The Hammer and the Dance

post by Chris_Leong · 2020-03-20T16:09:26.740Z · score: 49 (14 votes) · LW · GW · 5 comments

This is a link post for https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-the-hammer-and-the-dance-be9337092b56

I'm currently running the Effective Altruism Coronavirus Discussion FB group. I saw a large number of posts each day, but this seems like the most important post for people to read at the moment because in order to know what to do, we need to have an idea of the end-game. Now obviously we need to discuss this post and consider possible flaws, ideally receiving input from epidemiologists, but I think this looks pretty promising.

5 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by samshap · 2020-03-21T05:51:24.044Z · score: 15 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been lurking lesswrong for years, and this is the article that actually got me to create an account. I am promoting this to everyone I can that has a scrap of political influence - my bosses (I work at a major university), my local newspaper, my rabbis, my local politicians. Every state in the country should be enacting the same measures as New York and Texas.

I would urge the lesswrong community to

a: constructively critique the article as Chris recommends (use argument to make it stronger)

b: shut up and do the impossible - if your state governor hasn't already shut down restaurants, public gatherings, and restricted all non-essential travel, get them to do it ASAP. If we figured out how to get a handler to unbox a superhuman intelligence, and how to defeat Voldemort, we at least owe this an attempt.

comment by TheMajor · 2020-03-22T10:05:44.432Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am quite underwhelmed by this article. The first half neatly summarizes some statistics and plans that have been proposed, and the potential impact of these. I like this a lot, and the strong line (further down in the article)

If you’re a politician and you see that one option is to let hundreds of thousands or millions of people die with a mitigation strategy and the other is to stop the economy for five months before going through the same peak of cases and deaths, these don’t sound like compelling options.

accurately summarizes my feelings on the measures I've seen so far.

However, almost immediately after the first half the article changes tone dramatically, and I feel uncomfortable with most of the remainder. The entire argument hinges on being able to control 'the Dance'. Personally I think there is little to no chance of this working, due to the sheer amount of public cooperation and government coordination required for the measures you suggest. I'm willing to dismiss the examples of South Korea and Singapore as unique circumstances that do not readily apply to a lot of western countries (for example Singapore is tightly confined geographically and implemented their measures very early), an argument which is presented and immediately dismissed in the article without elaboration.

I would love to see a more quantitative analysis of what this dance would look like in a western country. The article states that the impact of contact tracing, travel restrictions, big crowds and plausibly other measures are vastly understated - what is the quantitative impact of these? After the excellent introduction I was expecting an equally high level summary of this new strategy, but instead it was only motivated by analogy and rhetoric.

comment by Roko · 2020-03-22T19:13:09.244Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
I would love to see a more quantitative analysis of what this dance would look like in a western country.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfpeDzcsd1s

No, I mean being serious there is a danger here of being scared into not telling people the right answer because they won't listen. But that's wrong. Tell people the right answer, and then when 5 million people die, tell them to listen to you next time.

comment by TheMajor · 2020-03-22T22:19:20.822Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no idea what you mean, sorry.

comment by Steve Scheifler (steve-scheifler) · 2020-03-29T18:22:38.997Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was originally pointed to it when complaining elsewhere that nobody was talking about, and media wasn’t pressing for, an honest analysis of “then what?” after the short flattening exercise proves the obvious, that it can be slowed. Without herd immunity (or as I like to call it, community immunity) either acquired or via vaccine, nothing will have meaningfully changed. So, then what?

The reality seemed obvious enough but The Hammer and the Dance was the first decent attempt I saw at answering that in any detail. Some comparisons, such as S Korea and Singapore are not great because they are better equipped for quick action to isolate and trace new outbreaks, but the general approach still needs to be similar.

I think there still needs to be more focus on insulating (sounds nicer than isolating) the most vulnerable, at least those who wish to be, as we gradually allow the lowest risk people to resume some semblance of normalcy with the full knowledge that a great many will become infected. Barring some miraculous mutation the ONLY way out of this is herd immunity and a vaccine is likely a year or more away IF it can be done at all. We can’t stay locked down indefinitely so we need to continue building immunity amongst those least likely to end up hospitalized while doing a better job of keeping them away from the most vulnerable. Easier said than done, but so are most things. What we can’t do is just wait this out and hope for a miracle.