Interested in biosecurity & effective altruism. More active on the EA Forum.

Wiki Contributions



This is nice to see, I’ve been generally kind of unimpressed by what have felt like overly generous handwaves re: gray gooey nanobots, and I do think biological cells are probably our best comparison point for how nanobots might work in practice.

That said, I see some of the discussion here veering in the direction of brainstorming novel ways to do harm with biology, which we have a general norm against in the biosecurity community – just wanted to offer a nudge to y’all to consider the cost vs. benefit of sharing takes in that direction. Feel free to follow up with me over DM!


Anecdata on:

Our understanding of the melatonin cycle strongly suggests melatonin taken first thing upon waking up would work for this, but as far as I know this has never been formally investigated. The best I can find is researchers saying that they think it would happen and being confused why no other researcher has investigated this.

I once accidentally took 0.3mg melatonin around 9:00am in the morning, and the subsequent few days felt almost exactly like my experience of recovering from quite bad jetlag after returning from a timezone 5-6 hours earlier than mine.


Thank you for your idea and for sharing these links. I just listened to the Anthropocene Reviewed on the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad (linked in another comment, starts at 11:40) and How Nikolay Vavilov, the seed collector who tried to end famine, died of starvation while eating a late dinner before the fast begins. It was a little painful to feast on pita sandwiches and french fries while hearing about people dying of starvation, but it felt a little appropriate, too; in my life, famine is more or less ended, and that wouldn't have been a guarantee for my ancestors a century ago.


Another way to separate these two concepts is whether you're trying to hold yourself to an internal or external standard. This is captured by this Lois McMaster Bujold quote (though she uses "reputation" where you might use "PR"):

Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will.

To me, internal vs. external seems like the more crucial distinction than "fixed standard" (reputation) vs. "modelled reactions" (PR) that you describe in the post.


It's not confusing that Nigeria, in particular, has few cases. They have a really well-developed containment (disinfection + contact tracing + case isolation) infrastructure.

During the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic, an Ebola-positive patient showed up in Lagos, one of the most dense cities on the planet, and yet the country only ended up with 20 cases total.

My understanding (can't seem to find a great citation for this, learned it from a CDC person at a conference) is that Nigeria's internationally-funded efforts to eradicate polio (no wild polio since 2016!) helped to build world-leading containment expertise. The fact that Nigeria was able to contain Ebola was cited as an example of why international aid to fund healthcare infrastructure is worthwhile.

For more background, here's Ebola in Nigeria on Wikipedia, and a Scientific American article called How Did Nigeria Quash Its Ebola Outbreak So Quickly?

Anyway, people have been talking about how many Southeast Asian countries have been well-prepared for COVID-19 because of all of the institutional knowledge developed during the 2003 SARS outbreaks. We should expect many West African countries to have similar infrastructure from the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic- here's a QZ Interview with Chikwe Ihekweazu, an African epidemiologist who sits on the board of the Public Health Foundation of Nigeria suggesting just that.

Answer by epiphi130

Acorn Cryotech, a Toronto startup, does this. They store cells from hair follicles, but I think they're still in the process of launching, so you can only get your cells collected at their office or at certain events attended by their staff. It's $300 CAD upfront and $16/month (i.e. $192/year) thereafter.

Is this a good idea?

I don't know a ton about longevity research (i.e. I've read the Longevity FAQ, the LRI blog, and a few papers here and there), so I wouldn't give my opinion here too much weight. Reviewing the FAQ linked above, it seems reasonable to believe that:

  • a transfusion of blood generated from younger cells would do more good than a transfusion from older cells
  • organs generated from younger cells might last longer, because it would take longer for their cells to become senescent

I expect further developments along these lines. I don't know whether we'll discover methods to reverse cellular aging before we develop practical cell-based longevity therapies.

I'm not going to cryopreserve my stem cells any time soon; I'd prefer to spend my money on charity and freezing my gametes. I think someone with a different budget or different values could reasonably reach a different conclusion.


My experience of taking melatonin a few hours before bed is very similar to what Gwern described as the self-discipline benefit:

Speaking from personal experience, I know that one of the obstacles to sleeping well is going to sleep at all. Even though one knows that one ought to go to bed on time, and that not doing so will cause problems, it’s hard to actually do it. One wants to finish the book, chat with friends, play a game, etc. It is even more difficult when one doesn’t feel tired. For me, I had a chronic akrasia problem with going to sleep; in college, it was bad enough that I would on occasion stay up to 4 AM for no reason at all!

How do we deal with this? The classic mechanism is avoiding the choice entirely. ... We can do this simply by waiting until the need to sleep is so strong we can no longer resist; and in practice, many (especially college students) do just this. But few of us have the luxury of the bizarre schedule this entails. We could try some sort of monetary fine for not going to bed by midnight, but enforcement is difficult and if you’re a college student, you may not be able to afford a vow painful enough to deter you.

Melatonin allows us a different way of raising the cost, a physiological & self-enforcing way. Half an hour before we plan to go to sleep, we take a pill. The procrastinating effect will not work - half an hour is so far away that our decision-making process & willpower are undistorted and can make the right decision (viz. following the schedule). When the half-hour is up, the melatonin has begun to make us sleepy. Staying awake ceases to be free, to be the default option; now it is costly to fight the melatonin and remain awake.

If you're someone who doesn't struggle with falling asleep, but merely with going to bed, I strongly recommend at least trying a 0.3 mg melatonin dose for a fortnight. This hasn't worked for everyone I know, but it increased my average sleep time by maybe 30 minutes per night. If you have a biology like mine, you might really benefit.


I'm appreciative of you bringing up counterfactuals and do think they're important to consider.

As someone who regularly hosts events at REACH, my counterfactual locations would be a room on UC Berkeley campus or in a public library. These have some disadvantages compared to REACH:

  • The campus rooms require a Berkeley student to unlock open the door to the building, which means one of the organizers has to sit out the first 15 minutes of the meetup, either standing by the door or wandering in and out to let people in.
  • The library would allow us to expose far fewer EAs to our (biosecurity-specific) meetup content, since right now many attendees just wander in due to being in the space.

They aren't terrible options- I don't think our meetup would shut down if REACH did. Still: they have disadvantages. I wouldn't be trying to host at CFAR or CEA since:

  • The access control on the CFAR office space is required by the building management. They used to have more lax access controls, but it's now much harder to have the CFAR office space be one that people can wander into. The MIRI space, AFAIK, has never been regularly used for open, non-technical gatherings.
  • I don't believe that CEA is interested in hosting events and coworking in their office. My impression is that they (reasonably, I think) don't consider it a part of their mandate.

I'm not sure about your final counterfactual suggestion- what would that look like in practice? Is this suggestion to open a rationalist-focused coffee shop?


I'm curious about the reasoning behind that statement, too.

This suggestion would unnecessarily concentrate donations among people with existing social connections to one another, no? I don't expect that I personally know the world's highest-leverage people. Even if I know some of them, I expect that organizations that dedicate resources to finding high-leverage people or opportunities (GiveWell, EA Funds, etc.) will fund opportunities with a better expected value than those that happen to be in front of me.

Is the reasoning here that those organizations are likely to miss the opportunities that happen to be in front of me personally? Or that sharing resources in local social communities strengthens them in a way that has particularly large benefits? Or that you've more carefully selected the people you have social connections to, such that they are likely to be overlooked-yet-high-leverage?

(I think I'm coming from a slightly more sceptical starting point than gwillen, but also feel like I could be missing something important here.)


I think sufficiently imprecise praise can even be net-negative for someone's worth, because their internal monologue might still be doubting or denying your praise. I wrote a post a few years ago on how to provide Specific Positivity:

With specific positivity, you try to give someone evidence that they should be praised, rather than praise itself. They don’t bristle or argue, because all you’ve given them is a description of your own experience. The recipient of your compliment can then use your descriptive evidence to compliment themselves. This is the goal, anyway- get them to feel good by recognizing the good they’ve done or been.

Compliments aren't necessarily easy, but I agree that they're worthwhile.

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