Does NYT have policies? 2020-06-24T04:06:57.556Z
Douglas_Knight's Shortform 2020-03-28T17:02:42.450Z
Perception of the Concrete vs Statistical: Corruption 2016-03-23T01:19:33.856Z
Would you notice if science died? 2016-03-08T04:04:49.587Z
Actually existing prediction markets? 2015-09-02T22:24:45.470Z
The Cold War divided Science 2014-04-05T23:10:38.181Z
Games People Play 2010-11-20T04:41:39.635Z


Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 8/26: Full Vaccine Approval · 2021-08-27T17:41:45.383Z · LW · GW

Your statement last week was correct: there is no known danger of vaccines during pregnancy. There is general advice to avoid them because of purely theoretical dangers.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on In Most Markets, Lower Risk Means Higher Reward · 2021-08-13T19:35:00.355Z · LW · GW

Fama-French is not a "model of market efficiency." Honest economists describe it as the best challenge to Fama's theory of efficiency. Sometimes Fama tries to reconcile this model with efficiency by proposing that there is a fat tail of risk correlated with the anomalies, but this is just a hypothesis, a research program, not something that has any evidence beyond the anomaly.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-23T01:30:29.950Z · LW · GW

I’ve also heard that past infection confers marginal immunity even in the presence of vaccination.

What do you mean by "marginal"? The most common meaning is "low," and if that's what you mean, you really need to know it's false. But I guess you mean "additional." That's a pretty weird usage, though, because infection isn't a margin that is easy to control, particularly if it comes before the vaccine (it would make more sense to switch the words "infection" and "vaccination"). There are lots of studies trying to measure how much protection infection + one shot gives. The most interesting is one that claimed that it provided substantial protection not just against sars-2 variants, but even against the quite distant sars-1. I'm not sure anyone has tested against delta, but protection against sars-1 is a pretty good substitute.

So why is this combination so broadly useful? One possibility is that actual infection is so different from vaccination that the body responds broadly, to encompass both. This possibility doesn't give much practical advice, although mixing vaccines would provide a little diversity. Another possibility infection is just like a vaccination, but came much earlier and the long interval (8 months) produced broad immunity. Indeed, memory cells diversify over time. If this is the mechanism, then an additional dose could be valuable, not because it is additional, but because it is so much later. The time between doses might be more important than the number of doses, particularly for broad immunity, ie, for variants. Since the UK already has a longer vaccine interval than the rest of the world, they should be better protected against delta, so their success so far might not be such good news for the rest of the world.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 7/15: Rates of Change · 2021-07-17T04:00:44.057Z · LW · GW

One problem with positivity numbers is that positive tests are reported ahead of negative tests, so if there is a spike in testing, there will be a spike in reported positivity.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Epistemic standards for “Why did it take so long to invent X?” · 2021-06-07T21:55:17.696Z · LW · GW

That sounds like an outside view argument, making the use of the example in general argument purely circular.

I don't point out that the Difference Engine was more feasible. I specifically asked you for such an argument and you sidestepped. I don't think anyone has ever made such an argument.

I only point out that the Difference Engine was feasible, which is an independent claim. For a century people claimed that Babbage's designs were infeasible. This proves too much. Would you have made that mistake? If the construction disproved the conventional wisdom, it is not enough to minimally adjust your conclusions to avoid the falsehoods, but to adjust your methods.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Epistemic standards for “Why did it take so long to invent X?” · 2021-06-07T21:29:18.319Z · LW · GW

Sure, Babbage didn't finish the design, but how to you justify 

could never have been built with the technology of the day

Do you claim that to distinguish the technology necessary for the two machines?

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Epistemic standards for “Why did it take so long to invent X?” · 2021-06-07T21:05:18.120Z · LW · GW

The example of the machined ball bearing is great! 

But both your other examples are false. Ctesibius did not just make a tabletop science demo, but also used steam engines to do useful work, namely opening temple doors. Babbage designed a working computer, which we know because people built it. He correctly computed the necessary tolerances and they were within the tolerances available at the time. The only problem was that he was defrauded on tolerances, a failure of social technology, or perhaps, a success of cartel social technology.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on There’s no such thing as a tree (phylogenetically) · 2021-06-06T01:33:48.167Z · LW · GW

The difference between "fuzzy" and "arbitrary" is fuzzy, but we should prefer one word over the other.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2021-06-04T01:07:40.467Z · LW · GW

I see many people say that we should have done vaccine challenge trials, that would have been so much quicker. But we did challenge trials. They were "approved" in September and actually begun in February. If you want fast trials, it makes just as much sense to demand that the regulators run regular trials fast. There is much more to gain on that front.

The actual efficacy trials only took about 2 months* that would have been saved by challenge trials. Most of the time was spent not studying vaccines, but waiting for approval to move on to the next step of the trial, just as all a year was spent waiting for approval for challenge trials. The criterion for moving from phase 2 to phase 3 is very simple and should not have taken any time at all, nor any explicit permission. It is perfectly reasonable for regulators to not want to trust the drug companies, but they can check the data after the fact. And if there are analyses that they did not foresee, they can do those after the new trials has already begun.


* The amount of time for efficacy in a non-challenge trial depends on the prevalence of the disease. The actual duration of 2 months was not predicted ahead of time. The FDA's late addition of 2 months of safety data suggests that it was surprised how fast the efficacy data came in. Also, challenge trials don't provide safety data, only efficacy. It's good to separate safety from efficacy and make an explicit decision, a decision that the FDA tried to avoid for half of the trial. When people say that challenge trials save time, they are ignoring this, implicitly endorsing no such medium-term safety data. That's probably the right choice, but people who make it should say it loud, not dodge responsibility like the FDA.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on We got what's needed for COVID-19 vaccination completely wrong · 2021-06-03T22:34:37.118Z · LW · GW

The Novavax candidate is a recombinant protein.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on We got what's needed for COVID-19 vaccination completely wrong · 2021-06-03T22:32:43.303Z · LW · GW

Here is a specific proposal about the role of sexiness, ie, newness. I don't mean to put a lot of weight on this hypothesis as opposed to the general class, but it is useful to spell out details. Also, I'm not sure what you're saying and I suspect this is about a somewhat different irrationality than you were proposing.

Perhaps governments will not allow drug companies to profit in cash from selling vaccines. But they can still profit in intangible experience. This is most obvious with Moderna and BioNTech, whose existence is predicated on mRNA vaccines working in general and the companies being able to make them in particular. After this is over, they may not have any more net cash, but they will find it easier to raise money and convince regulators, not to mention that they will be more competent. Similarly, AZ and J&J will learn about vector vaccines.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on We got what's needed for COVID-19 vaccination completely wrong · 2021-06-03T22:03:34.361Z · LW · GW

I don't know about subtle difference between proteins and peptides, but I would say the relevant category is "recombinant vaccines" and I believe that the first such was the Hepatitis B vaccine approved in 1986. This used genetically engineered yeast to produce a protein from the virus that was harvested and injected into people. 

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2021-05-07T15:36:32.470Z · LW · GW

I often hear people claim that Hong Kong and Singapore are Georgist. More specifically, I hear that they have Land Value Taxes. Their success is often attributed to their Georgism.

Hong Kong has a property tax that is not at all an LVT. Singapore has a tax that it claims is a LVT, but it's really just a property tax that is reassessed when a new building is proposed, rather than complete. I guess that improves incentives, but it seems pretty minor.

There is more to the spirit and letter of Georgism. The central conceit is state ownership of land, which both cities try to monopolize, offering only 99 year leases. I guess this cuts down on long-term "speculation," but George's proposals usually seem focused on a shorter term.

The modern account is to emphasize that the value of cities is the positive externalities from all the development. A government should encourage the production of positive externalities, in particular more building. The cities do take this to heart and make it easy to build. Maybe Georgism is really simple and that's the key point. So many other cities fail it, but it's not because of failing to grasp the abstract argument for an LVT or the difficult details of implementing it, but because of much more basic and fundamental failure.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2021-05-07T06:04:56.575Z · LW · GW

Hypothesis: "Flatten the curve" took off because it allows people to participate without 1. signaling they care what happens to them. 2. think things will get bad or 3. think bad things are preventable.


Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2021-05-07T06:01:18.836Z · LW · GW


I'm going to write some things about Georgism, prompted by the review of George in the SSC contest. I had a pretty positive view of Georgism before, but had a pretty negative reaction to the review. I have not read George, but it gave me an impression of monomania. It is implausible that land is the root of all evil: of the Irish famine, the 19th century Depression, and modern urban dysfunction. I had first heard of Georgism and LVT for the coordination of modern cities, but I never gave much thought to what it was originally about. 

I expect to write a bunch of comments as replies to this comment, which will serve to keep them together. I want multiple comments mainly because I expect to write them on different days and don't want one to prevent the publication of the other. For good or for ill, this will avoid bridging topics.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 3/12: New CDC Guidelines Available · 2021-03-16T03:01:02.627Z · LW · GW

That's a group selection argument.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 3/12: New CDC Guidelines Available · 2021-03-15T03:52:34.890Z · LW · GW

Although it is widely held by biologists that there is a tradeoff between infectiousness and virulence, people (eg, Paul Ewald) who actually study the evolution of virulence say the opposite, both in theory and data. In the case of sars2, it is overdetermined: death is due to immune overreaction, after the window of selection is over.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2021-03-02T21:32:12.897Z · LW · GW

Recently I've run across several people offhandedly offering disclaimers that they've never personally checked that the earth is round. I've never thought to check either, but a moment's reflection reveals that I've traveled far enough, both north-south and east-west that the curvature is obvious

Time zones are a measure of the curvature of the earth. When I travel from New York to California, I know that noon has changed, trusting only my wristwatch. In fact, it was pretty clear to my circadian rhythm. Or just make a phone call to someone you trust on the other coast. Most of the time I don't discuss sunlight on such calls, but it has come up.

I've traveled shorter distances north-south. I've been to Glasgow, which is 15 degrees north of NYC. If I went in the spring, there's probably little to notice, but I went near the solstice, when it was obvious that the nights were much shorter. Similarly, if you go south 15 degrees to Miami, I'm told that the winter and summer day lengths are obviously moderated.

Accurate clocks and instant communication give us a big advantage over the ancients, but the north-south method is largely unchanged.

Added: East-West travel produces a linear effect. North-South travel produces non-linear effects, which can be easy to notice. If I were measuring the height of the sun at noon, that would be linear in the latitude. 15 degrees might be enough to measure without instruments, if I chose to think about it. But the length of the night is not linear. Summer solstice night heads to zero not at the north pole, but just at the arctic circle. So summer solstice in Glasgow was obviously shorter than any night I had previously experienced, maybe cut in half. Whereas summer solstice in Miami is shorter than summer solstice in New York, but just an ordinary length day from other times of the year. Maybe if I had thought to ask the question I could have told the difference without a clock, but I didn't think about it, whereas the night in Scotland was striking and a topic of conversation. If someone from Miami comes to New York for the solstice, he will experience the shortest night of his life, which might be obvious, but it won't as dramatic as half the length he's used to. I knew a guy who moved from Miami to New York and he noticed it, but I think it was about the experience of life, not a single night. There is another non-linear effect as you head to the tropics, which is the solstice shadows at noon shorten to zero. That might be obvious to some people, but it's not the kind of thing I pay attention to.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 2/4: Safe and Effective Vaccines Aplenty · 2021-02-08T21:04:14.537Z · LW · GW

All the modeling efforts talked about in the write-up are doomed because they don’t understand the role of the control system

Is that a forward-looking prediction? What consequences was UIUC doomed to? The article ends its coverage of UIUC in early September, declaring it a failure. But, in fact, it achieved its goal of keeping infections below 5k. You could credit that to "the control system," the panic caused by the early spike that got all the news coverage, but it's still a success.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Making Vaccine · 2021-02-06T03:41:43.023Z · LW · GW

If it's so cheap and easy to make vaccines, why aren't commercial ones made this way? In particular, the Novavax vaccine sounds similar, so why wasn't that the first vaccine to market?

Added: Specifically, the ultimate purpose of a vaccine is to get protein into the body. Traditional vaccines grow the virus using its own reproductive apparatus. Fancy new vaccines, like the adenovirus and mRNA vaccines inject instructions and induce the subject to manufacture proteins. But if it's so easy to just print proteins, why don't we do that? That's what Novavax does, unlike the ~7 vaccines that beat it to market.

Added: one difference is that all the vaccines that made it to market, including, I think, Novavax, used the whole spike protein, whereas this proposal uses short peptides. Identifying the right short snippets takes time, while using the whole protein is simpler and more likely to work. The cost of peptides is probably super-linear in length. Still, I remain confused about Novavax.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/28: Muddling Through · 2021-01-28T19:20:15.814Z · LW · GW

By default, we should expect viruses to become less deadly over time rather than more severe, but more severe is always a risk. We also believe the new strain carries generally higher viral loads, which could plausibly be a cause of higher severity.

That is the consensus among biologists, or maybe even evolutionary biologists, but the consensus among people who study the evolution of parasites is exactly the opposite. Theory predicts and observation agrees that parasites evolve to become more virulent over time, especially ones that have just jumped from one host to another. See Paul Ewald, for example.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid: Bill Gates and Vaccine Production · 2021-01-28T17:12:29.900Z · LW · GW

I suspect that Gates had a long-standing specific plan for manufacturing old-fashioned vaccines, but was unable to pivot to funding new vaccines. It's a lot harder to spend money to speed up deployment of new technologies, especially at arm's length.

AZ claims this week that the EU negotiations being delayed for a couple months delayed their factories. Why couldn't they just start earlier? This is a clear claim that money would have mattered. But maybe there is a lot more to this than physical construction. The EU is currently threatening to confiscate AZ vaccine, so maybe AZ didn't see any point in building factories in countries that hadn't pre-paid.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid: Bill Gates and Vaccine Production · 2021-01-28T16:58:06.979Z · LW · GW

Why is the Gates foundation a charity, as opposed to just a non-profit? If he wants to take Buffett's money and give him a tax benefit, then it has to be charity, but for spending his own money, he doesn't need this status.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/21: Turning the Corner · 2021-01-22T05:21:47.287Z · LW · GW

Given the high dimension of the search space, I think (b) is negligible and the linear model (a) of your first comment is better. In low dimension the boundary of the unit sphere is small and you can have a lot of copies on the inside, having to pass through the sphere to reach new terrain. Whereas, in high dimensions, the population will quickly thin out and all be unique, so what matters is the total volume of space explored, not how long it takes to get anywhere.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/21: Turning the Corner · 2021-01-22T04:37:45.824Z · LW · GW

Dynamically, that predicts that the advantage would rise over time, as a substantial proportion of the population got infected by the original strain. I think we've been monitoring the UK variant enough to see that this is not a large portion of its advantage.

Even statically, I think it's difficult to make the numbers work out. The idea that the population has heterogeneous risk makes a lot of sense, but it doesn't seem born out by the basic prediction that HIT is much lower than predicted by initial R. I suppose the control system might make it hard to observe how close we are getting to HIT, but I'm skeptical. And you need zero cross-immunity. But then wouldn't the observed reinfections skyrocket and be obvious? Maybe if the reinfections are asymptomatic, but just as contagious. I guess that this very specific scenario predicts that the new variant has passed through the riskiest portion of the London population and no longer has an advantage there.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/21: Turning the Corner · 2021-01-21T21:02:33.755Z · LW · GW

My (highly speculative!) hypothesis is that the emergence of these variant viruses arises in cases of chronic infection during which the immune system places great pressure on the virus to escape immunity and the virus does so by getting really good at getting into cells. 11/19

That’s plausible, but doesn’t explain why the chronic infections hadn’t done this earlier, and the English strain doesn’t escape immunity in this way (and we don’t know about the others) so I notice it doesn’t feel like it explains things.

That isn't plausible to me. Not only does it not explain everything, I don't think it explains anything. There are two traits, immune escape and infectiousness, which is pretty much the same as fitness. It makes sense that chronic infection causes immune escape, but we aren't looking at immune escape. There might be tons of strains with immune escape out there, but we won't notice until we achieve substantial herd immunity, at which point they will have increased fitness. If that happens, and we need to explain immune escape in future strains, then this is a possibility. But I see no reason to believe it about these strains. We are filtering by increased fitness, so we need to explain increased fitness. Immune escape is probably a side effect of increased fitness, because it's a potential side effect of any change.

Fitness is fitness. There is no need for a weird environment to explain selection for fitness, because it's the main story. In fact, this is exactly backwards. If there is any trade-off between reproduction between hosts and reproduction in hosts, then selection by chronic infection will favor the latter at the expense of the former and probably move away from optimal fitness. Whereas it appears, as Bedford claims, that these mutations are a free lunch. This is quite plausible for a young parasite that hasn't finished adapting to its new host. But then what does a weird selection pressure explain? Every infection should be an opportunity to develop this. What matters is the number of roughly the number of virus-host-days. A virus trapped in one individual for 100 days is under roughly the same selection pressure as a virus passing through 20 individuals under the same time. I've seen a lot of people call that "fast evolution" because 20x as much selection happens in the host, but it's not any faster in time.

Bedford seems to allude to this view, but he also uses similar points to make a different argument, which is that the UK variant appeared out of nowhere with a lot of mutations, without the intermediate forms being observed. Arising from a chronic infection would explain this. But we also know that all the mutations have arisen before, without seeming to do much on their own. So we know that it only took off when it reached the magic combination, which explains why we didn't see the intermediate forms. I don't think chronic infection adds much to this, although I could imagine a scenario in which the individual changes happen to be selected for in chronic infection at the slight expense of general fitness. So it needs the different landscape of a chronic infection to cross the valley and reach the final form. But this seems like excess detail to me.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/7: The Fire of a Thousand Suns · 2021-01-09T14:49:45.940Z · LW · GW

I don't believe that every infected cell is killed.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/7: The Fire of a Thousand Suns · 2021-01-08T19:59:14.589Z · LW · GW

This is about the change that is shared between UK and SA, not about the change in the SA variant that is uniquely worrisome.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/7: The Fire of a Thousand Suns · 2021-01-08T18:24:33.321Z · LW · GW

That doesn't distinguish the new vaccines from traditional attenuated vaccines, which also inject nucleic acid into the cell, although inactivated vaccines don't. Or, for that matter, getting infected. Every year I get a couple of colds, where way more cells get way more nucleic acid than in vaccine.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/7: The Fire of a Thousand Suns · 2021-01-08T04:39:07.297Z · LW · GW

10% chance of survival is "unlikely" but it's lives, not warm fuzzies. It may not have been cost-effective, but it was buying something real. (And it may well have been cost-effective if it was marginal use of facilities that already existed.)

10% is the number I have heard for the specific category I have heard triaged against in LA, namely patients whose heart the EMT can't restart. Instead they can perform CPR to manually pump the heart on the trip to the hospital.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 1/7: The Fire of a Thousand Suns · 2021-01-08T04:26:48.464Z · LW · GW

this is 3,809 deaths per day and the average had not at the time been over 2,700 for any 7-day period so far, that that projection was made on December 31, so that seems like a rather bold prediction

If cases are in unprecedented territory, you should expect deaths to go into unprecedented territory. Forecasting deaths 3 weeks in the future should be easy, since it's forecasting the progression of the disease among people already infected. You just take the number infected of cases and multiply by the CFR. At 220k cases/day and a CFR of 1.75%, that's 3850 deaths/day, so that sounds totally reasonable.

(This is all from eyeballing 7-day rolling averages. I got the CFR from comparing the plateau of cases in September to the plateau of deaths in October. I haven't checked if it has held up or what the lag should be. The 220k cases/day is the 7-day average peak at Christmas. So this requires assuming that the dip after Christmas was an illusion, which has been vindicated by the week since the prediction was made.)

Added: over at Zvi's blog, Alexander Gordon-Brown claims that CDC does not predict 80k deaths, but that its point estimate is only 64k. Also, that the prediction is dated 12/21.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on New SARS-CoV-2 variant · 2020-12-28T15:52:08.795Z · LW · GW

If you make any of these hypotheses precise enough to calculate, then I don't think that they are likely enough to be worth calculating. The point was just to give suggest how big the space of unknown unknowns is. I think you need an outside view to estimate it. You might hope to get that from the virologists, but they are dismissing it as a "founder effect" which is even more specific, rather than accepting the ignorance of an outside view.

I think I got them all from Francois Balloux, though I'm not sure what he was saying and I may have interpolated a lot of detail. I got 2a and maybe 1 from here. 2b is from here, a response to the first thread. Added: actually, I think I got 2a from the "Does it matter" video, which was generally hostile to reason and knowledge epidemiology, but did suggest something like this at the end.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on New SARS-CoV-2 variant · 2020-12-28T03:35:22.357Z · LW · GW

How likely is it that the spread of this new strain was caused by a few superspreaders, and that most of the above is blown out of proportion?

The probability is basically zero. But the question is whether the obvious hypothesis is false, not whether a particular alternate hypothesis is true. There are many alternate hypotheses more likely than that, and most important the final bucket of "other," hypotheses that I have not thought of. Here are a few suggestions I have heard: (1) It is biologically different and spreads easily in children, but if they closed the schools, it would be negligibly different. (2) Measurement error. 2a: All sars2 produces RNA after infectiousness is over, effectively false positives and maybe this produces lots of RNA for much longer, effectively higher false positives and more lagging signal. 2b: It is mainly detected by applying the usual 3 tests for sars2 and failing a particular one. So it is inherently a noisier test, although it is not at all clear how this could produce the observed pattern.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on How long does it take to become Gaussian? · 2020-12-15T02:52:12.016Z · LW · GW

If the center goes to a unique limit and the tails go to a unique limit, then the two unique limits must be the same. CLT applies to anything with finite variance. So if something has gaussian tails, it just is the gaussian. But there are infinite variance examples with fat tails that have limits. What would it mean to ask if the center is gaussian? Where does the center end and the tails begin? So I don't think it makes sense to ask if the center is gaussian. But there are coarser statements you can consider. Is the limit continuous? How fast does a discrete distribution converge to a continuous one? Then you can look at the first and second derivative of the pdf. This is like an infinitesimal version of variance.

The central limit theorem is a beautiful theorem that captures something relating multiple phenomena. It is valuable to study that relationship, even if you should ultimately disentangle them. In contrast, skew is an arbitrary formula that mixes things together as a kludge with rough edges. It is adequate for dealing with one tail, but a serious mistake for two. It is easy to give examples of a distribution with zero skew that isn't gaussian: any symmetric distribution.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on How long does it take to become Gaussian? · 2020-12-14T16:09:58.777Z · LW · GW

The central limit theorem is a piece of pure math that mixes together two things that should be pretty separate. One is what the distribution looks like in the center and the other is what the distribution looks like at the tails. Both aspects of the distribution converge to the Gaussian, but if you want to measure how fast they converge, you should probably choose one or the other and define your metric (and your graphs) based on that target.

Skewness is a red herring. You should care about both tails separately and they don't cancel out.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Are the social sciences challenging because of fundamental difficulties or because of imposed ones? · 2020-11-16T19:57:06.429Z · LW · GW

There's an inherent difficulty you don't list. You might file it under "political agendas," but the big problem isn't the external constraint of conscious agendas, but of people fooling themselves.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-13T03:59:53.229Z · LW · GW

Press releases about defined endpoints of phase 3 trials are the ones that move the stock price the most, next to mergers. Probably across all companies, not just pharma. The SEC would come calling if they were lies.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2020-11-12T23:11:10.639Z · LW · GW

It's pretty common for there to be coverups with no crime protected. People just close ranks and reflexively lie. So coverups are rarely good evidence of the primary crime. But they are evidence of a sick culture.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-12T20:13:31.392Z · LW · GW

But 10% of the entire population developing a new mental illness every three months is much worse! 

That's not what the paper says. It says that 10% of people with the flu or a broken bone in 2020 are getting diagnosed. It doesn't say how many people with the flu or a broken bone were diagnosed in 2019, nor how many people without any other reason to go to the doctor in 2020.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-11-05T17:03:21.734Z · LW · GW

So what? There are individuals that have reached 100% infection. I'm talking about America, which is currently undergoing an epidemic. I'm predicting that the past 2 weeks of behavior will continue for the next two weeks. To predict otherwise on the grounds of herd immunity is to claim that it has been achieved just this week. Whereas, Qatar has steady levels, suggesting herd immunity in the current environment.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-10-31T20:28:08.785Z · LW · GW

I'm talking about people infected in the next 2 weeks. I don't see how that is an answer unless we have already achieved herd immunity. And I'm skeptical that you can call the peak that precisely.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-10-31T12:30:56.926Z · LW · GW

But on the question of whether the worst is behind us, the answer is probably yes.

This is underspecified. There are lots of ways that things could be bad.

In March and April, the hospital system broke down. Supply lines were hanging by a thread and we were having trouble finding ways to put literal food on our literal table, especially meat. Thousands were dying each day. Supply chains and the whole economy and the market on the verge of collapse. It’s easy to forget how bad things were at first.

OK, the disruption probably isn't coming back. But the deaths? You're predicting deaths shooting up; from current cases, I predict 1500/day. And how much higher will cases go? It's easy to imagine that they go up another 50% and deaths exceed previous rates. That's only about 2 weeks of growth at current rates. Why would they stop here?

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2020-10-23T21:58:33.773Z · LW · GW

A common historical paradox is that centralizing forces can break apart large organizations. Usually what happens is that the large organization was fake, nominally claiming wide domain while actually being weak. When real power centralizes enough to defy the fake power, it secedes, producing the appearance of decentralization.

At least, my cached thought is that it's common. I can't remember what examples lead me to it. The only example I can think of right now is the Holy Roman Empire. A less paradoxical situation is that rapidly changing power produces uncertainty and civil war. Maybe my previous examples were things like the English Bill of Rights, where the King makes an explicit concession, but this is only necessary because the centralizing forces made the king powerful enough to need to clarify how powerful. (And Parliament is almost as centralized as the King, so this hardly even has the appearance of decentralization.)

I was reminded of this by people pushing back on Samo Burja's claim on the centralizing effects of the printing press. I think that this is a logical error. Just because the press broke the Western Church, doesn't mean that it did so for decentralizing reasons. On the other hand, a false argument doesn't mean a false conclusion. You have to look at the details to decide whether the mechanism was centralizing or decentralizing, which is a lot to ask for a tweet. FWIW, Burja only claimed a net centralizing effect, classifying the effect on the Church as decentralizing:

The printing press reduced the Catholic Church’s control over intellectual institutions. But it also paved the way for the standardization of language and for more direct control by state bureaucracies. Society was vastly more centralized in 1750 than it was in 1400.

Added: So, of course, I wrote this because my first thought on seeing the tweets was that Reformation was an example of this, but then I became uncertain about the example. Now I'm wondering if it was actually the motivating example when I first cached this thought. Anyhow, I do think that the nominal power and organization of the Church are misleading. Added: Yes, I think the Western Schism was my original example. I still think that's right, that it was caused by centralizing forces. I'm just not sure how the printing press fits in.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on What Does "Signalling" Mean? · 2020-09-21T18:37:39.794Z · LW · GW

But we already have a term for signalling desirable properties about yourself: virtue signalling!

That's not what "virtue signalling" means.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 9/17: It’s Worse · 2020-09-17T23:14:51.667Z · LW · GW

For those worried, yes, the halted vaccine trial from last week has resumed

I don't believe that this is true. All the articles from last week say that it's only the British trial resuming, not the American. I believe that British trial is almost full, so it's irrelevant that it resume, whereas the American trial, the biggest, has barely begun. I'm not sure how far Brazil and India have gotten. I guess India resumed on Tuesday. Here is an article about FDA not resuming.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Were vaccines relevant to 20th century US mortality improvements? · 2020-09-11T02:55:59.048Z · LW · GW

I believe that a much stronger statement is true. For almost every viral disease with a vaccine, there was a 90% reduction in mortality before the advent of the vaccine. The only graph I have on hand is measles:

measles mortality time series

Of course, if A causes a 90% reduction in mortality and B causes a 90% reduction in mortality, and they are independent, in a causal sense they are equal and you shouldn't judge their effects based on which one is deployed first. But once one is deployed, the marginal value of adding the other is only 10% as much. Even if B causes a 100% reduction, its marginal value beyond A is only 10% of the initial value of A.

(There is also a theory that measles resets your immune system and wipes out acquired immunity, so avoiding measles saves even more lives. So then a vaccine would be much more valuable than surviving measles.)

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 8/20: A Little Progress · 2020-09-02T15:54:55.475Z · LW · GW

It is funded by Emergent Ventures, which was founded with the purpose of being a one-man shop. I'm pretty sure he still makes the final decisions, but is that the same thing? As you say, contra Zvi's claim, Emergent Ventures has grown into a bureaucracy. What's wrong with bureaucracies? Cowen appears to have solid control over EV. If the bureaucracy fails at the legible goal of being fast, he will simply fire it. But it is doing some filtering that he used to do, which is harder to police.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Covid 8/27: The Fall of the CDC · 2020-09-02T15:25:10.107Z · LW · GW
a decrease of 3.2%

Don't say that. Say a decrease of 3.2 points. Or "percentage points," for clarity. Worst case scenario is that people are confused, which is better than wrong.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2020-08-24T22:05:52.551Z · LW · GW

Sprinkling in the words "supply" and "demand" doesn't make it an argument.

I would be very happy if it were just a model, but it is not even a model. That's exactly the problem.

If you want to make an argument, you have to actually say something about supply and demand. You have to connect slavery (or any other aspect of any particular time and place) to supply or demand, or, better, both.

It is much more popular to argue that cheap labor caused the industrial revolution than that expensive labor caused the industrial revolution. Maybe expensive labor caused the agricultural revolution, which overshot and produced cheap labor, which in turn caused the industrial revolution. But if you can't tell the difference between that claim and the claim that expensive labor causing the industrial revolution, then you don't actually mean anything when you claim to have a model.

Comment by Douglas_Knight on Douglas_Knight's Shortform · 2020-08-22T01:48:32.216Z · LW · GW

There's an extremely common argument that the reason that ancient Greek science didn't lead to Greek engineering is that Athens was a slave society and slave societies are brimming with labor and have no demand for labor-saving devices.

I have never been able to make head or tail of this argument. Also, the conclusion and premise of the argument are false. Conclusion: Greek engineering was better than Roman engineering. It was awesome and we're really not sure how far it went. Premise: Greek scientists weren't in Athens, but in many places in the Hellenistic world, especially Alexandria. Was Alexandria a slave society? I don't think anyone really knows. Some sources claim that it was full of slaves; some empty. Some that it had slaves everywhere, but others only in the fields, not in the workshops.

An alternate theory is that in (some) slave societies, the master is not supposed to think about the kind of work performed by slaves.

Here is a third argument that slave societies are not inventive. I just ran across Carroll Quigley:

a society whose productive system was based on slavery would probably be uninventive, because the slaves, who knew the productive process most intimately, would have little incentive to devise new methods since these would be unlikely to benefit themselves, while the slaveowners would have only a distant acquaintance with the productive processes

This argument seems too narrow to me. Is this about slavery, or about big organizations? I thought Adam Smith wrote something broader, but he actually wrote exactly the same:

A great part of the machines made use of in those manufactures in which labour is most subdivided, were originally the invention of common workmen, who, being each of them employed in some very simple operation, naturally turned their thoughts towards finding out easier and readier methods of performing it. — Book I, Chapter 1
Slaves, however, are very seldom inventive; and all the most important improvements, either in machinery, or in the arrangement and distribution of work, which facilitate and abridge labour have been the discoveries of freemen. Should a slave propose any improvement of this kind, his master would be very apt to consider the proposal as the suggestion of laziness, and of a desire to save his own labour at the master's expense. The poor slave, instead of reward would probably meet with much abuse, perhaps with some punishment. In the manufactures carried on by slaves, therefore, more labour must generally have been employed to execute the same quantity of work, than in those carried on by freemen. — Book IV, Chapter 9

Again, what's special about slaves? Why would the master think any differently of the slave than of the apprentice? Doesn't "at his master's expense" apply both times? Is the master's reaction supposed to be correct or prejudiced? Perhaps the master should be willing to let the underling try out cheap experiments, but should be cautious about investing in building the machine. The master tradesman is different from the slave driver in having more experience in the task, but that's mainly a question of the depth of the hierarchy, not the legal status. My memory was that Smith went on to say that the master was right that the apprentice was crying wolf and that real progress required the apprentice to set up his own shop and try out his inventions at his own expense, with skin in the game. I wouldn't be surprised if he does say something along these lines elsewhere, but not connected to this passage.

Bonus: here are the sentences before and after the second quote. They sound rather odd to me, perhaps like the first theory I rejected above:

the great body of the people were in effect excluded from all the trades which are, now commonly exercised by the lower sort of the inhabitants of towns. Such trades were, at Athens and Rome, all occupied by the slaves of the rich, who exercised them for the benefit of their masters, whose wealth, power, and protection made it almost impossible for a poor freeman to find a market for his work, when it came into competition with that of the slaves of the rich. [Slavery and invention.] The Hungarian mines, it is remarked by Mr. Montesquieu, though not richer, have always been wrought with less expense, and therefore with more profit, than the Turkish mines in their neighbourhood. The Turkish mines are wrought by slaves; and the arms of those slaves are the only machines which the Turks have ever thought of employing. The Hungarian mines are wrought by freemen, who employ a great deal of machinery, by which they facilitate and abridge their own labour.

First, there is the mystery of why the Turks don't copy the Hungarians next door. It's one thing to ignore innovations from slaves, but why do they ignore proven innovations? Second, if the Hungarians can compete with the Turks, why can't free tradesmen of Athens and Rome compete with the slave tradesmen? One possibility is vertical integration ("for the benefit of their masters"). Another is that something outside of economics has been smuggled in with the words "power and protection." It seems like most of the sentences exists to refute the first few, so what's going on?