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I'm to understand that trichinopoly chain is structurally the same as knitting. See for instance this post and the diagrams included, which look a lot like knitting and describe it as circular knitting. Is that incorrect?

I hadn't seen this post at all until a couple weeks ago. I'd never heard "exfohazard" or similar used. 

Insisting on using a different word seems unnecessary. I see how it can be confusing. I also ran into people confused by this a few years ago, and proposed "cognitohazard" for the "thing that harms the knower" subgenre. That also has not caught on. XD The point is, I'm pro-disambiguating the terms, since they have different implications. But I still believe what I did then, that the original broader meaning of the word "infohazard" is occasionally used in the wild in e.g. biodefense, whereas the "thing that harms the knower" meaning is IME quite uncommon, so I think it seems fair to let Bostrom and the people using it in their work keep "infohazard". Maybe the usage in AI is different.

Yeah, great point! So to be fair to them, they were not doing tests that hinged on it having a specific codon scheme or amino acid. Like, they weren't sequencing the samples - it was 1969, they couldn't do that. They were putting it in nutrient-rich media or plants or animals or etc and seeing what happened. So maybe in such a case the coloration change would have been detected in, I don't know, the water of the shrimp tank. But as you say it could well have been too late at that point, if an organism grew in seawater.

Sure, Wikipedia, NASA's About Astrobiology page indicates this is pretty uncontroversial at NASA, Hawking, Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, this website from a NSF-funded exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, Scientific American... I can't immediately find a "how do most biologists think that life came to be" survey but I bet if there is a good one, it would support this. In high school and undergrad, I was taught that abiogenesis was all but consensus, and that other things (divine intervention, panspermia, ??) were considered unlikely.

GREAT post. I sent it to my friends. It may be of interest that the oldest socks we know of have split toes, probably for being worn with sandals! So they've been uncool to wear with sandals for a while but they started out cool to wear with sandals, at least. History could be made to repeat itself.

End-of-2023 author retrospective: 

Yeah, this post holds up. I'm proud of it. The Roman dodecahedron and the fox lady still sit proudly on my desk.

I got the oldest known example wrong, but this was addressed in the sequel post: Who invented knitting? The plot thickens. If you haven't read the sequel, where I go looking for the origins of knitting, you will enjoy it. Yes, even if you're here for the broad ideas about history rather than specifically knitting. (That investigation ate my life for a few months in there. Please read it. 🥺)

I'm extremely pleased by the reception I got from this. People say "oh, Less Wrong won't be interested in a post about knitting". These people were not writing good enough posts about knitting. They probably also said that about tree phylogeny.* If you think something is interesting, you can explain why it's interesting to other people and maybe they'll agree with you.

I would say the challenge of writing this was maybe in sort of trusting myself that these freewheeling high-concept connections between alphabetization and knitting and bacterial evolution were worth explicitly relating to each other. On one hand I often sort of hate reading pieces based around the author holding up distantly-connected things and going "do you get it? do you get it??" ...But on the other hand, sometimes they're insightful, and man, sometimes there is a weird concept that's really made clear by seeing a few disparate examples. So it's worth trying and ultimately it is just a blog post and not a scientific paper, so "gesturing vaguely at an idea" is on par for the course. Evidently other people thought the connection was something too. Nice!

*Fact check: Nobody has ever said either of these things to me.

Possibly if by "come in contact" we mean like ingesting or injecting or something. That's the going theory for how the Kuru epidemic started - consumption of the brain of a person with sporadic (randomly-naturally-occuring) CJD. Fortunately cannibalism isn't too common so this isn't a usual means of transmission. I think if anything less intensive (say, skin or saliva contact) made CJD transmissible, we would know by now. See also brain contact with contaminated materials e.g. iatrogenic CJD, or Alzheimers which I mention briefly in this piece.

it's possible that FFI genes cause the patient's body to create prions,

Yep! That's how it works. Real brutal.

Thank you!

Yeah, I mention one or two studies in the article that have to do with altering the host range. There aren't a lot of prion specialists, of course, but there's been quite a bit of interest in understanding how they work and spread, so there is some weird stuff out there.

Unless the meaning is something akin to "kills within X years of contracting the disease", it can only mean "kills the victim if they don't die of something else first."

The latter is true of every fatal disease, yes? Alzheimer's also has a long fuse til death but people don't recover from it. I'm also told there was a very popular recent television show about a man with terminal cancer who died from other causes.

Wikipedia lists fatal familial insomnia, and two others.

"Infectious" means "transmissible between people". As the name suggests, fatal familial insomnia is a genetic condition. (FFI and the others listed are also prion diseases - the prion just emerges on its own without a source prion and no part of the disease is contagious. This is an interesting trait of prions that could not happen with, say, a disease caused by a virus.)

Scrapie, in sheep, has been known since at least 1732, and isn't thought to spread to humans.

True! I could have talked about scrapie more in this article and didn't for two reasons- 

First, because I looked at some similar transmission tests and it seems to be even less able to convert human PrP. 

Second, because as you mention, it's been around for centuries - if it was going to have spilled over, it probably would have happened by now. CWD, meanwhile, is only a few decades old and has only spread a lot recently- it has more room to explore, so to speak, and some of its possible nearby mutations have never existed around humans before but might now. 

As I say in the piece, I think the risk from CWD is in fact low - but this line of reasoning is why human-disease epidemiologists tend to be more concerned about emerging animal diseases than animal diseases that have been around and stable for ages.

There are a bunch of coffee-tasting substitutes made from roasted grain or other stuff! Coffee beans or anything caffeine-producing don't enter the equation at all (as opposed to decaf coffee which is derived from coffee beans), the roasted plant taste is just similar. Chicory or dandelion roots are pretty well-known plant for this. Inka is another grain brand that's good and easy to make, you do it like instant coffee. I've seen others at large natural/health/hippie food type stores.

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