All of Scott Alexander's Comments + Replies

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

Thanks for this.

I'm interested in figuring out more what's going on here - how do you feel about emailing me, hashing out the privacy issues, and, if we can get them hashed out, you telling me the four people you're thinking of who had psychotic episodes?

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I agree I'm being somewhat inconsistent, I'd rather do that than prematurely force consistency and end up being wrong or missing some subtlety. I'm trying to figure out what went on in these cases in more details and will probably want to ask you a lot of questions by email if you're open to that.

7jessicata1moYes, I'd be open to answering email questions.
My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

If this information isn't too private, can you send it to me? scott@slatestarcodex.com

8EricB1moI've forwarded you the document. It's kinda personal so I'd prefer it not be posted publicly, but I'm mostly okay with it being shared with individuals who have reason to want to understand better.
My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

Yes, I agree with you that all of this is very awkward.

I think the basic liberal model where everyone uses Reason a lot and we basically trust their judgments is a good first approximation and we should generally use it.

But we have to admit at least small violations of it even to get the concept of "cult". Not just the sort of weak cults we're discussing here, but even the really strong cults like Heaven's Gate or Jamestown. In the liberal model, someone should be able to use Reason to conclude that being in Heaven's Gate is bad for them, and leave. When w... (read more)

It seems to me that, at least in your worldview, this question of whether and what sort of subtle mental influence between people is possible is extremely important, to the point where different answers to the question could lead to pretty different political philosophies.

Let's consider a disjunction: 1: There isn't a big effect here, 2: There is a big effect here.

In case 1:

  • It might make sense to discourage people from talking too much about "charisma", "auras", "mental objects", etc, since they're pretty fake, really not the primary factors to think abo
... (read more)

One important implication of "cults are possible" is that many normal-seeming people are already too crazy to function as free citizens of a republic.

In other words, from a liberal perspective, someone who can't make their own decisions about whether to hang out with Michael Vassar and think about what he says is already experiencing a severe psychiatric emergency and in need of a caretaker, since they aren't competent to make their own life decisions. They're already not free, but in the grip of whatever attractor they found first.

Personally I bite the bu... (read more)

It seems to me like in the case of Leverage, them working 75 hours per week reduced the time the could have used to use Reason to conclude that they are in a system that's bad for them. 

That's very different from someone having a few conversation with Vassar and then adopting a new belief and spending a lot of the time reasoning about that alone and the belief being stable without being embedded into a strong enviroment that makes independent thought hard because it keeps people busy.

A cult in it's nature is a social institution and not just a meme that someone can pass around via having a few conversations.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I'm having trouble figuring out how to respond to this hostile framing. I mean, it's true that I've talked with Michael many times about ways in which (in his view, and separately in mine) MIRI, CfAR, and "the community" have failed to live up to their stated purposes. Separately, it's also true that, on occasion, Michael has recommended I take drugs. (The specific recommendations I recall were weed and psilocybin. I always said No; drug use seems like a very bad idea given my history of psych problems.)

[...]

Michael is a charismatic guy who has strong view

... (read more)

Thing 0:

Scott.

Before I actually make my point I want to wax poetic about reading SlateStarCodex.

In some post whose name I can't remember, you mentioned how you discovered the idea of rationality. As a child, you would read a book with a position, be utterly convinced, then read a book with the opposite position and be utterly convinced again, thinking that the other position was absurd garbage. This cycle repeated until you realized, "Huh, I need to only be convinced by true things."

This is extremely relatable to my lived experience. I am a stereotypical "... (read more)

Michael is very good at spotting people right on the verge of psychosis

...and then pushing them.

Michael told me once that he specifically seeks out people who are high in Eysenckian psychoticism.

So, this seems deliberate. [EDIT: Or not. Zack makes a fair point.] He is not even hiding it, if you listen carefully.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I don't want to reveal any more specific private information than this without your consent, but let it be registered that I disagree with your assessment that your joining the Vassarites wasn't harmful to you. I was not around for the 2017 issues (though if you reread our email exchanges from April you will understand why I'm suspicious), but when you had some more minor issues in 2019 I was more in the loop and I ended out emailing the Vassarites (deliberately excluding you from the email, a decision I will defend in private if you ask me) accusing them ... (read more)

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

It was on the Register of Bans, which unfortunately went down after I deleted the blog. I admit I didn't publicize it very well because this was a kind of sensitive situation and I was trying to do it without destroying his reputation.

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/iWWjq5BioRkjxxNKq/michael-vassar-at-the-slatestarcodex-online-meetup seems to have happened after that point in time. Vassar not only attended a Slate Star Codex but was central in it and presenting his thoughts.

If there are bans that are supposed to be enforced, mentioning that in the mails that go out to organizers for a ACX everywhere event would make sense. I'm not 100% sure that I got all the mails because Ruben forwarded mails for me (I normally organize LW meetups in Berlin and support Ruben with the SSC/ACX meetups), but in those there was no mention of the word ban.

I don't think it needs to be public but having such information in a mail like the one Aug 23 would likely to be necessary for a good portion of the meetup organizers to know that there an expectation that certain people aren't welcome.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

Thanks, if you meant that, when someone is at a very early stage of thinking strange things, you should talk to them about it and try to come to a mutual agreement on how worrying this is and what the criteria would be for psych treatment, instead of immediately dehumanizing them and demanding the treatment right away, then I 100% agree.

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I don't remember the exact words in our last conversation. If I said that, I was wrong and I apologize.

My position is that in schizophrenia (which is a specific condition and not just the same thing as psychosis), lifetime antipsychotics might be appropriate. EG this paper suggests continuing for twelve months after a first schizophrenic episode and then stopping and seeing how things go, which seems reasonable to me. It also says that if every time you take someone off antipsychotics they become fully and dangerous psychotic again, then lifetime antipsych... (read more)

I think if someone has mild psychosis and you can guide them back to reality-based thoughts for a second, that is compassionate and a good thing to do in the sense that it will make them feel better, but also kind of useless because the psychosis still has the same chance of progressing into severe psychosis anyway - you're treating a symptom.

If psychosis is caused by an underlying physiological/biochemical process, wouldn't that suggest that e.g. exposure to Leverage Research wouldn't be a cause of it?

If being part of Leverage is causing less reality-b... (read more)

[probably old-hat [ETA: or false], but I'm still curious what you think] My (background unexamined) model of psychosis-> schizophrenia is that something, call it the "triggers", sets a person on a trajectory of less coherence / grounding; if the trajectory isn't corrected, they just go further and further. The "triggers" might be multifarious; there might be "organic" psychosis and "psychic" psychosis, where the former is like what happens from lead poisoning, and the latter is, maybe, what happens when you begin to become aware of some horrible facts. ... (read more)

I don’t remember the exact words in our last conversation. If I said that, I was wrong and I apologize.

Ok, the opinions you've described here seem much more reasonable than what I remember, thanks for clarifying.

I do think that psychosis should be thought of differently than just “weird thoughts that might be true”, since it’s a whole-body nerve-and-brain dysregulation of which weird thoughts are just one symptom.

I agree, yes. I think what I was afraid of at the time was being called crazy and possibly institutionalized for thinking somewhat weird ... (read more)

My experience at and around MIRI and CFAR (inspired by Zoe Curzi's writeup of experiences at Leverage)

I want to add some context I think is important to this.

Jessica was (I don't know if she still is) part of a group centered around a person named Vassar, informally dubbed "the Vassarites". Their philosophy is complicated, but they basically have a kind of gnostic stance where regular society is infinitely corrupt and conformist and traumatizing and you need to "jailbreak" yourself from it (I'm using a term I found on Ziz's discussion of her conversations with Vassar; I don't know if Vassar uses it himself). Jailbreaking involves a lot of tough conversatio... (read more)

2Yoav Ravid1moIs this the highest rated comment on the site?
4Dr_Manhattan1moSince comments get occluded you should refer to an edit/update somewhere at the top if you want it to be seen by those who already read your original comment.

Relevant bit of social data: Olivia is the most irresponsible-with-drugs person I've ever met, by a sizeable margin; and I know of one specific instance (not a person named in your comment or any other comments on this post) where Olivia gave someone an ill-advised drug combination and they had a bad time (though not a psychotic break).

I've posted an edit/update above after talking to Vassar.

Including Olivia, and Jessica, and I think Devi. Devi had a mental breakdown and detransitioned IIHC

Digging out this old account to point out that I have not in fact detransitioned, but find it understandable why those kinds of rumours would circulate given my behaviour during/around my experience of psychosis. I'll try to explain some context for the record.

In other parts of the linked blogpost Ziz writes about how some people around the rationalist community were acting on or spreading variations of the meme "trans women are [psychologically] men". ... (read more)

I want to point out that the level of mental influence being attributed to Michael in this comment and others (e.g. that he's "causing psychotic breaks" and "jailbreaking people" through conversation, "that listening too much to Vassar [causes psychosis], predictably") isn't obviously less than the level of mental influence Leverage attributed to people in terms of e.g. mental objects. Some people in the thread are self-congratulating on the rationalists not being as crazy and abusive as Leverage was in worrying that people were spreading harmful psycholo... (read more)

I banned him from SSC meetups for a combination of reasons including these

If you make bans like these it would be worth to communicate them to the people organizing SSC meetups. Especially, when making bans for safety reasons of meetup participants not communicating those bans seems very strange to me.

Vassar lived a while after he left the Bay Area in Berlin and for decisions whether or not to make an effort to integrate someone like him (and invite him to LW and SSC meetups) such kind of information is valuable and Bay people not sharing it but claiming t... (read more)

I talked and corresponded with Michael a lot during 2017–2020, and it seems likely that one of the psychotic breaks people are referring to is mine from February 2017? (Which Michael had nothing to do with causing, by the way.) I don't think you're being fair.

"jailbreak" yourself from it (I'm using a term I found on Ziz's discussion of her conversations with Vassar; I don't know if Vassar uses it himself)

I'm confident this is only a Ziz-ism: I don't recall Michael using the term, and I just searched my emails for jailbreak, and there are no hits from h... (read more)

I don’t think we need to blame/ostracize/cancel him and his group, except maybe from especially sensitive situations full of especially vulnerable people.

Based on the things I am reading about what has happened, blame, ostracism, and cancelling seem like the bare minimum of what we should do.

Vassar has had, I think about 6, transfems gravitate to him, join his projects, go on his quests, that I’ve heard. Including Olivia, and Jessica, and I think Devi. Devi had a mental breakdown and detransitioned IIHC. Jessica had a mental breakdown and didn’t detr

... (read more)

A question for the 'Vassarites', if they will: were you doing anything like the "unihemispheric sleep" exercise (self-inducing hallucinations/dissociative personalities by sleep deprivation) the Zizians are described as doing?

So, it's been a long time since I actually commented on Less Wrong, but since the conversation is here...

Hearing about this is weird for me, because I feel like, compared to the opinions I heard about him from other people in the community, I kind of... always had uncomfortable feelings about Mike Vassar? And I say this without having had direct personal contact with him except, IIRC, maybe one meetup I attended where he was there and we didn't talk directly, although we did occasionally participate in some of the same conversations online.

 

By all acc... (read more)

I feel pretty defensive reading and responding to this comment, given a previous conversation with Scott Alexander where he said his professional opinion would be that people who have had a psychotic break should be on antipsychotics for the rest of their life (to minimize risks of future psychotic breaks). This has known severe side effects like cognitive impairment and brain shrinkage and lacks evidence of causing long-term improvement. When I was on antipsychotics, my mental functioning was much lower (noted by my friends) and I gained weight rapidly.... (read more)

Blood Is Thicker Than Water 🐬

I've tried to address your point about psychiatry in particular at https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/12/04/symptom-condition-cause/

For the whale point, am I fairly interpreting your argument as saying that mammals are more similar, and more fundamentally similar, to each other, than swimmy-things? If so, consider a thought experiment. Swimmy-things are like each other because of convergent evolution. Presumably millions of years ago, the day after the separation of the whale and land-mammal lineages, proto-whales and proto-landmammals were extremely similar,... (read more)

Are you still going to insist that blood is thicker than water and we need to judge them by their phylogenetic group, even though this gives almost no useful information and it's almost always better to judge them by their environmental affinities?

No, of course not: we want categories that give useful information.

Did I fail as a writer by reaching for the cutesy title? (I guess I can't say I wasn't warned.) The actual text of the post—if you actually read all of the sentences in the post instead of just glancing at the title and skimming—is pretty expli... (read more)

Even taking everything else you write here for granted (which I wouldn’t normally, but let’s go with it for now)… the question in your last sentence seems easy to answer: we’re not in that period right now, because right now, by construction, whales are more landmammals in 85% of ways, so if you classify them as mammals, and then use that to make predictions about heretofore-unobserved traits, you will be right 85 / 15 = ~5.67 times more often than if you had classified them as fish.

“Eating Dirt Benefits Kids” is Basically Made Up

This rubs me wrong for the same reason that "no evidence for..." claims rub me wrong.

We have a probably-correct model, the hygiene hypothesis broadly understood. We have a plausible corollary of that model, which is that kids eating dirt helps their immune system (I had never heard this particular claim before, but since you mention it, it seems like a plausible corollary). We should have a low-but-not-ridiculously-low prior on this.

(probably some people would say a high prior, since it follows naturally from a probably-true thing, but I don't trust any mu... (read more)

I think "don't let kids eat dirt" originally had a much lower prior than "parachutes prevent falling injuries", that was specifically overcome by the impression of evidence that doesn't exist. There are lots of things in dirt we know are dangerous- pesticides, car exhaust, lead, animal waste... Maybe the benefits of dirt outweigh that, maybe they don't, we don't know because no one has checked. I also expect us to notice that parachutes fail without rigorous evaluation, whereas the effects of marginal dirt will be harder to notice.

I will be sad if people w... (read more)

Forecasting Newsletter: July 2021

Can you explain the no-loss competition idea further?

  • If you have to stake your USDC, isn't this still locking up USDC, the thing you were trying to avoid doing?
  • What gives the game tokens value? 
1NunoSempere4moNo, not really. In fact, staking USDC (i.e., lending it to other people, or providing liquidity between coins) seems decently profitable right now. As with everything, there are riskier and less risky ways to go about it, and for this prediction market setup, I'd choose one of the less risky ones. So normally, when you make a bet in, say, Polymarket, the money which you stake is kept by a contract until the question is resolved. But it's not yielding anything, it's just sitting there. And making it yield in the meantime a) is more profitable, and b) solves a problem of not being able to bet on long-term things, because now you're resistant to inflation+you win more money as time passes. I think that previously, some individuals (Caplan?) used to bet US stocks instead of cash for that reason, but I can't find a reference. So to answer your question, * To bet in prediction markets you'd have to lock up USDC anyways for the duration of the bet * (Note that you can exit early by making the opposite bet and then merging shares; this would be the same in the new system. But the point is that between betting and exiting, the capital is just sitting there.) * Yes, this adds an additional layer of risk depending on the method used to generate yield, but I think this is worth it. Also its maybe worth noting that the idea is not unique to Hedgehog markets/its been in the water supply for a while, it's just that Hedgehog markets might be the first to get to a working implementation.
1NunoSempere4moRight now, nothing; they are not even on the main blockchain yet (they'll launch in a few months) Eventually, they could use USDC, or some other stablecoin, and those would have value.
1MondSemmel4moFrom reading further through the Hedgehog Markets [https://hedgehog-markets.medium.com/hedgehog-markets-mainnet-a-sneak-peek-cdd66e2e42a5] link: * It's a competition, i.e. only one of the services they eventually intend to offer. * The tokens have value because there are prizes: "But of course, since it’s a competition, there are prizes to be won — users can trade their way onto the ROI Leaderboard for a share of the competition prize pool." * Prizes are financed via the interest gained by lending away the UDSC for the duration of the competition (just as if Hedgehog were acting as a classical bank, I suppose): "Thanks to DeFi composability, Hedgehog can direct the USDC staked by users towards a Solana lending protocol for the duration of the competition. All of the yield generated from these deposits goes back to users in the form of competition prize pools." * The linked post ends with a full page of disclaimers. With regards to locking up USDC: I've only just started reading up on Ethereum (e.g. this post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/nMNi86hgNjaNnh8iu/a-whirlwind-tour-of-ethereum-finance] ), but from my very rudimentary understanding, I suppose the point here is that USDC [https://coinmarketcap.com/currencies/usd-coin/] is a stablecoin pegged to the price of 1 USD, so locking up USDC does not expose you to the same volatility as would happen if you locked up the equivalent amount of ETH [https://coinmarketcap.com/currencies/ethereum/] instead.
(Brainstem, Neocortex) ≠ (Base Motivations, Honorable Motivations)

Thanks, I read that, and while I wouldn't say I'm completely enlightened, I feel like I have a good basis for reading it a few more times until it sinks in.

I interpret you as saying in this post: there is no fundamental difference between base and noble motivations, they're just two different kinds of plans we can come up with and evaluate, and we resolve conflicts between them by trying to find frames in which one or the other seems better. Noble motivations seem to "require more willpower" only because we often spend more time working on coming up with p... (read more)

4Steven Byrnes4moThanks for your helpful comments!!! :) One thing is: I think you’re assuming a parallel model of decision-making—all plans are proposed in parallel, and the striatum picks a winner. My scheme [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/e5duEqhAhurT8tCyr/a-model-of-decision-making-in-the-brain-the-short-version] does have that, but then it also has a serial part: you consider one plan, then the next plan, etc. And each time you switch plans, there’s a dopamine signal that says whether this new plan is better or worse than the status quo / previous plan. I think there’s good evidence for partially-serial consideration of options, at least in primates (e.g. Fig. 2b here [https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13415-020-00842-0]). I mean, that’s obvious from introspection. My hunch is that partially-serial decision-making is universal in vertebrates. Like, imagine the lamprey is swimming towards place A, and it gets to a fork where it could instead turn and go to place B. I think "the idea of going to place B" pops into the lamprey's brain (pallium), displacing the old plan, at least for a moment. Then a dopamine signal promptly appears that says whether this new plan is better or worse than the old plan. If it's worse (dopamine pause), the lamprey continues along its original trajectory without missing a beat. This is partially-serial decision-making. I don't know how else the system could possibly work. Different pallium location memories are (at least partially) made out of the activations of different sparse subsets of neurons from the same pool of neurons, I think. You just can't activate a bunch of them at once, it wouldn't work, they would interfere with each other, AFAICT. Anyway, if options are considered serially, things become simpler. All you really need is a mechanism for the hypothalamus to guess “if we do the current plan, how much and what type of food will I eat?”. (Such a mechanism does seem to exist AFAICT—in fact, I think mammals have two such mechani
(Brainstem, Neocortex) ≠ (Base Motivations, Honorable Motivations)

Can you link to an explanation of why you're thinking of the brainstem as plan-evaluator? I always thought it was the basal ganglia.

2Steven Byrnes4moSince this keeps coming up—Big Picture of Phasic Dopamine [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jrewt3rLFiKWrKuyZ/big-picture-of-phasic-dopamine] is still the best resource, but I just summarized this aspect of it in 20× fewer words: A model of decision-making in the brain (the short version). [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/e5duEqhAhurT8tCyr/a-model-of-decision-making-in-the-brain-the-short-version] It's pretty similar to what I wrote in my other reply comment though.

Good question!

  • Yes I can link it but it's very long, sorry: Big Picture Of Phasic Dopamine.
  • The midbrain dopamine centers (VTA, SNc) are traditionally "part of the basal ganglia" AND "part of the brainstem". I think that these regions are where you find the "final answer" about whether a plan is good or bad, and that the dopamine signals from these regions can just directly shut down bad ideas.
  • But of course a lot of processing happens before you get to the "final answer"…
  • Specifically, I think there are basically three layers of "plan evaluation":
    • First, you s
... (read more)
Why do patients in mental institutions get so little attention in the public discourse?

Mental hospitals of the type I worked at when writing that post only keep patients for a few days, maybe a few weeks at tops. This means there's no long-term constituency for fighting them, and the cost of errors is (comparatively) low.

The procedures for these hospitals would be hard to change. It's hard to have a law like "you need a judge to approve sending someone to a mental hospital", because maybe someone's trying to kill themselves right now and the soonest a judge has an opening is three days from now. So the standard rule is "use your own judgment... (read more)

3ChristianKl6moHard in the sense that there's a lot of lobbying power behind the legacy system but that's not for lack of alternatives. Prediction-based medicine [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/TYA2nsPypoNaLsczd/prediction-based-medicine-pbm] where one doctor makes predictions about what's likely to happen when the patient doesn't get hospitalized and what happens with them when they are hospitalized and then letting another doctor make the decision to hospitalize or not hospitalize isn't very hard. Then you fire those people who make bad predictions because they are unqualified to do their job. I think it's perfectly fine to require the opinion of two doctors to take away the freedom as taking freedom away is a major move and I think it's reasonable to require the ability to make accurate predictions about harm to justify taking away someones freedom.
Alcohol, health, and the ruthless logic of the Asian flush

I have some patients on disulfiram and it works very well when they take it. The problem is definitely that they can choose not to take it if they want alcohol (or sometimes just forget for normal reasons, then opportunistically drink after they realize they've forgotten). 

The implants are a great idea. As far as I know, the reason they're not used is because someone would have to pay for lots and lots of studies and the economics don't work out. Also because there are vague concerns about safety (if something went catastrophically wrong and the entir... (read more)

Wait, you don't know? Disulfiram implants are widely used in Eastern Europe.

The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence

I tried to bet on this on Polymarket a few months ago. Their native client for directing money into your account didn't work (I think it was because I was in the US and it wasn't legal under US law). I tried to send money from another crypto account, and it said Polymarket didn't have enough money to pay the Ethereum gas fees to receive my money. It originally asked me to try reloading the page close to an odd numbered GMT hour, when they were sending infusions of money to pay gas fees, but I tried a few times and never got quite close enough. I just check... (read more)

3Isma8moI think by far the easiest way to trade the US election (for non US persons) was on FTX www.ftx.com [http://www.ftx.com] For reference, this is Vitalik's blog post about the US election prediction markets (which of course favors Ethereum-based platforms!) https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html. [https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html.] It looks horribly complicated. Maybe Vitalik himself didn't know about FTX? Side note: for US persons,www.ftx.us [http://www.ftx.us] is available (but more restrictive).
8cata8moI could have imagined this was true a month ago, but then I spent about 15 total hours learning about Ethereum financial widgets, which was fun, and wrote it up into this post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/nMNi86hgNjaNnh8iu/a-whirlwind-tour-of-ethereum-finance] , and now I totally understand Vitalik's steps [https://vitalik.ca/general/2021/02/18/election.html], understand many of the possible risks underlying them, and could have confidently done something similar myself. Although I am probably unusually capable even among the LW readership, I think many readers could have done this if they wanted to. Similarly, I don't know anything about perpetual futures, but I guarantee that I could understand perpetual futures very clearly by tomorrow if you offered me $20k (or a 20% shot at $100k) to do it. Having to think hard for a week to clearly understand something complicated, with the expectation that there might be money on the other end*, is definitely a convincing practical explanation for why rationalists aren't making a lot of money off of schemes like this, but it's not a good reason why they shouldn't. Of course, many rationalists may not have enough capital that it matters much, but many may. *It's not like these are otherwise useless concepts to understand, either.

Not Vitalik. A friend of mine from OBNYC.

I don't know why you had so many troubles putting money into polymarket a few months back. Right now polymarket is in 'trouble' since ETH fees are so high so its expensive to withdraw. 

I mostly election bet elsewhere but I got five figures into polymarket without too much trouble. 

I wish you had posted on lesswrong. I would have happily helped you.

Still Not in Charge

Thanks for this.

I think the UFH might be more complicated than you're making it sound here - the philosophers debate whether any human really has a utility function.

When you talk about the CDC Director sometimes doing deliberately bad policy to signal to others that she is a buyable ally, I interpret this as "her utility function is focused on getting power". She may not think of this as a "utility function", in fact I'm sure she doesn't, it may be entirely a selected adaptation to execute, but we can model it as a utility function for the same reason we m... (read more)

What is it good for? But actually?

Bronze Age war (as per James Scott) was primarily war for captives, because the Bronze Age model was kings ruling agricultural dystopias amidst virgin land where people could easily escape and become hunter-gatherers. The laborers would gradually escape, the country would gradually become less populated, and the king would declare war on a neighboring region to steal their people to use as serfs or slaves.

Iron Age to Industrial Age war (as per Peter Turchin) was primarily war for land, because of Malthus. Until the Industrial Revolution, you needed a certa... (read more)

1jaspax1yThe only part of this that doesn't make sense to me is "they still eliminated their excess population". Unless I'm mistaken about the numbers, no war before WWI ever had a large enough number of combatants or was deadly enough in general to make a real dent in the population. An exception to this might be prehistoric intertribal warfare in which the combatants include "all healthy adult males of the tribe", but that obviously doesn't apply to Iron Age to Industrial Age warfare as you claim.
The rationalist community's location problem

The Bay Area is a terrible place to live in many ways. I think if we were selecting for the happiness of existing rationalists, there's no doubt we should be somewhere else.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things, it has some obvious advantages. If MIRI is trying to lure some top programmer, it's easier for them to suggest they move to the Bay (and offer them enough money to overcome the house price hurdle) than to suggest they move to Montevideo or Blackpool or even Phoenix. If CEA is trying to get p... (read more)

I actually feel like East Bay (Oakland and every place north of Oakland) is really pleasant:

  • Cost of living isn't terrible except for rent, and it's still possible to find good deals on rent, e.g. I've lived in North Oakland for 6 years and have only paid more than $1,000/month for one of those years (granted for the rest of the time I've been living in group houses or with a partner)
  • East Bay parks are amazing
  • Minimal social decay except for downtown Berkeley and parts of Oakland
  • Wonderful weather for ~10 months of the year (every season except for fire seaso
... (read more)

It also rules out Cascadian cities like Portland and Seattle - only marginally better housing costs, worse fires, and worse social decay (eg violence in Portland).

I'm not sure this is so conclusive, regarding Seattle. A few notes --

  1. The rent is 40% less than San Francisco, and 20% less than Berkeley. (And the difference seems likely to continue or increase, because Seattle is willing to build housing.)
  2. There is no state income tax.
  3. While the CHAZ happened in Seattle, my impression is that day-to-day it's much more livable than SF. (I haven't lived there in a
... (read more)

(Source: I work at MIRI.)

MIRI is very seriously considering moving to a different country soon (most likely Canada), or moving to elsewhere in the US. No concrete plans or decisions at this point, and it's very possible we'll stay in the Bay; but I don't think people should make their current location decisions based on a confident prediction that MIRI is going to stay in the Bay.

If we do leave the Bay Area, some of the main places we're currently thinking about are New Hampshire and some other northeastern US spots, and the area surrounding Toronto in Can... (read more)

I feel like there's a very serious risk of turning a 'broad rationalist movement' reaction, feeding on PARC adjacent extreme-aspirationals and secreting 'rationalists' into a permanently capped out minor regional cult by just deciding to move somewhere all avowed 'rationalists' choose.
I doubt most 'rationalists' or even most of the people who are likely to contribute to the literature of a rationalist movement have yet been converted to a specific sort of tribal self-identification that would lead them to pick up roots and all go to the same place at one t... (read more)

I have been collecting interest in an unchartered community in Niobrara, Wyoming with plans to gain critical mass for a state charter.

It's the smallest county in the state with ~2,000 population; the state has the most national voting power per person; generally the law is about as libertarian as any other and they've made a specific push to be a replacement Switzerland after Zurich cracked down on the banks, with especially friendliness to cryptocurrency.

There are currently 2200 acres for sale for $1MM, or smaller lots for less. I am personally committed ... (read more)

>it's less than an hour's drive to Boston

this is pretty damn strong for intellectual hub considerations. I had been thinking Denver or Santa Cruz were the only real choices due to decriminalization (leading indicator) but given NH's politics they might follow along in the next few years.

But if the rationalist project is supposed to be about spreading our ideas and achieving things [emphasis mine]

Thanks for phrasing this as a conditional! To fill in another branch of the if/else-if/else-if ... conditional statement: if the rationalist project is supposed to be about systematically correct reasoning—having the right ideas because they're right, rather than spreading our ideas because they're ours—then things that are advantageous to the movement could be disadvantageous to the ideology, if the needs of growing the coalition's resources c... (read more)

I agree with regard to Moraga. Habryka and a few housemates of mine drove down to have a look around, and I think their main updates were that each house had only like 2 bedrooms, were all ~5x the distance from each other relative to Berkeley, there were no sidewalks, and no natural meeting place (the place with the shops had no natural seating), which means people just wouldn’t see each other very much unless everyone had a car and made it a conscious and constant effort. Even though it was nice and clean and so on.

I also agree wrt CFAR/MIRI. I would be i... (read more)

2thoughtfulmadison1yThanks for the link. Wish I'd read it earlier! That's a much better exposition of what I was trying to express here. :) I do think that there's complication beyond even the two-layer model presented in "Studies on Slack". For example, maybe my company gives a lot of slack and looks at my value-add on a 5-year timeframe. At the same time, I have little personal slack around my annual bonus because I need to pay off loans. Perhaps the culture I live in has some different level of slack in its expectations for work. Although the two-layer model is a useful simplification, I'm not sure that the actual interactions are so neatly hierarchical.
Ideology/narrative stabilizes path-dependent equilibria

I think you might find http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Property/Property.html helpful here. It explains legitimacy as a Schelling point. If everyone thinks you're legitimate, you're legitimate. And if everything expects everyone else is going to think you're legitimate, you're legitimate.

America has such a strong tradition of democracy that the Constitution makes an almost invincible Schelling point - everyone expects everyone else to follow it because everyone expects everyone else to follow it because...and so on. A country wi... (read more)

English Bread Regulations

Banning fresh bread doesn't decrease human caloric needs. Wouldn't making fresh bread less desirable just mean people replace it with other foods, spending the same amount of money overall (or more, since bread is probably cheaper than its replacement) and removing any benefit from bread price controls? Or was the English government working off a model where people were overconsuming food because of how tasty fresh bread was?

1lexande2y1) People are probably less likely to throw out stale bread if it's impossible to obtain fresh bread? 2) If the price of e.g. fish is less regulated but generally higher than that of bread, banning fresh bread would lead to a larger rise in the price of fish as more rich people switch to it, which would perhaps lead to fishermen working longer hours and catching more fish, helping make up the overall calorie shortfall from the poor harvest without increasing costs for poor people who could never afford fish in the first place. Whereas letting the price of bread itself rise would be more regressive? 3) Same as with fish but with meat from livestock, pushing tradeoffs in the direction of "slaughter this year" vs "keep fattening up for next year", which could be desirable if the wheat shortage is expected to be temporary, and might even decrease demand for wheat as livestock feed if that was a thing at the time? Not sure how large any of these effects would be.
2jefftk2yI don't understand either! They did import rice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_vessels_for_the_British_Government's_importation_of_rice_from_Bengal_(1800–1802) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_vessels_for_the_British_Government%27s_importation_of_rice_from_Bengal_(1800%E2%80%931802)]
4Jay Molstad2yI suspect that fresh bread was actually a luxury food at the time, with pottages [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pottage]more common among the poor.
The EMH Aten't Dead

Re: "revisionist history":

You criticize my description in "A Failure, But Not Of Prediction", which was:

The stock market is a giant coordinated attempt to predict the economy, and it reached an all-time high on February 12, suggesting that analysts expected the economy to do great over the following few months. On February 20th it fell in a way that suggested a mild inconvenience to the economy, but it didn’t really start plummeting until mid-March – the same time the media finally got a clue.

As my post said, the mark... (read more)

7Richard Meadows2yHi Scott, If we take the 6th of March—the last trading day before the March 9 fall—then the market is down 12.2%, which is already in 'correction' territory, and an extremely rapid descent by historical standards. If we take the 16th of March—the closest trading day we have to 'mid-March'—the market is already down 29.5% per cent, which is not too far off the bottom, and well and truly into 'bear' territory. I thought the talk about EMH being dead was weird at the time, and left a comment saying as much. I also wrote a post on March 24, which later turned out to be the bottom, saying that timing the market was a really bad idea, and the buy-and-hold forever strategy was about the best anyone could hope for. I am as surprised about the speed of the rebound as anyone! I possess no predictive powers, but I have consistently been defending boring orthodoxy. I admire and respect you very much as a person and a thinker—seriously man, you have no idea—so I feel extremely bad if I have made you feel bad. I didn't mean to accuse you specifically of being a revisionist historian—it was more of a general vibe that seemed to be happening a lot—and although I think the passage as stated is misleading, I don't think it's deliberately so, and I've edited the post so it comes off as less accusatory.
SlateStarCodex 2020 Predictions: Buy, Sell, Hold

Thanks, I look forward to seeing how this goes. I'm impressed with you being willing to bet against me on things you know nothing about like my restaurant preferences (not sarcastic, seriously impressed), and I will be *very* impressed if you end up broadly more accurate than I am in that category. In many cases I agree with your criticism once you explain your reasoning.

There was a pretty credible rumor that Kim Jong-un was dead last week when I wrote this, which is why I gave him such a low probability. Today the news is he was seen in public alive (though in theory this could be a sham), so you are probably right, but it made sense when I wrote it.

Evaluating Predictions in Hindsight

Thanks (as always) for your thoughts.

I agree most of your methods for evaluating predictions are good. But I think I mostly have a different use case, in two ways. First, for a lot of things I'm not working off an explicit model, where I can compare predictions made to the model to reality in many different circumstances. When I give Joe Biden X% of the nomination, this isn't coming from a general process that I can check against past elections and other candidates, it's just something like "Joe Biden feels X% likely to win". I thi... (read more)

Good responses. I do think a lot of the value is the back-and-forth, and seeing which logic holds up and which doesn't. Bunch of things to talk about.

First, the discussion of models vs. instincts. I agree that one should sometimes make predictions without an explicit model. I'm not sure whether one can be said to ever not have an implicit model and still be doing the scribe things instead of the actor thing - my modal thinks that when someone like me makes a prediction on instinct there's an implicit (unconscious) model somewhere, even if it... (read more)

How to evaluate (50%) predictions

Correction: Kelsey gave Biden 60% probability in January 2020. I gave him 20% probability in January 2019 (before he had officially entered the race). I don't think these contradict each other.

3Rafael Harth2yOh, sorry! I've taken the reference to your prediction out and referred only to BetFair as the baseline.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

No, it says:

The study design does not allow us to determine whether medical masks had efficacy or whether cloth masks were detrimental to HCWs by causing an increase in infection risk. Either possibility, or a combination of both effects, could explain our results. It is also unknown whether the rates of infection observed in the cloth mask arm are the same or higher than in HCWs who do not wear a mask, as almost all participants in the control arm used a mask. The physical properties of a cloth mask, reuse, the frequency and effectiveness of cleani
... (read more)
3silverdrake112yI noticed this too. When wearing a bandana as a mask, humidity is building up while exhaling, causing it to be slightly damp.
6cata2yMea culpa, that's more of a condemnation than I thought.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4420971/ is skeptical of cloth masks. Does anyone have any thoughts on it, or know any other studies investigating this question?

4ChristianKl2yIt seems the primary argument for clothing masks that's made is that if an infected person wears them it's less likely that they will infect others. That's not the purpose that was tested in "A cluster randomised trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers" [https://www.researchgate.net/publication/275360639_A_cluster_randomised_trial_of_cloth_masks_compared_with_medical_masks_in_healthcare_workers] that study seemed more about whether or not the masks have protective qualities for the wearer.
2cata2yIt seems only skeptical of cloth masks as compared to surgical masks, which isn't really very interesting to me in the current circumstances, since most people don't have access to surgical masks.
April Coronavirus Open Thread

In most major countries, daily case growth has switched from exponential to linear, an important first step towards the infection being under control. See https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-covid-cases-3-day-average for more, you can change which countries are on the graph for more detail. The growth rate in the world as a whole has also turned linear, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/daily-covid-cases-3-day-average?country=USA+CHN+KOR+ITA+ESP+DEU+GBR+IRN+OWID_WRL . Since this is growth per day, a horizontal line represents a linear growth rate.

If ... (read more)

I would like this to be true, but two days on from the above comment, I am not seeing any linearity in the world growth rate (second link above), just three points in a nearly horizontal line a few days ago. The link for BRA+SWE shows the same thing for Brazil even more dramatically. New daily cases is a noisy enough measurement that I wouldn't entertain hope that we are past the exponential phase until seeing at least a week of a flat or declining rate.

The site I usually look for stats on is https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.... (read more)

I'd like to point out that the growth in India is still exponential (linear on the log-scale) https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/india/. This could be or become true of other developing countries.

India and other developing countries probably have a harder time controlling the outbreak (and governments and the young, food-insecure populations may judge the economic cost of social distancing to be higher than the risk of the virus).

There was a time when the number of worldwide cases appeared to stagnate because of the Chinese lockdown, but thi

... (read more)
9CellBioGuy2yHow much of that is a delayed effect of distancing and how much is saturation of test capacity? American capacity hasn't increased in days, and by both my and the Imperial College of London's calculations, at least 3 million Italians are probably already infected...
4Bucky2yI think there's a decent amount of correlation with between lockdown dates and entering linear growth. Below are the lockdown dates and starts of the linear phase for some of the worst hit countries. China 23rd Jan -> 5th Feb S. Korea 20th Feb -> 1st March (This wasn't a mandated government lockdown but people did seem to stay inside [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-health-southkorea-cases/like-a-zombie-apocalypse-residents-on-edge-as-coronavirus-cases-surge-in-south-korea-idUSKBN20E04F] in the worst hit areas) March: Italy 9th -> 21st Spain 15th -> 26th Germany 16th -> 27th France 17th -> not yet linear (last 2 days have been high) Switzerland 20th -> 21st US 22nd (NY) -> not yet linear UK 23rd -> approaching linear? Possibly already there These are remarkably consistent at 10-14 days, apart from Switzerland (very fast) and France (looked like it had gone linear at about the normal time but has increased again). This graph [https://chart-studio.plotly.com/~Bucky13/9] shows the same data but is annotated with containment steps taken by each country (it isn't averaged over 3 days so the exact numbers don't match up but the same pattern applies).
April Coronavirus Open Thread

Thanks for the shout-out, but I don't think the thing I proposed there is quite the same as hammer and dance. I proposed lockdown, then gradual titration of lockdown level to build herd immunity. Pueyo and others are proposing lockdown, then stopping lockdown in favor of better strategies that prevent transmission. The hammer and dance idea is better, and if I had understood it at the time of writing I would have been in favor of that instead.

(there was an ICL paper that proposed the same thing I did, and I did brag about preempting them, which might be what you saw)

2Elizabeth2yI think you're being too modest, but I've removed it since you think it's been eclipsed by something better.
3Lanrian2yLink to paper [https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf] , the relevant figure is on page 12.
SSC - Face Masks: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

Sorry, by "complete" I meant "against both types of transmission". I agree it was confusing/wrong as written, so I edited it to say "generalized".

Can crimes be discussed literally?

Agreed, it seems very similar to (maybe exactly like) the "Martin Luther King was a criminal" example from there.

It seems to me that you're taking the position opposite MLK's, and my position is pretty much MLK's.

MLK never equivocated about whether he was disobedient towards US law. He just asked people to accept the legitimacy of the justice over that of US law. As he wrote in Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is r
... (read more)

It seems to me precisely the opposite: my reading is that Benquo is driving exactly at how to talk about the problem of systemic falsification of information.

If the post is noncentral, what is the central thing instead?

March Coronavirus Open Thread

China is following a strategy of shutting down everything and getting R0 as low as possible. This works well in the short term, but they either have to keep everything shut down forever, or risk the whole thing starting over again.

UK is following a strategy of shutting down only the highest-risk people, and letting the infection burn itself out. It's a permanent solution, but it's going to be really awful for a while as the hospitals overload and many people die from lack of hospital care.

What about a strategy in between these two? Shut everythin... (read more)

7Self-Embedded Agent2yJust like to chime in to say that this (=' flattening the curve/ herd immunity') fundamentally doesn't work, and you don't need to have a PhD in epidemiology from Imperial College to understand this [but you might need a PhD in epidemiology to misunderstand it], just basic arithmetic and common sense. Suppose 50% of the UK (33 million people) get the virus of which 5% (~ 1.8 million people) will need serious hospitalization [conservative estimate]. The current capacity of ICU beds in the UK is something on the order of 2000 beds , depending on occupancy rates, ability to scale up et cetera. Let's be extremely optimistic and somehow the UK is able to quintuple this capacity [as far as I can tell this is unlikely]. When somebody is sick they might need care for 2 weeks. The annual hospital capacity is: 25 weeks * 10.000 beds= 250k. At the moment the capacity is nowhere that (perhaps 50-100k). You can see that 1.8 million is far larger than 100k or even 250 k. Even wildly optimistic estimates will not yield anything realistic. This assumes that the government is somehow able to control the infection spreading over a year; instead of two months. There is no reason to think they can do this without extreme (partial) lockdown measures. Controlling the R0 is extremely hard. All the mild measures seem to help only a tiny little bit. If the R0 is only a bit over 1, we still have exponential growth; and you have merely pushed timelines back a few months. Can we perhaps expose young people but lock up older people for one-two years [when the vaccin might arrive]? I find this is extremely unlikely; you need only a couple people to flout the rules to wipe out an entire nursing home. Is it worth it to (partially) lock down the entire country for a year to save maybe a hundred thousand old people? There are only two real possible approaches: 1. Let the Boomers die. If we're lucky the death rate is ~0.7 percent. When (not if) hospitals overflow this will easily triple.
6Pablo2yThe South Korean approach seems to be roughly as effective as the Chinese approach but significantly less costly and disruptive. SK managed to halt exponential growth and currently cases are increasing linearly at a rate of 75 or so per day. This has been achieved without lockdowns or extensive border closings. Instead, the key ingredient appears to be rapid, extensive and largely free testing, and an educational campaign that stresses the importance of hand washing and staying at home.
1Mmv2yIsn't "social distancing" the in-between strategy already? I was thinking of something similar today, when questioned whether to have a friend to my house. If I followed the strictest measures, I wouldn't. But then, if nobody did and we were essentially on self-quarantine mode, then the virus wouldn't spread at all or very, very, little and we would be hovering in small numbers for months, until next fall/winter, when it could get really risky again (presuming that weather has an influence, like with flu). So doesn't the social distancing strategy want some appreciable degree of transmission, high enough to get to herd immunity in a reasonable amount of time, but slow enough to avoid a hospital crisis? Are governments just relying on the idea that some people will ignore the suggestions, and we'll get a reasonable degree of transmission over time during social distancing?
3Lanrian2yIsn't this exactly what "flatten the curve" is about? Because a lot of people are talking about that as a solution, including some governments. The main problem is that the curve needs to get really flat for hospitals to have time with everyone. Depending on how overwhelmed you want your hospitals to be, you could be in lock-down for several years. Some calculations in this article [https://medium.com/@joschabach/flattening-the-curve-is-a-deadly-delusion-eea324fe9727] .
1Liam Donovan2yI'm pretty sure that's exactly what the UK is trying to do? I'm actually pretty confident that the UK government isn't planning to have " hospitals overload and many people die from lack of hospital care. ". Even if they were sure that was the best approach (and they just didn't think of your idea?) it would be completely unfeasible politically
1syllogism2yBut why can't we eradicate the virus? Let's say China shuts down international travel, keeps doing what they're doing, and then slowly eases back up in some area, letting the people in that city comingle and go back to work, but still restricting travel in and out. Let's say they get that city back running, with no coronavirus cases after a month. At the same time...Won't they also have basically eradicated other influenza there? Even if not entirely, there should be much less cold and flu, right? So as soon as coronavirus creeps back in, it should be much easier to contain. I guess my thinking here is, if coronavirus is much more virulent than the flu, and this type of containment works to almost eliminate the coronavirus, could China...actually eradicate the flu, at the same time? If not, why not? The problem comes in from other countries. If China goes to all this effort and the US, Europe, UK etc don't, do we would end up with this weird hazmat curtain? Asian countries would join China in eradicating the disease, and Australia and New Zealand would probably join them.

If you first do lockdowns to get new cases to ~0 and then relax, optimistically you will get localized epidemics that you can contain with widespread testing, contact tracing, and distancing if needed. Cost of testing & tracing and having to do occasional local/regional lockdowns could end up being manageable until treatment/vaccine arrives.

My main reason for optimism is Korea's and China's success containing a large outbreak. We will be expecting the secondary epidemics and reacting quickly, so they will be small when detected, so should be much easie

... (read more)
5Raemon2yI'm confused about why the second strategy works better than the first strategy at killing it permanently. If you shut down everything, shouldn't everything die out faster? (Unless you have open borders and let it in again, but wouldn't that also apply in the UK case?)

I've spent some time thinking about endgames here. (Not that I feel like I've come to any conclusions. I wish I knew what e.g. the WHO thought the endgame was.) The biggest problem I see with this idea is the lag between input and output -- when you change your quarantine measures, you can't observe the result for at least the 5-7 days it takes the newly infected to get symptoms, and longer if you want to get a lot of confidence in your measurement, over the noise inherent in the system.

Control systems with high lag like this are incredibly difficult to wo

... (read more)
The Critical COVID-19 Infections Are About To Occur: It's Time To Stay Home [crosspost]

It sounds like you've found that by March 17, the US will have the same number of cases that Italy had when things turned disastrous.

But the US has five times the population of Italy, and the epidemic in the US seems more spread out compared to Italy (where it was focused in Lombardy). This makes me think we might have another ~3 doubling times (a little over a week) after the time we reach the number of cases that marked the worst phase of Italy, before we get the worst phase here.

I agree that it's going to get worse than most people expect soon... (read more)

2Impassionata2yFair argument. I'm close enough to Seattle that I'm metering that risk as well. The reality is the rate at which hospitals get overwhelmed will vary by a few days, maybe even a week, across the US.
When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations

Have you looked into whether cinchona is really an acceptable substitute for chloroquine?

I'm concerned for two reasons. First, the studies I saw were on chloroquine, and I don't know if quinine is the same as chloroquine for this purpose. They have slightly different antimalarial activity - some chloroquine-resistant malaria strains are still vulnerable to quinine - and I can't find any information about whether their antiviral activity is the same. They're two pretty different molecules and I don't think it's fair to say that... (read more)

2khafra2y"Tonic water contains no more than 83 mg of quinine per liter," according to the FDA. I haven't found any tonic water brands that say how close they come to that threshold, but 3 2L bottles of tonic water per day could keep you well-hydrated *and* protected.

This is a relevant study I found on quinine's antiviral activity (albeit on a different virus):

A previous study reported that the antimalarial drug chloroquine, a drug that shares a similar chemical property with quinine (both are alkaline in nature), inhibits pH-dependent stages of Flavivirus replication (Randolph et al., 1990). This is a likely inhibitory mechanism of quinine in our experimental model.

4Benquo2yI wanted to start with something very simple to avoid decision paralysis, but you're right that there are flow-through / flatten-the-curve benefits. I've added a note clarifying that while this consideration matters, I haven't counted it.
4Benquo2yNope! The epistemic status there is something like "rumor from a pretty sensible and curious friend." Definitely not a substitute for any other measure, and highly speculative. Edited to clarify (and link to your comment).
Model estimating the number of infected persons in the bay area

I tried to answer the same question here and got very different numbers - somewhere between 500 and 2000 cases now.

I can't see your images or your spreadsheet, so I can't tell exactly where we diverged. One possible issue is that AFAIK most people start showing symptoms after 5 days. 14 days is the preferred quarantine period because it's almost the maximum amount of time the disease can incubate asymptomatically; the average is much lower.

2Eli Tyre2yThat seems like a very likely divergence point. The difference between an incubation period of 5 days and of 14 days is an extra 1.3 to 2.5 doubling times. I might do up the same calculations with variable incubation period tomorrow. The google sheet is shared now. It really is kind of messy though, more like scratch paper than a published document.
2habryka2yI just fixed the images for Eli.
REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I've read this. I interpret them as saying there are fundamental problems of uncertainty with saying any number, not that the number $5000 is wrong. There is a complicated and meta-uncertain probability distribution with its peak at $5000. This seems like the same thing we mean by many other estimates, like "Biden has a 40% chance of winning the Democratic primary". GiveWell is being unusually diligent in discussing the ways their number is uncertain and meta-uncertain, but it would be wrong (isolated demand for rigor) to retreat from a best estimate to total ignorance because of this.

4Benquo2yOK but (1) what about the fact that to a large extent they're not actually talking about saving lives if you look into the details of the cost-effectiveness estimate? (2) GiveWell's analysis does not account for the kind of publication bias end users of GiveWell's recommendations should expect, so yes this does analytically imply that we should adjust the $5k substantially downwards based on some kind of model of what kinds of effectiveness claims get promoted to our attention.
REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I don't hear EAs doing this (except when quoting this post), so maybe that was the source of my confusion.

I agree Good Ventures could saturate the $5000/life tier, bringing marginal cost up to $10000 per life (or whatever). But then we'd be having this same discussion about saving money for $10000/life. So it seems like either:

1. Good Ventures donates all of its money, tomorrow, to stopping these diseases right now, and ends up driving the marginal cost of saving a life to some higher number and having no money left for other causes or the future... (read more)

6Benquo2yHow many lives do you think can be saved for between $5k and $10k? The smaller the number, the more "~$5k per life saved" looks like an impact certificate you're buying from Good Ventures at a price assessed by GiveWell, rather than a serious claim that for an extra $5k you can cause a life to be saved through the intervention you funded. The larger the number, the more the marginal cost looks like the average costs for large numbers of lives saved (and therefore the "why don't they do an experiment at scale?" argument holds). Claims that you can make the world different in well-specified ways through giving (e.g. more lives saved by the intervention you funded) imply the latter scenario, and substantively conflict with the former one. Do you disagree with this model? If so, how?
High-precision claims may be refuted without being replaced with other high-precision claims

An alternate response to this point is that if someone comes off their medication, then says they're going to kill their mother because she is poisoning their food, and the food poisoning claim seems definitely not true, then spending a few days assessing what is going on and treating them until it looks like they are not going to kill their mother anymore seems justifiable for reasons other than "we know exactly what biological circuit is involved with 100% confidence"

(source: this basically describes one of the two people I ever committed ... (read more)

REVISED: A drowning child is hard to find

I'm confused by your math.

You say 10M people die per year of preventable diseases, and the marginal cost of saving a life is (presumed to be) $5K.

The Gates Foundation and OpenPhil combined have about $50B. So if marginal cost = average cost, their money combined is enough to save everyone for one year.

But marginal cost certainly doesn't equal average cost; average cost is probably orders of magnitude higher. Also, Gates and OpenPhil might want to do something other than prevent all diseases for one year, then leave the world to rot after that.

I ... (read more)

4Benquo2yGiveWell seems not to think this is true: GiveWell's general position is that you can't take cost-effectiveness estimates literally [https://blog.givewell.org/2011/08/18/why-we-cant-take-expected-value-estimates-literally-even-when-theyre-unbiased/] . It might be confusing that GiveWell nevertheless attempts to estimate cost-effectiveness with a great degree of precision, but Holden's on the record as saying that donors need to adjust for publication bias. If you look at those detailed cost-effectiveness estimates, you'll find that GiveWell is usually compressing a variety of outcomes into a single metric. The amount of money it takes to literally prevent a death from malaria is higher than the amount of money it takes to do the "equivalent" of saving a life if you count indirect effects. (Nevertheless, the last time I checked, CEA reported the number as though it were literally the price for averting a death from malaria, so I can see why you'd be confused.)

On the object level, I agree that such interventions can't scale at stated levels of marginal cost effectiveness. That's actually one of the main points I wanted to communicate ("such experiments ... are impossible"), so while I'm glad you get it, I'm a bit frustrated that you're thinking of it as a counterargument. It seems really, REALLY difficult to communicate a disjunctive argument - rather than an object-level claim - as primary content.

Where I think we disagree is that I think that in practice it's extremely common for EAs to elide the distinction b

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3gjm2yArguments very similar to this have been made by several people over at Ben's blog, and so far as I can make out his response has just been to dismiss them and reiterate his claim that if the numbers were as EA organizations claim then obviously they should be spending approximately all the money they have to make a big one-time reduction in communicable diseases etc. It's also apparent from comments there that an earlier version of the post made approximately the same argument but based it on a claim that the number of cases of "communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional" diseases is declining at a rate of 30% per year, from which Ben evidently derived some total cost of fixing all such diseases ever to compare with e.g. the total resources of the Gates Foundation. That's a comparison that makes some sense. But after fixing that error (which, all credit to Ben, he did promptly when it was pointed out), he doesn't seem to have appreciably changed his conclusion. He's instead switched to this very-dodgy-looking comparison of annual disease-treating cost with total EA resources, left in place his conclusion that EA organizations don't really believe there are huge numbers of lives to be saved at low cost, and left in place his final conclusion that we should be spending money on ourselves and those around us rather than giving to EA causes. Maybe I'm wrong, but all this looks to me less like the response I'd expect from someone who's simply trying to figure out what's true, and more like the response I'd expect from someone who's first decided to argue against EA, and then gone looking for arguments that might work.

But the estimate that you can save a life for $5000 remains probably true (with normal caveats about uncertainty) is a really important message to get people thinking about ethics and how they want to contribute.

I mean, the $5K estimate is at least plausible. (I certainly don't know how to come up with a better estimate than the people at GiveWell, who I have every reason to believe are very smart and hard-working and well-intentioned.)

But I'm a little worried that by not being loud enough with the caveats, the EA movement's "discourse algorithm" (the c

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But marginal cost certainly doesn't equal average cost; average cost is probably orders of magnitude higher.

I believe this is Ben's point: That CEA and GiveWell disingenuously imply that the average price is low when their actions imply they don't believe this.

High-precision claims may be refuted without being replaced with other high-precision claims
Likewise for psychiatry, which justifies incredibly high levels of coercion on the basis of precise-looking claims about different kinds of cognitive impairment and their remedies.


You're presenting a specific rule about manipulating logically necessary truths, then treating it as a vague heuristic and trying to apply it to medicine! Aaaaaah!

Suppose a physicist (not even a doctor! a physicist!) tries to calculate some parameter. Theory says it should be 6, but the experiment returns a value of 6.002. Probably the apparatus is a little off, or there&apo... (read more)

2jessicata2yYes, of course things that aren't definitive falsifications aren't definitive falsifications, but there have been fairly definitive falsifications in physics, e.g. the falsification of aether theory. (Asking for a falsification to be literally 100% certain to be a falsification is, of course, too high of a standard) Yes, it's also possible to change the description of the theory so it is only said to apply to 99% of cases in response to counterexamples, but this is a different theory than one that says it applies to 99.9% of cases or 100% of cases. This is a matter of calibration.
Are "superforecasters" a real phenomenon?

I was going off absence of evidence (the paper didn't say anything other than taking the top 2%), so if anyone else has positive evidence that outweighs what I'm saying.

2Davidmanheim2ySee my response below - and the dataset of forecasts is now public if you wanted to check the numbers.
Free Speech and Triskaidekaphobic Calculators: A Reply to Hubinger on the Relevance of Public Online Discussion to Existential Risk

I agree much of psychology etc are bad for the reasons you state, but this doesn't seem to be because everyone else has fried their brains by trying to simulate how to appease triskaidekaphobics too much. It's because the actual triskaidekaphobics are the ones inventing the psychology theories. I know a bunch of people in academia who do various verbal gymnastics to appease the triskaidekaphobics, and when you talk to them in private they get everything 100% right.

I agree that most people will not literally have their buildings burned down if the... (read more)

when you talk to them in private they get everything 100% right.

I'm happy for them, but I thought the point of having taxpayer-funded academic departments was so that people who aren't insider experts can have accurate information with which to inform decisions? Getting the right answer in private can only help those you talk to in private.

I also don't think we live in the world where everyone has infinite amounts of slack to burn endorsing taboo ideas and nothing can possibly go wrong.

Can you think of any ways something could possibly go wrong if o

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Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

I think you might be wrong about how fraud is legally defined. If the head of Pets.com says "You should invest in Pets.com, it's going to make millions, everyone wants to order pet food online", and then you invest in them, and then they go bankrupt, that person was probably biased and irresponsible, but nobody has committed fraud.

If Raleigh had simply said "Sponsor my expedition to El Dorado, which I believe has lots of gold", that doesn't sound like fraud either. But in fact he said:

For the rest, which myself have seen, I wi
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2Zack_M_Davis2yOh, sorry, I wasn't trying to offer a legal opinion; I was just trying to convey worldview-material while riffing off your characterization of "defrauding everyone about the El Dorado thing."
Less Wrong Poetry Corner: Walter Raleigh's "The Lie"

What exactly is contradictory? I only skimmed the relevant pages, but they all seemed to give a pretty similar picture. I didn't get a great sense of exactly what was in Raleigh's book, but all of them (and whoever tried him for treason) seemed to agree it was somewhere between heavily exaggerated and outright false, and I get the same impression from the full title "The discovery of the large, rich, and beautiful Empire of Guiana, with a relation of the great and golden city of Manoa (which the Spaniards call El Dorado)"

6Elizabeth2yOne thing I see: "Raleigh was arrested on 19 July 1603, charged with treason [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason] for his involvement in the Main Plot [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Plot] against Elizabeth's successor, James I [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_I,_King_of_England], and imprisoned in the Tower of London [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London]"
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