Ian David Moss


To Be Decided


Covid: Bill Gates and Vaccine Production

I mostly think you are asking good and appropriate questions, but wanted to add some important context that is missing from the writeup here. In March, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, on which the Gates Foundation serves, announced an $8 billion fundraising effort for a range of priorities including vaccine manufacturing capacity. After committing $250 million of its own, Gates shortly afterwards co-launched the COVID-Zero campaign with Wellcome Trust which was intended to be the private-sector fundraising component for this effort. While a specific goal for COVID-Zero was not disclosed publicly, it raised only $27 million; almost all of the remaining gap was covered by national governments and the European Commission on a giant virtual telethon on May 4. By that point, this international effort had morphed into what is now known as the ACT-Accelerator, one of the planks of which was to spur vaccine production by offering Advance Market Commitments (AMCs) to vaccine producers globally through Gavi's COVAX Facility. Although this didn't involve paying for manufacturing capacity directly, the thinking was that with money in hand, vaccine producers would be more likely to ramp up production sooner. It's important to note that COVAX includes both rich and poor countries; the whole idea was to make an attractive pooled global market for vaccine makers that wasn't distorted by individual countries' purchasing power. However, COVAX has struggled to raise the money it needs, mostly because under Trump the US was extremely disinterested in funding it and preferred to invest in the US-specific Operation Warp Speed instead (but underfunded that too). In the December stimulus bill, however, the US earmarked another $4 billion for the ACT-Accelerator and the Biden administration has planned more in the next round of stimulus it's proposed.

While contributing a minority of the funds itself, the Gates Foundation has contributed, to my understanding, a great deal to the reality of this shared fundraising commitment among world governments. It's not enough, but it's about 15-20x what the foundation has done on its own and unprecedented in the context of previous pandemics. Now, your post is asking why the foundation hasn't done even more. I doubt very much that it's because of equity considerations; it seems much more likely that it just didn't want to take away too much from its core programming; its longstanding fights against polio, TB, malaria, etc., have faced significant setbacks from being overshadowed by COVID, and it's generally quite difficult for foundations to radically shift their programming in a short period of time. A statement from the foundation at the above link provides some clues here:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains committed to its core areas of focus including reducing infectious disease, eliminating extreme poverty, and improving U.S. public education. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all areas of our work and the ripple effects will be felt for years to come. While we’ve announced $250 million in funding to date and a commitment to leverage our Strategic Investment Fund toward the pandemic, we are increasingly focusing the expertise of our staff and leveraging our partnerships toward the urgent efforts needed to end this pandemic.

"We are increasingly focusing the expertise of our staff and leveraging our partnerships" -- i.e., instead of giving money. I think Gates concluded, reasonably so, that the foundation could have more impact trying to get governments to give more than taking away from its own investments.

With that being said, your core argument that Gates could have done more still stands. The US government certainly could have done a lot more. And so could have the Europeans. It is indeed quite puzzling that vaccine production and distribution attracted so much less investment than economic supports across the world, despite their obvious importance. It seems like the global coordination on vaccines we saw last year represented a major step forward from past practice, but is still far away from what would be ideal.

It turns out that group meetings are mostly a terrible way to make decisions

I don't dispute that the phenomenon you're describing is real, but purely as a data point I'd offer that in the majority of my recent experiences working with organizations as a consultant, managers have not explicitly sought to use meetings this way, and in a few cases they have proactively pushed for input from others. It's certainly possible that the sample of organizations I'm working with is biased both because a) they are mostly nonprofits and foundations, and b) if they are working with me it's a signal that they're unusually attentive to their decision-making process. But I don't want people reading this thread to be under the impression that all managers are this cynical.

It turns out that group meetings are mostly a terrible way to make decisions

That's a great point, and I don't think the takeaway here is that meetings have no purpose. Instead it's that there are better ways to make decisions in a meeting or meeting-like context than most organizations use. People could adopt some of the techniques mentioned by the book authors to change the meeting structure, and still get the benefit of buy-in from having a meeting at all.

To Be Decided #3

That's a good idea, I'll have to figure out how to do that! :)

Updating a Complex Mental Model - An Applied Election Odds Example

This mostly made sense to me, but what is the surprising information that caused you to update in favor of Trump being reelected? Presumably some piece of economic news? Or did I misunderstand your last sentence?

An Introduction to Decision Modeling

Yes, I agree that choice of distribution is often very important to modeling outcomes. If you're not sure which is most appropriate, you can experiment with different ones as you just did to see whether and how they affect the results. By the way, Guesstimate supports more distributions than the three you mentioned, but the others involve a little more work to incorporate into the model. You can even define your own distributions from sample data that you upload.

To Be Decided #1

Whoops! It is not. Here's the correct one, and I'll make the change in the post as well. Thanks for the correction and the kind words!