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


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.

"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.

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