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

Jacobian's Comments

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.

"No evidence" as a Valley of Bad Rationality

I just thought of this in the context of this study on hydroxychloroquine in which 14/15 patients on the drug improved vs 13/15 patients treated with something else. To the average Joe, HCQ curing 14/15 people is an amazing positive result, and it's heartening to know that other antivirals are almost as good. To the galaxy-brained journalist, there's p>0.05 and so "the new study casts doubt on hydroxychloroquine effectiveness... a prime example of why Trump shouldn't be endorsing... actually isn't any more effective."

Seeing the Smoke

I think the economic impact will also be huge. Businesses are prepared for 2% of their workers being out with the flu on any given day through the winter, but not for 20% to be sick while the other 80% are quarantined as COVID-19 hits their city. And the company who needs the input parts from that first business is not prepared to not have them for a month, and the companies that rely on them are not prepared, and most industries have slim enough cash reserves and profit margins that a pandemic can knock a lot good companies out of business for good. This could all mean just slightly more expensive electronics for two years, or it could mean a decade of unemployment and restructuring.

Go F*** Someone

Attractiveness comes in many forms. I'm extroverted and write better than I look, so I do well at dinner parties and OKCupid. You can be attractive in dancing skill, in spiritual practice, in demonstrable expertise, in an artistic pursuit... guitar players get laid even if they're not that good looking.

And yet, everyone's first association when talking about "aim for 100 dates" is Tinder, which works only for the men who are top 20% in the one aspect of attractiveness that's crowded and hard to improve - physical looks. This includes men who self-report as unattractive, like this commenter (and presumably, "Simon").

The minimum threshold of attractivenes on Tinder is incredibly high, much higher than almost any other place to look for dates. It's certainly higher than my own good looks — I only turn Tinder on when I leave the country.

Go F*** Someone

I was thinking of people who write comments without reading the post, which pollutes the conversation. Or people who form broad opinions about a writer or a blog without reading. I deal with those people all day every day on Twitter and in the blog comments.

I didn't mean people deciding what to read based on the title. Of course everyone does that! Someone seeing 'Go F*** Someone' may assume that the post will be somewhat vulgar, and will talk about sex. Both things are true. People not interested in vulgar writing about sex shouldn't read it. If I titled it 'A Consideration of Narcissism as it Affects the Formation of Long Term Bonds' that would actually be more misleading, since people would not expect it to be a vulgar post about sex and will get upset.

Go F*** Someone

I understand your concerns.

I cross-post everything I write on Putanumonit to LW by default, which I understood to be the intention of "personal blogposts". I didn't write this for LW. If anyone on the mod team told me that this would be better as a link post or off LW entirely, not because it's bad but because it's not aligned with LW's reputation, I'll be happy to comply.

I could imagine casual readers quickly looking at this and assuming it's related to the PUA community

With that said, my personal opinion is that LW shouldn't cater to people who form opinions on things before reading them and we should discourage them from hanging out here.

Go F*** Someone

95%+ of people who drop out of the workforce to raise children are women

Citation needed.

Other than that, you are supporting my general argument by writing from within the very framework that I lay out here. Why is the choice to leave work "destructive"? Why is it OK for a man to depend on a woman for the biological necessities of having a family, but not OK for either partner do depend on the other for the financial necessities?

Accomplished women who drop out to raise families usually don't surrender the spending of money to their husbands (I agree that demanding that they do so is patriarchal and bad). They only surrender the making of the money. The ability to spend money is what lets people build good lives and families, but making money is what contributes to their status*. Post-divorce, it's usually much easier for a woman (particularly an accomplished one) to make money again than it is for a man to have children again.

*At least, their status among some people. I personally care about LW karma more than income :)

Caring less

"Caring less" was in the air. People were noticing the phenomenon. People were trying to explain it. In a comment, I realized that I was in effect telling people to care less about things without realizing what I was doing. All we needed was a concise post to crystallize the concept, and eukaryote obliged.

The post, especially the beginning, gets straight to the point. It asks the question of why we don't hear more persuasion in the form of "care less", offers a realistic example and a memorable graphic, and calls to action. This is the part that was most useful to me - it gave me a clear handle on something that I've been thinking about for a while. I'm a big fan of telling people to care less, and once I realized that this is what I was doing I learned to expect more psychological resistance from people. I'm less direct now when encouraging people to care less, and often phrase it in terms of trade-offs by telling people that caring less about something (usually, national politics and culture wars) will free up energy to care more about things they already endorse as more important (usually, communities and relationships).

The post talks about the guilt and anxiety induced by ubiquitous "care more" messaging, and I think it's taking this too much for granted. An alternative explanation is that people who are not scrupulous utilitarian Effective Altruists are quite good at not feeling guilt and anxiety, which leaves room for "care more" messaging to proliferate. I wish the post made more distinction between the narrow world of EA and the broader cultural landscape, I fear that it may be typical-minding somewhat.

Finally, eukaryote throws out some hypotheses that explain the asymmetry. This part seems somewhat rushed and not fully thought out. As a quick brainstorming exercise it could be better as just a series of bullet points, as the 1-2 paragraph explanations don't really add much. As some commenters pointed out and as I wrote in an essay inspired by this post, eukaryote doesn't quite suggest the "Hansonian" explanation that seems obviously central to me. Namely: "care more about X" is a claim for status on behalf of the speaker, who is usually someone who has strong opinions and status tied up with X. This is more natural and more tolerable to people than "care less about Y", which reads as an attack on someone else's status and identity - often the listener themselves since they presumably care about Y.

Instead of theorizing about the cause of the phenomenon, I think that the most useful follow ups to this post would be figuring out ways to better communicate "care less" messages and observing what actually happens if such messages are received. Even if one does not buy the premise that "care less" messaging is relaxing and therapeutic, it is important to have that in one's repertoire. And the first step towards that is having the concept clearly explained in a public way that one can point to, and that is the value of this post.

Expressive Vocabulary

I feel like this post is missing an important piece.

When people say "chemicals" or "technology" they are very often not talking about the term in question, but communicating an emotional fact about themselves. "I am disgusted by foods that feel artificially produced", "I want you not to be distracted by devices during dinner". Coming up with better and more precise terms won't help at all, since the thing is being communicated has little to do with the referent of the imprecise term.

You can notice this when the conversation switches from personal experience to a more general and technical discussion. If someone proposes a "ban on technology use in school", everyone will be quick to focus on what is actually in the category.

What determines the balance between intelligence signaling and virtue signaling?

This is a great example. During the Cultural Revolution and similar periods (e.g., Stalinist Russia) you not only wanted to signal virtue above intelligence, you actively wanted to signal *lack* of intelligence as vigorously as you could. The inteligentzia are always suspect.

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