Writes Putanumonit.com and helps run the New York LW meetup.


The Treacherous Path to Rationality

Yes, really smart domain experts were smarter and earlier but, as you said, they mostly kept it to themselves. Indeed, the first rationalists picked up COVID worry from private or unpublicized communication with domain experts, did the math and sanity checks, and started spreading the word. We did well on COVID not by outsmarting domain experts, but by coordinating publicly on what domain experts (especially any with government affiliations) kept private.

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

We didn't get COVID, for starters. I live in NYC, where approximately 25% of the population got sick but no rationalists that I'm aware of did.

The Treacherous Path to Rationality

If I, a rationalist atheist, was in Francis Bacon's shoes I would 100% live my life in such a way that history books would record me as being a "devout Anglican". 

Most Prisoner's Dilemmas are Stag Hunts; Most Stag Hunts are Battle of the Sexes

The longer (i.e., more iterations) you spend in the shaded triangles of defection the more you'll be pulled to the defect-defect equilibrium as a natural reaction to what the other person is doing and the outcome you're getting. The longer you spend in the middle "wedge of cooperation", the more you'll end moving up and to the right in Pareto improvements. So we want to make that wedge bigger.

The size of that wedge is determined by the ratio of a player's outcome from C-C to their outcome in D-D. In this case the ratio is 2:1, so the wedge is between the slopes of 2 and 1/2. If C-C only guaranteed 1.1-1.1 to each player while a defection got them at least 1, the wedge would be a tiny sliver. Conversely, if the payoff for C-C was 999-999 almost the entire square would be the wedge. 

But the bigger the wedge, the more difference there is between outcomes on the pareto frontier so the outcome of 100% C-C is a lot less stable than if any deviation from it immediately led to non-equilibrium points that degenerate to D-D.

Covid-19 6/18: The Virus Goes South

Here's what I wrote about coordinated moving when Raymond was talking about leaving the Bay for a while:

"Coordinated moving seems hard. It seems unlikely to happen. But, I think that uncoordinated moving can end up quite coordinated.

If I'm thinking of leaving Brooklyn, I have 10,000 small towns to choose from. If [Zvi, or Ray, or anyone like that] publicizes which one he goes to after doing research, that town is immediately in my top 10 options I'll actually consider. Not just because I'd want to live near [Zvi/Ray] and I trust his research, but also because I know that hundreds of other people I like would know about that town and consider moving there. So if people just move out without coordinating but tell all their friends about it, I think we'll end up with decent enough agglomerations of friends wherever the pioneers end up going."

On a related note, I'm planning to go on a small road trip around the northeast in July and would love to visit you in Warwick if you're accepting visitors (got tested this week, alas no antibodies, still distancing at home).

Simulacra and Subjectivity

Let me know if this matches — the way I understand it is that level 3 is often about signaling belonging to a group, and level 4 is about shaping how well different belonging signal works.


Level 1: "Believe all women" = If a woman accuses someone of sexual assault, literally believe her.

Level 2: "Believe all women" = I want accusations of sexual assault to be taken more seriously.

Level 3: "Believe all women" = I'm part of the politically progressive tribe that takes sexual assault seriously.

Level 4: "Believe all women" = Taking sexual assault seriously should be a more important signal of political progressivism than other issues.

Level 5: "Believe all women" = But actually take sexual assault seriously even if it becomes opposed to political progressivism because Biden.

Jacob's Twit, errr, Shortform

People ask what the goal of the Rationalist community is. It's to raise the sanity waterline. To flood the cities with sanity. To wash the streets with pure reason. To engulf the land in common sense. And when our foes, gasping for air, scream "this literally can't be happening!" we'll remind them that 0 and 1 are not probabilities.

Premature death paradox

If you die at age 90, you died prematurely relative to what we'd expect a month before you died, but (postmaturely? it should be a word) relative to what we'd expect and bet on 80 years before your death (i.e., at age 10).

Now, you may still think there's a paradox in the following sense: let's say the median lifespan expected at birth is 70. That means that the 50% of people who died before 70 died prematurely relative to all predictions made throughout their lives, while for the remaining 50% some of the predictions were too pessimistic (those made early in their lives) but some were optimistic. Isn't there still a skew towards being surprised that people died early?

The imbalance disappears if we count not people, but people-seconds. I.e., if we predict how long everyone is going to live at every second of their lives, the average prediction will not be either pre- or post-mature. The people who live longer will accumulate more pessimistic early death predictions through the sheer fact that they live more seconds and so more predictions are made about them. A person who lives to 100 may accumulate 95 years of too-pessimistic predictions and only 5 years of too-optimistic ones.

April Coronavirus Open Thread

Hydroxychloroquine update!

A smart friend pointed me to this study that explains that mediocre antivirals only work if administered right after infection. By the onset of symptoms the effect is already much reduced. (The study isn't clear as to what counts as "symptoms" except that they occurred 3 days before hospitalization, so maybe early warning signs like loss of smell don't count). HCQ is, at best, a mediocre antiviral.

This model agrees with a new study from China (N=150) that showed zero effect when giving patients HCQ 16-17 days after the onset of the disease. Of note, the study compared Standard of Care to SOC+HCQ, and I have no idea what the Chinese SOC is beyond the minimal requirement of intravenous fluids, oxygen, and monitoring that's mentioned in the paper. In particular, there's no info on whether it includes antibiotics like azithromycin, and whether it includes zinc. It's hypothesized that HCQ works partly by easing the entry of zinc into cells where it slows viral replication, and so they work well in conjunction.

Bottom line: it may still be worth it to take HCQ+zinc if you cough and lose your sense of smell two days after going through an airport, but HCQ may not be of any help to heavily symptomatic people (and it still has nasty side effects).

Real bottom line: now that hydroxychloroquine is a politicized issue, you can't trust anything journalists have to say about it and have to read the studies yourself.

The Great Annealing

As a follow up on the media angle, here's something I posted on my Facebook:

We're going to see a lot of research on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin (HC&A), among other drugs, coming out in the next few weeks from around the world. HC&A is already the standard of care in several countries, in part because the drugs are cheap and widely available and in part because early results are promising. The combined evidence of these studies may show that other treatments are better as a first choice, or that HC&A is better, or that it depends on the particular characteristics of each patient. It’s always going to be complicated.

What the studies will never be able to do is *prove* that HC&A cures COVID since we already know that nothing works 100% for it. There is too much variance in how patients are selected for each study, how they're treated, how outcomes are measured, and how an individual responds. There's never one big indisputable hammer in small-N drug research, and there are always outlier results for people to cherry-pick one way or another. However, enough Bayesian evidence could mount that taking 600 mg of hydroxychloroquine at home at the first onset of symptoms or a positive test is better than chicken soup or going to an overcrowded hospital, all else being equal [1].

And if that happens, there is little doubt in my mind that mainstream media will fight for weeks against admitting that it is the case. They will hide behind "it's not proven" and "more research is needed" and "but the FDA". Facebook will be along for the denial ride claiming they "fight unofficial misinformation", which is anything that’s not coming from the WHO (which is currently telling people not to wear masks). Many politicians will fight to suppress this information as well, especially if Trump starts gloating over some particularly poor pro-HC&A study and saying that he called it. Trump is an idiot, but reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

So, please don’t fall prey to Gell-Mann amnesia. The same people who bullshitted you about “it’s just the flu” and about closing borders and about masks would 100% keep bullshitting you about drugs. Journalists aren’t smart enough to understand cumulative research evidence, and organizations like WHO and FDA have institutional incentives that will force them to react two months and thousands of corpses too late. You have to learn how to read medical studies yourself, or follow people who can and who aren’t compromised by working in media or politics. The lives of your loved ones are at stake.

[1] I will not disclose here whether I think that’s already the case for two reasons. First, I don’t want Facebook to remove this post for giving unsolicited medical advice, so I’m only giving information consumption advice. Second, I am not the authority you should be listening to. It’s better that we all find different sources to read and share our independent conclusions.

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