All of michael_b's Comments + Replies

Shocked to see a Eugene meetup! Sadly we will be out of town that week. Hoping for other excuses to hang out in the near future!

I appreciate your reply.

The government also makes cars have seatbelts and airbags; is this because seatbelt and airbag manufacturers lobbied the government? How dare they make you pay for features you don't want! If you think you're never going to need that airbag, why should you pay for it?

I was going to knee-jerk reply to this and say I'll gladly pay for that because all advanced nations agree that seatbelts and airbags should be standard, but I thought I'd look it up first. Apparently air bags aren't required by the European Commission!

https://ec.e... (read more)

Haha, right? I definitely did a double take when I first learned that. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- But you're outsourcing without having had asked the right question or acknowledging the subtlety in your outputs. Your question in particular isn't "what are the only vaccines I should get", it is "how do I best protect the health of my child". If you wanted to ask "which vaccines are absolutely, without a question important to the human race?", then your approach arguably has validity. I reject the assertion that you are truly outsourcing this to national healthcare systems in good faith, because you admitted to having "fear that a doctor is about to stick my kid with a needle because there was a meeting in a shady room between a pharma rep and a CDC official". Do you have any evidence that that kind of "pharma collusion" isn't happening in any other countries? If you can't believe what some of the experts say because of an unbased/unquantified fear, then what value does any of the evidence have to you at all? If you put arbitrary weights on certain pieces of evidence, then you're weighting it in favor of coming to a conclusion that supports your preconceived notions. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If you're truly outsourcing this information to national health agencies, you would come up with a vaccine list that is the union and not the intersection. After all, they are experts who should know best, so we should defer to them, right? The intersection is merely the list that is your absolute top priority, and the union is the list of vaccines that experts believe are also important. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Like many of the other people in this thread have stated, there's a difference in disease risk and incidence based on where you are living. If you were outsourcing this to national health agencies in

When it comes to needles to stick my new kiddo with, I'm not really being persuaded to do more than the intersection of vaccinations between similar nations."

You don't know enough to decide this. What is "similar" (climate, culture, disease spectrum?) Do you know the history of their immunization laws?

That's incorrect. I know that my generation was vaccinated against a more limited set of diseases and has survived pretty well.

It's not wrong to question US health orthodoxy when it's not at all a secret that pharma can influence US po... (read more)

"There's no need for the smartphones. I know that my generation only had landlines to use, and has survived pretty well." "Back in the day, smallpox was just a fact of life. Most people lived. What's the big deal about it anyway, afterall, we survived pretty well, and it's not like it was holding our society back" "Why do we need to wash our hands before surgery? We've survived pretty well so far like this." -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Just because you have not personally seen someone die from a vaccine preventable disease doesn't mean that it doesn't happen, or that it's okay.
0IlyaShpitser5y [] (a) You don't know enough to decide one way or the other. (b) If (a) is true, trust your local public health person.

I haven't digested your entire reply yet, but I'll respond to this part.

  1. Avoiding the fallacy of the one-sided wager. The post talks about cost-benefit analysis, but in a complete cost-benefit analysis one has to consider the risks of both choices under offer, not just one. The post takes specific notice of the default course of action's risks (money, tears, side effects) but focuses less on the risks of the alternative (e.g. toddlers winding up in the ER because they're shitting themselves half to death from rotavirus).


So we have a mundane exp

... (read more)
A lot of the big childhood vaccines are things that kill kids (MMR, rotavirus, Hib). So you've got survivorship bias there. As for the other stuff, a lot of the diseases that adults are suffering from that children are vaccinated against today don't manifest as obvious infectious disease. If you know anyone who has ever had shingles, you know someone that had suffered from a disease that children today are routinely vaccinated against (varicella). If you know someone who has had cervical cancer or genital warts, you likely know someone who has suffered from HPV (highly recommended vaccine for preteens). If you know someone who has had liver cancer, there's a chance it's because of Hepatitis B (no vaccine for HCV yet :/). Of course, you don't have to look [] anecdotally [] for that []. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Part of the cost benefit change is also due to the fact that we can actually treat a lot of these cancers now, instead of just "sorry, nothing we can do, go home and get your affairs in order." For example, even though mortality rates from liver cancer might still be similar, 1-year survival rates have increased []. So now, each case of a preventable cancer might cost us a lot more, so we're much more motivated to prevent it. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Even if the cost benefit is not as good as the cost benefit of the 80s era vaccines, the fact that many not only have a favorable cost-benefit ratio, but are even cost saving [] should make them an strong choice for implementation.

Upvote for interesting and relevant links, although this part made me want to shout at my screen.

(9). Therefore, we should give up on medication and use psychotherapy instead Makes sense right up until you run placebo-controlled trials of psychotherapy ... Another study by the same team finds psychotherapy has an effect size of 0.22 compared to antidepressants’ 0.3-0.5

Even if this is true I don't agree with the cost-benefit analysis. Psychotherapy costs time and money but probably won't cause weight gain, sexual dysfunction and crippling withdrawal if you miss a dose or need to cycle off of them.

EDIT: I guess he says as much in a different article. Hmph.

Makes sense, thanks for the link and your summary.

I've taken a keen interest in soylent but am happy to let others beta test long-term effects for me before I give it a shot :)

FWIW, the way soylent people describe their results is more or less how I describe what happened to me when I adopted a whole food plant-based diet (the "china study diet"): BF% dropped/I got leaner, various body odors improved, huge reduction in acne, became a morning person, was able to stop taking ADHD meds, and felt no negative effects at all. Except for maybe I now have so much energy I just had to pick up distance running and ultimately hurt my ankle. :P

The more time I spend hanging out with rationalists the less comfortable I am making predictions about anything. It's kind of becoming a real problem?

"Do you think you'll be hungry later?" "Maybe"

: /

How are you with decisions? Which after all are the point of all this rationality. "How about eating here?" "...?"
2Adam Zerner8y
Sorry to hear that :( My guess is that a lot of predictions -> you're wrong sometimes -> it feels like you're wrong a lot. Contrasted with not making many predictions -> not being actually wrong as much. If so: 1) Percent incorrect is what matters, not number incorrect. I'm sure you know this, but it could be difficult to get your System 1 to know it. 2) If making a lot of predictions does happen to lead to a high percentage incorrect, that's valuable information to you! It tells you that your models of the world are off and thus provides you with an opportunity to improve!

Separate topic!

(FWIW, I spent about 5 years as a vegetarian, followed by 1.5 years doing the paleo thing, and now subsist entirely off DIY soylent, which combines the virtues of deriving all its protein from animal sources and being processed.)

What I find alarming about soylent-like diets is the idea that you can completely capture human nutritional needs as a table of micronutrients quantities to fill, and then go out and source those individual micronutrients, combine them, and drink.

Aren't you discounting the importance of the configuration of these... (read more)

This discussion has already happened at great length here []. To summarize my stance: there's risks, but considering that everyone I've read on has had positive results across the board, from body composition to semen taste. I get noticeably improved mental clarity (along with getting so lean I'd be scared I was undereating if I didn't know precisely how many calories I was eating and clearer skin), which makes me willing to accept those risks. Also, because soylent might be safe and come with a load of benefits, there's data-generating value in taking individual components, blending, and pouring them down my throat to see if anything bad happens. (Julia Galef on tradition as it pertains to social systems [], that happens to be applicable here.) But I'm not very worried; I have trouble imagining a food that has positive effects of "improve body comp, improve mental clarity, clear skin, make semen taste good" and no known negative effects and is biochemically plausible to actually be bad in the long term. Certainly not impossible, but not very probable, I think.

D'oh! I thought it meant some kind of special honor. Does it at least mean "was granted tenure and was not fired"? That's not useless information, I guess.

Yeah, it's generally reserved for tenured professors that retired with the title of "Professor" (instead of "Associate Professor" or "Assistant Professor"). In general, after you get the title of "Professor", there aren't any more promotions to get.

They have very strong incentives (ie earning money and building a career and having patients) to pretend to be certain. People don't want to pay for honest but vague guesses.

I would expect consensus (or the lack thereof) is an important signaler for exposing this kind of bias?

Maybe? It's a lot safer to be certain if you're saying the same thing as the consensus. Then at worst you can say you had the same opinion as a lot of other providers.

Lindeberg is a nutrition researcher (conducts studies, co-authors papers) coming from a medical background, which makes him just as much an expert as a nutrition researcher coming from a biochemistry background

Am I asking for too much by insisting on a nutrition researcher from a biochemistry background to refute Campbell? Or are you saying they can both be right within the framework of their fields?

To summarize: Lindeberg, like Campbell, is an experienced nutrition researcher with impressive and relevant credentials. Nutrition is a young and complex

... (read more)

I've come across this quite often. This is written by an amateur whose authority stems from "I typically spend about five hours a day reading and writing about nutrition—voluntarily".

As a layperson myself I'd be a lot more moved if other nutrition scientists agreed with her. As it stands for me her input is basically +1 "non-nutrition scientists disagree' with Campbell".

Based on what I know about the words "professor" and "emeritus" and "cornell", I assume this is written by an authority in the field of nutrition.

The value of being an authority in a field is that you can accurately convey the consensus within that field. Whenever consensus within a field does not exist, the ancient injunction against "argument from authority" remains true. The "authority" derives not from the authoritative individuals themselves, but the collective wisdom of the field to which they've

... (read more)

Sorry, as gwillen assumes below, that's my actual position proviso nobody explains to me why nutrition science is hopelessly broken and/or Campbell should be ignored. Which is what I was hoping to learn by posting this.

(6.) The natural world can be complicated, and scientists have limited tools to investigate and a lot of incentive to oversell.

Agree that the world is complicated. Could you go into more detail about incentive to oversell? Do you mean they need to promise groundbreaking results to close funding?

Scientists have to market themselves to earn kudos in their field, and get grant money. This isn't bad in and of itself, but there are usual marketing incentives here.

I'm specifically trying to avoid weighing the actual science or studies myself, because I don't think nutrition is linear enough for me to just dive in and read contradictory studies and start making informed decisions about my diet. So, all I'm really electing to do here is try to valuate experts. In that vein...

I produce for you a book written by a relevant expert

According to Wikipedia the author of that book, Staffan Lindeberg, is "M.D., Ph.D., (born 1950) is Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the Department of Medicine, University of... (read more)

They have very strong incentives (ie earning money and building a career and having patients) to pretend to be certain. People don't want to pay for honest but vague guesses. You shouldn't really trust scientists outside the field to talk about the entire field of nutrition but insofar as experts in older and more reliable fields like chemistry or biology disagree with specific nutritional claims you should probably agree with the actual scientists.
Lindeberg is a nutrition researcher (conducts studies, co-authors papers) coming from a medical background, which makes him just as much an expert as a nutrition researcher coming from a biochemistry background. We can measure how much a field has progressed by its predictive power, and nutrition is already making concrete predictions with high confidence. Not a lot, not with the confidence of, say, Newtonian mechanics but, given how very much literature there is and how very complicated things are, the level of consensus across researchers who are coming at the problem from disparate-but-legitimate approaches (e.g. biochemical, evolutionary) is sufficiently impressive that I do trust them to judge the literature properly. Humans are biased, so it's unsurprising that we don't yet have a consensus as broad as, say, existence of the golgi apparatus [], but the world looks exactly as we'd expect it if nutrition scientists were doing good work in a complicated field. To summarize: Lindeberg, like Campbell, is an experienced nutrition researcher with impressive and relevant credentials. Nutrition is a young and complex field, so there's no broad consensus about everything—although there is broad consensus about some things—but nutrition scientists are doing a decent enough job of figuring things out that I trust them to judge the literature properly.

Close. If the accident is completely unexplained, as it often is immediately following an accident, shouldn't the risk be substantially higher immediately following the accident and then rapidly decay back to baseline as more information becomes available?

Permit me to ramble a bit.

So, I think I have a bias against startups for getting rich. I think it might be reasonable.

I'll relate my personal experience as well as the experiences of three close friends. Around eight years ago, four of us each joined different startups. I quit mine about 3 1/2 years in. They've remained at theirs. What's the current status?

me: I've learned that my equity in my startup, which I took at a substantial discount to my salary, is now worth low six figures.

friend 1: his startup has almost been acquired but the deal sunk in d... (read more)

0Adam Zerner8y
Do you think starting a startup in pursuit of a large exit makes sense from an expected value point of view? 80000 hours has some thoughts [] on this that I agree with.

(4) I work a normal-ish job, have a normal retirement plan, and save enough to retire at a normal age.

The point I want to make in this article is that 1, 2, 3 seem way more likely than 4. Which makes me think that long-term saving might not actually be such a good idea.

Are you sure? Take a look at

You plug in your nest egg size and expected cost of living and it will trial it against historical market performance. That is, if you retired the day before the Great Depression and similar events, would your portfolio keep you alive l... (read more)

0Adam Zerner8y
True. The way I see it, the benefit to that is the marginal increase in retirement safety. And the cost is the forgone opportunity of doing something important in those 10-20 years. What do you think of those trade offs? In particular, I'm currently thinking that there's already a really high chance that I can retire comfortably because of 1, 2 and 3.

Alright, let's say I agree that in the space of all possible activities there exist some pleasurable activities that have zero future utility.

Couldn't we die at any minute? Given this, shouldn't we always do the pleasurable thing so long as there's no negative utility and no opportunity cost because there's a small chance it'll be the last thing we do?

Doesn't choosing the beautiful vacation that evaporates when it's over have the benefit that if we die in the middle of it, life was just that much more pleasant?

I guess I don't understand why someone would choose not to take the vacation.

The problem with this (I think, I'm not that hot on decision theory) is that you can pretty much never assign an opportunity cost of zero to an activity unless your life depends on it, as would be the case for breathing. For as long as we're given no reason to believe our life will end at any particular point, you have to calculate your opportunity costs on the assumption that you'll continue to live. At least, it seems that way in the general case. You could push this too far by assuming you'll never die, and therefore you'll perpetually forego short-term gains for some massive payoff you expect to get infinitely far into the future.

Understood. In that case, I disagree on this point.

most of us choose to indulge in pleasures that have no future utility (and in some cases have negative future utility) all the time. We eat junk food, watch TV, waste time watching cat videos. Things that would not obviously be missed if they could not be got.

Are you sure there's no future utility? Doesn't resisting these useless but pleasurable activities deplete the ego? Doesn't depleted ego lead to bad decision-making?

This is not to say that every time a parole judges eat a brownie it's because t... (read more)

For at least some of the stuff I do, yes I'm sure. You can easily reduce this ego-depletion argument to absurdity by supposing that foregoing every minor indulgence is ego-depleting and that you should never deny yourself. Even that there exists some activity B with higher (expected) future utility than activity A, but lower present utility, which we sometimes nevertheless forego in favour of higher immediate returns shows that we don't act to maximise future utility; you lose out on the difference in opportunity cost. To suggest that such activities B don't exist, or that we never choose them, is to suggest that (at least some) human beings are entirely "subjectively rational", i.e. always make the choice they believe to yield optimal future benefit. If you know any such person see if you can gather up a few hair samples so we can clone him!

If I were Kahneman and I had posed that riddle, I would object that the entire point of the thought experiment is to consider the activity as being of no future utility whatsoever.

Sorry, I don't follow you. If you were Kahneman you would have posed the riddle differently? Or are you saying that I'm unfairly describing it?

What I mean is "this is what I think he intended".


  1. you can have an amazingly beautiful night that you don't remember the next day
  2. you can have a memory implanted that you had an amazingly beautiful night that never actually happened

which do you choose?

I like this because 1 has the benefit of being closer to the actual human experience.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Yes? What are the consequences of not letting the fork happen?

There are no consequences except knowing that there would be no experience you don't remember afterwards, which seems like exactly what you asked.

Not if everything is reset back to the way it was!

He doesn't say that though. Perhaps he meant to imply that. Let's suppose he did, what does the experiencing vs remembering self model say about that?

You would start building memories. As you build them you're servicing the experiencing self, and over the course of the vacation your remembering self can recall the things you did earlier in the vacation. Finally the vacation ends and time resets to before the vacation and it's all gone, memories, sunburn. All of your new Facebook friends are stranger... (read more)

A different but related question that (I feel) makes the dilemma clearer: Is there any cause that you would be willing to be tortured for if you were assured that your memories of the torture (and all subconscious aftereffects) would be subsequently erased, but would be unwilling to be tortured for if there were no such assurance?

When I read these I flip between understanding and confused like I'm staring at a Hollow-Mask Illusion.

Try to hack your body into feeling more relaxed so your scholarly zeal calms down a bit and lets your mind rest.

I'll tell you what works for me.

  1. Start dimming the lights as you approach bed-time. You can buy electric tea candles (as you may have seen in restaurants) to provide low lighting so you can still get around your home. The candle-like flickering of the light is pretty calming.
  2. Install f.lux (or its ilk) on any PC or mobile device with a screen.
  3. If you listen to music, make sure it's relaxing. Playing nature sounds or whatever YT returns for &q
... (read more)

After initial success but then several bouts of plantar fascitis, new mystery leg pain and a heaping helping of denial I've finally given on up the minimal shoes thing.

I agree walking around in super comfortable shoes all the time probably makes us puny and weak, but I doubt paleolithic man walked and ran on hard city-grade pavement 50+ miles a week.

Sorry for the confusion. I'm picking authorities at random and asking why I should trust you over them, not vouching for any authority in particular. Perhaps I should have asked more bluntly: who are you and why are you qualified to give us health advice?

No offense. :)

I am having a hard time finding places I disagree significantly with them.

More a curiosity than anything: dairy isn't represented at all on the HSPH's "healthy eating plate" but is specifically highlighted in your section on nutrition. Why the discrepancy?

I'm not. I'm a random person who is investigating the advice of professionals and trying to determine the interventions with the highest reported effect sizes in the literature. I'm not running studies myself or claiming anything in the absence of studies. Milk and eggs is because of the Adventist health study and others: "mortality from ischemic heart disease was 20% lower in occasional meat eaters, 34% lower in people who ate fish but not meat, 34% lower in lactoovovegetarians, and 26% lower in vegans. " [] Keep in mind that it is perfectly valid to infer that if I disagree with a mainstream source on healthy advice this is minor evidence I am wrong.

Noted. To be clear, the question I'm asking is why is OP a more worthy authority than the rest?

Why should we listen to OP and not follow, say, the UK's NHS healthy living guidelines? I hope the answer is better than "because nobody at the NHS is a member of LW"

For political reasons the NHS couldn't write things like
Ditto for these NHS healthy living guidelines. Where do I contradict them? I had thought my main takeaways were pretty uncontroversial WRT mainstream advice.

Why should we listen to you and not, say, the Harvard School of Public Health ?

That is, why do you think you did a better job of reading and interpreting the literature and publishing guidelines?

I am having a hard time finding places I disagree significantly with them. Are you referring to sodium? Here is their article on the salt controversy: [] "pointing out that the committee’s conclusions discounted effects of sodium reduction on blood pressure." “Discounting the especially large blood pressure reduction going from 2,300 to 1,500 mg in prehypertensives, hypertensives, older adults and blacks who are especially vulnerable to the effects of high sodium betrays an unbalanced weighing of the evidence.” -Dr. Frank Sacks There are a couple problems with this critique. 1. It does not seem to me after reading the IoM report that they are discounting BP effects. They are explicitly noting that the BP reducing effects are not resulting in the expected mortality reduction if salt had no positive health effects. BP is a proxy measure for CVD and mortality risk. We shouldn't stick religiously to the proxy if we can gain access to the actual underlying thing we care about. 2. the "especially large reduction" comment seems inappropriate given that the IoM was NOT asked to establish sodium guidelines for people who display an especially high sodium sensitivity or have medical conditions but for the general populace. It also seems to be disregarding the fact that extreme sodium reduction has resulted in higher hospitalizations even in these "at risk" groups. I agree there is ambiguity about where in the 2g-4g consumption level is ideal. I also agree that the recommendation for certain sub-populations might be different. But the evidence of <2g=harm seems pretty solid. This evidence is not exclusively from mortality statistics as Dr. Sacks implies but also from hospitalizations as mentioned. I have not been able to figure out why the low sodium is being pushed so aggress
Seconding Anders_H here (will not get into specifics for similar reasons). -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Our opinions should not be treated as independent, of course.
Heh, do you know who Anders_H is?
For career reasons, I am unable to give a complete answer to this question (see my contact details). I just want to give the general advice that it may be a good idea to beware of people who use the word "science" and the brand name "Harvard" to promote their personal views on questions that are not answerable without long-term randomized trials with perfect adherance (or alternatively strong causal assumptions that are unlikely to hold in these particular settings) I am not claiming that aspiring rationalists can necessarily do any better, I just want to make the point that it may be better to admit ignorance (or high-variance priors) rather than appealing to the authority of "Harvard"

There's a bit of a false dichotomy here between 'earning to give' and 'altruistic career'. I'll talk about one of them which we'll need to go macro to see. I will also implicitly complain that 'earning to give' allows companies to deflect on charitable giving in a way that satisfies individual actors but may result in less charitable giving overall.

Working on Wall Street and practicing an 'earning to give' plan may not be a great way to maximize giving to high-ROI aligned charities.

I work at an HFT of order 1000 employees. The HFT itself makes no chari... (read more)

Great request. Along a similar line, what about a decision tree for evaluating claims?

  1. Are you being asked to think about past decisions, prior beliefs, or intent? Take steps to rule out hindsight bias.

  2. Does the claim challenge prevailing beliefs, possibly alleging conspiracy? Consider confirmation bias.


(sorry if this is a FAQ)

I'm skeptical this is a great strategy for topics in general.

Nutrition, for example, doesn't appear to be the kind of topic where you can just learn its axioms and build up an optimal human diet from first principles. It's far too complicated.

Instead you need substantial education, training, experience and access, as well as a community that can help you support and refine your ideas. You need to gather evidence, you need to learn how to determine the quality of the evidence you've gathered, and you need to propose reasonable stories that fit the evidenc... (read more)

And rightly so :-) This is an approach that should be reserved for important topics. I think you're setting the bar too high. What you describe will allow one to produce new research and that's not the goal here. All you need to be able to do is to pass a judgement on conflicting claims -- that's much easier than gathering evidence and proposing stories. In nutrition, for example, a lot of claims are contested and not by crackpots. Highly qualified people strongly disagree about basic issues, for example, the effects of dietary saturated fat. I am saying that you should read the arguments of both sides and form your opinion about them -- not that you should apply to the NIH for a grant to do a definitive study. Of course that means reading the actual papers, not dumbed down advice for hoi polloi.

Yes. I spent a lot of time reviewing critiques of The China Study (TCS), including Minger's. At the end of it I came to the following conclusions.

  1. Nutrition science is extraordinarily nonlinear
  2. I'm definitely not qualified to deconstruct claims made about nutrition
  3. TCS critics don't seem very qualified either, especially when compared to the qualifications of the people advancing TCS
  4. There's no larger group of qualified people advancing a radically different approach

So, those are my reasons. I admit they're not very satisfying. I'm spoiled by fields... (read more)

General advice: learn causal inference. Getting strong causal claims empirically is not so simple...
I disagree with your approach (basically, trust authority), but that's just me.

The immediately available example supporting your article for me is the relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. There's high general confusion around this health claim.

What no doubt compounds the confusion on the issue is that intuitively you might infer that eating zero cholesterol should lower blood cholesterol, or that eating high cholesterol should raise blood cholesterol. Evidence shows this often happens, but not always. There are enough notable outliers that the claim has been defeated in the general mind because it does... (read more)

I discovered because someone left a printout of an article on the elliptical machine in my gym. I started reading it and have become hooked.

I'm a formally uneducated computer expert. The lack of formal education makes me a bit insecure, so I obsess over improving my thinking through literature on cognitive dissonance and biases, such as books from the library and also sites like this.

Nowadays I get paid to be a middle-manager at technology companies. Most of my career has been in Linux system administration as well as functional programmi... (read more)

What article was that?
Are you aware of Denise Minger's dissection of the China Study []?