-lockdown side has to engage with that argument. If you say the IFR is low enough that hospitals wouldn't get overwhelmed without lockdowns, that's simply not true and you're engaging in wishful thinking or ideologically clouded thinking. I'm open to arguments that we should have a breakdown of civilization for 2+ weeks (and probably several times) if [edit] "more hidden" consequences are extremely catastrophic otherwise, but then one has to be honest about the costs of a no-lockdown policy. Edit to add: It's a strawman that poli

To expand on your last sentence, anger can be a driver of positive change in the world. Greta Thunberg is angry that people are carelessly wrecking the only planet we have to live on. Racial justice protesters in the US are angry that black people keep getting killed by the police. Unless you're a saint, being furious about some injustice is much more motivating than the dispassionate thought that 'x would be a good deed'.

Having said that, I would agree with OP that most of the time in most interpersonal situations anger is damaging, and for most people be... (read more)

6lsusr21dWhen I watch the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, I am inspired by his total absence of anger. Perhaps he is a saint, in which case I endeavor to follow his example.
Why has nuclear power been a flop?

What is your definition of contaminate? If Devanney is correct that low doses of radiation are acceptable - and I believe he is - then much land which is described as ‘contaminated’ is in fact perfectly liveable. (Also see the people who illegally live in the Chernobyl exclusion zone). For a reasonable definition of ’contaminate’ then, it follows that a nuclear accident contaminates much smaller areas of land and is less expensive.

Your anti-nuclear argument also ignores the status quo of non nuclear energy. In America alone, fossil fuels (read coal) kill t... (read more)

2Gerald Monroe22dWhat is your definition of contaminate? If Devanney is correct that low doses of radiation are acceptable - and I believe he is - then much land which is described as ‘contaminated’ is in fact perfectly liveable. (Also see the people who illegally live in the Chernobyl exclusion zone). For a reasonable definition of ’contaminate’ then, it follows that a nuclear accident contaminates much smaller areas of land and is less expensive. One issue is that it is not possible to rigorously prove it's livable because the parameter you are trying to measure - extra cancers and subtle damage - won't show up for 20-30 years. Over such a long timescan it is difficult to even tease out causation. Your data will be incomplete, your subjects won't all have lived long enough for any radiation damage to matter, some of them smoke, etc. But for the sake of argument I will let the conclusions be conclusive that radiation is harmless below a threshold. I agree with you that the NRC's decision making is not rational in that it is not factoring in the consequences of a decision to the host society. It's factoring in the consequences of the decision to the NRC. This is true for most regulatory agencies, at best they are captured by not wanting to do something that endangers their own reputation. Anyways even if all of the above is true the innovation cost I mentioned above isn't there. Nuclear is also small market size in that many advancements do not make economic sense because few reactors are being built, and this would remain true if more were being built up to a point. Solar and batteries are enormous market scales, and thus many improvements make economic sense.
2ejacob22dI read this was a nod to the status quo bias of nuclear regulators. Millions(?) Of quality-adjusted life-years lost per year from fossil fuels are basically ignored in the cost benefit analysis.
What weird beliefs do you have?

I love the idea, but I’m sceptical based on genetics. Our civilisation has moved a lot of species around, from stuff like bringing placental mammals to Australia to things like exporting food crops around the world. Potatoes evolved in the Americas, now you can find them everywhere. Soy beans came from Japan / East Asia but now they’re heavily cultivated in Brazil. 

I assume that any previous industrial civilisation, even if it were less adaptable than humans, would probably have spread outside of its home continent, if only to look for oil and m... (read more)

What weird beliefs do you have?

I would say the UFO thing is different because the defence people are reporting physical phenomena which they can’t explain. So far as I know, the CIA didn’t have evidence that ESP worked and subsequently decide to investigate it, rather someone persuaded them to spend some money looking for evidence (which they didn’t find). The UFO reports give the impression that the DoD didn’t want to take them seriously but they got smacked in the face by enough evidence that they didn’t have much choice.

Again, I’m not saying it’s definitely something weird. But if th... (read more)

What weird beliefs do you have?

I think that we should be taking the possibility of UFOs more seriously. Over the last year, I've updated from thinking that UFOs are laughable to thinking there's a 10-20% chance of actual alien visitation, and about another 10-20% of something else important going on. (Ie someone - presumably China - has either made a huge leap in drone technology or is getting good at spoofing multiple US military systems simultaneously.) 

Why? Because a number of senior and generally sane people seem to be taking this seriously. The US military forces in particular... (read more)

5ike1moHow is that different than say the CIA taking ESP seriously, MKULTRA etc?
Monastery and Throne

Closure of schools. There's a mountain of evidence that taking kids out of school is harmful. It's not just the loss of education - although that doesn't help - but also the loss of socialisation. Less education is directly correlated with shorter life expectancy - a US study found that just that effect was enough to mean that closing schools would cost more years of life than it saved, with 98% probability. That's before adding in the burden from significantly higher rates of mental health problems in children who have been deprived of school. 

Close ... (read more)

1Pattern24dWhat if socialization is relative?
Monastery and Throne

Hi Jacob, 

I think your Seeing the Smoke was interesting and the conclusions about human nature are right - particularly the point that most people will fail to do the obvious thing like leave the smoke-filled room out of fear of looking weird. That said, I really wish Cummings had drawn a different conclusion from your blogpost, because I strongly believe that lockdowns were the wrong response to Covid. Specifically, I would prefer Cummings had read Hans Rosling's excellent book Factfulness, especially chapter 10 on the urgency instinct: 

Rosling ... (read more)

3Rob Bensinger1moWhy do you think the lockdowns caused serious harm to children's development?
6mukashi1moBuilding a narrative around lockdowns being more harmful than beneficial is simplistic at best, and dangerously misleading at worst. The lockdown is a powerful weapon, and for that reason, it should be used wisely (but it should be used when needed!). We seem to forget sometimes that some countries have indeed provided valuable examples on how to succeed at curbing the pandemics and the lockdowns have been one of the main tools they employed, but not the only one. A very important point is that judging lockdowns in isolation is wrong. The reason why some countries have managed to successfully stop the spreading is not because of the lockdowns alone, but because multiple interventions taking place simultaneously. Take the example of Australia. The lockdown in Melbourne lasted longer than in most places, but in the meantime, the borders were closed for most people, except for those Australians coming back to the country that had to go through mandatory quarantines in specifically designated hotels. Australia has also been very effective at contact tracing but that is something that works very well only if you have few cases (and what is the prerequisite to have few cases?). In Europe or in US is not that the lockdowns did not work (they work very well at doing what they have to do, stopping momentarily the spreading of the virus), it is simply that other measures were not taken simultaneously or they simply failed at implementing them.
We should not raise awareness

I think the issue is that 'raising awareness' is used to mean three separate things. (I agree that the extra simulacra levels aren't a helpful explanation.) Using awareness of breast cancer as a reasonably non-controversial example.

  1. Give people some useful knowledge or skill to help reduce the problem. Eg teach women how to examine themselves for lumps and when to seek medical advice.
  2. Raise the profile of the issue (or in some cases inform people that the issue exists) such that more resources will be devoted to solving it. Eg publishing opinion pieces infor
... (read more)
4River2moI think the breakdown is good. I find it more natural to call your level 1 "education" than "raising awareness", but I guess both terms are used. I think the changes on sexual assault have been a mixed bag and that in at least some circles the pendulum has already swung too far. Reconceptualizing sex between spouses without consent as rape was a good move, reconceptualizing stupid drunk sex where both parties consented at the time as rape was a bad move, and both have definitely happened as a result of this raising awareness.
4ChristianKl2moIt's worth noting it that while this intuitive sounds very good it's not that clear it actually was good. Doing more testing for breast cancer increased breast cancer diagnoses and breast amputations but it's not clear that it actually reduced breast cancer deaths.
What's your best alternate history utopia?

I may be stretching the point about changing human psychology here, but: 

Education is widely considered to include learning how to be a emotionally well-adjusted and responsible adult. Schools teach things like mindfulness and intra-personal conflict resolution. For example, kids learn how to recognise when they are reacting from anger, and therefore how to take a breath and try a more mature reaction. They learn about concepts like how stress can make you start catastrophising, and how to apply some cognitive behavioural therapy to oneself or a frien... (read more)

Overconfidence is Deceit

I was thinking about this a little more, and I think that the difference in our perspectives is that you approached the topic from the point of view of individual psychology, while I (perhaps wrongly) interpreted Duncan's original post as being about group decision-making. From an individual point of view, I get where you're coming from, and I would agree that many people need to be more confident rather than less. 

But applied to group decision-making, I think the situation is very different. I'll admit I don't have hard data on this, but from life ex... (read more)

Overconfidence is Deceit

Does anyone have a clear example to give of a time/space where overconfidence seems to them to be doing a lot of harm? I would say making investments in general (I am a professional investment analyst.) This is an area where lots of people are making decisions under uncertainty, and overconfidence can cost everyone a lot of money. 

One example would be bank risk modelling pre-2008: 'our VAR model says that 99.9% of the time we won't lose more than X' therefore this bank is well-capitalised. Everyone was overconfident that the models were correct, they ... (read more)

Hey! Thanks. I notice you’re a brand new commenter and I wanted to say this was a great first (actually second) comment. Both your examples were on-point and detailed. Your second one FYI seems quite likely to me too. (My colleague Jacob Lagerros interacted with epidemiological modeling at many places early in the pandemic – including Imperial! – and I have heard many horror stories from him about the modeling that was being used to advise governments.)

I’ll leave an on-topic reply tomorrow, just wanted to say thanks for the solid comment.

Overconfidence is Deceit

Thank you for an interesting article. It helped clarify some things I've been thinking about. The question I'm left with is: how practically can someone encourage a culture to be less rewarding of overconfidence? 

I guess I'm feeling this particularly strongly because in the last. year I started a new job in a company much more tolerant of overconfidence than my previous employer. I've recalibrated my communications with colleagues to the level that is normal for my new employer, but it makes me uncomfortable (my job is to make investment recommendatio... (read more)