All of Tom Parks's Comments + Replies

Is a commitment to entertain controversial or unpopular or odious ideas (or to advocate for them) separate from or integral to rationalism? Is a mental health professional's preference to maintain enough anonymity so that their blog does not interfere with their practice or their safety separate from or integral to rationality? I phrase those as questions because I'm not sure. When it comes to the general idea that anonymity is needed to discuss certain or any topics, I'm more skeptical. People who use their real names on FB and Twitter spou... (read more)

Integral – for epistemological rationality anyways, and arguably too for instrumental rationality as well. I don't think it's "separate from" as much as 'mostly orthogonal'. Scott is largely to blame for his relative lack of pseudonymity – he's published, publicly, a lot of evidence of his identity. What's he trying to avoid is losing enough of what remains so that his (full) legal name is directly linked to Scott Alexander – in the top results of, e.g. a Google search result for his legal name. You're right, it's not needed to discuss anything – at least not once. The entire issue is whether one can do so indefinitely. And, in that case, it sure seems like anonymity/pseudonymity is needed, in general. I don't think there's a lot of anonymity here on LessWrong but it's certainly possible to be pseudonymous. I don't think most people bother to really try to maintain it particularly strictly. But I find the comments here to be much better than in anonymous/pseudonymous comments in other places, or even – as you seem to agree – on or via FaceBook or Twitter (or whatever). This place is special. And I think this place really is vulnerable to censorship, i.e. pressure NOT to discuss what's discussed here now. The people here – some of them anyways – really would refrain from discussing some things were they to suffer for it like they fear.

I love this frame for learning something new, so I'll toss out a triad of books.

Subject: Journalism (These works are more complementary than overlapping. The third selection is an example rather than an explanation. It could easily be substituted with The Right Stuff or Frank Sinatra Has a Cold or any work that speaks to you.)

What: The Investigative Reporter's Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases, and Techniques

How: Writing for Story, Jon Franklin

Why: All the President's Men

As an aside, I'd push back gently against using a dollar figure for the statistical value of a human life to set the value on any single life-saving (or life-sustaining) product. I may be misunderstanding the concept, but it seems like assigning the entire value of a saved life to one product used in one instance would be a mistake.

My thought process: If every additional tool used to save any life (or the same life multiple times) is valued at the full $9 million per each life saved, then the actual "value" of a life would be many, many, many multiples of $9 million.

All that said, it is interesting to read this post in light of efforts to ramp up production of ventilators and masks.

That's a good point, but I don't think it changes the analysis much. All of the "additional" tools are already available (in some sense and to some degree) so those costs are effectively 'sunk'. The tools or supplies that are necessary to save a life, but are unavailable, effectively 'swallow' the entire value of the lives they could save. This is definitely 'marginal' thinking ('thinking on the margin'). But your point is still true to an extent even in the case of ventilators – it's not sufficient for someone to have produce a ventilator – somewhere. It also has to be delivered, installed, and then run – by certain specific people with the relevant training and credentials – and, in the medium and long terms, inspected and maintained. Even on the margin, all of those contribute to the value of any lives saved.