Follow Up: Predictions as a Substitute For Reviews 2020-12-02T19:40:09.010Z
Prize: Interesting Examples of Evaluations 2020-11-28T21:11:22.190Z
What is your electronic drawing set up? 2020-10-14T05:42:58.165Z
Breaking Questions Down 2020-07-07T18:10:03.009Z
How to Find Sources in an Unreliable World 2020-07-01T18:30:02.468Z
Types of Knowledge 2020-06-20T17:20:02.229Z
Where to Start Research? 2020-06-16T18:10:06.689Z
Turns Out Interruptions Are Bad, Who Knew? 2020-06-11T23:10:00.782Z
The Oil Crisis of 1973 2020-05-22T15:50:02.578Z
Negative Feedback and Simulacra 2020-04-29T02:00:01.734Z
What Happens During a Recession 2020-04-20T03:03:56.586Z
Where should LessWrong go on COVID? 2020-04-13T21:39:53.675Z
LW Coronavirus Agenda Update 4/6 2020-04-06T17:53:11.106Z
What is the impact of varying infectious dose of COVID-19? 2020-04-05T21:40:01.406Z
LW Coronavirus Agenda Update 3/31 2020-03-31T21:40:28.553Z
April Coronavirus Open Thread 2020-03-31T16:48:41.980Z
What are the costs, benefits, and logistics of opening up new vaccine facilities? 2020-03-31T16:43:47.373Z
What will happen to supply chains in the era of COVID-19? 2020-03-31T01:57:14.587Z
How will this recession differ from the last two? 2020-03-31T01:32:47.895Z
What happens in a recession anyway? 2020-03-31T01:16:27.526Z
LW Coronavirus Agenda Update 3/23 2020-03-24T01:05:55.234Z
What will the economic effects of COVID-19 be? 2020-03-24T00:59:18.103Z
What should we do once infected with COVID-19? 2020-03-18T04:50:46.571Z
Where can we donate time and money to avert coronavirus deaths? 2020-03-18T04:50:13.629Z
How can we estimate how many people are C19 infected in an area? 2020-03-18T04:49:35.680Z
LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda 2020-03-18T04:48:56.769Z
How Do You Convince Your Parents To Prep? To Quarantine? 2020-03-16T03:42:06.061Z
Coronavirus Justified Practical Advice Summary 2020-03-15T22:25:17.492Z
LessWrong Coronavirus Link Database 2020-03-13T23:39:32.544Z
How useful are masks during an epidemic? 2020-03-10T22:12:34.160Z
What is the typical course of COVID-19? What are the variants? 2020-03-09T17:52:25.356Z
How can we extrapolate the true prevalence of a disease, given available information? 2020-03-09T00:16:45.611Z
March Coronavirus Open Thread 2020-03-08T22:45:07.348Z
Credibility of the CDC on SARS-CoV-2 2020-03-07T02:00:00.452Z
You've Been Exposed to COVID-19: What Do You Wish You Knew? 2020-03-06T19:57:33.607Z
How did the Coronavirus Justified Practical Advice Thread Change Your Behavior, if at All? 2020-03-06T04:15:26.132Z
Coronavirus: Justified Practical Advice Thread 2020-02-28T06:43:41.139Z
Draft: Models of Risks of Delivery Under Coronavirus 2020-02-28T04:10:01.310Z
Set Ups and Summaries 2020-02-18T05:00:01.056Z
Review: How to Read a Book (Mortimer Adler, Charles Van Doren) 2020-01-27T21:10:01.266Z
Cassette Tape Thoughts 2020-01-22T22:50:00.863Z
Criticism as Entertainment 2020-01-09T22:20:01.058Z
What we Know vs. How we Know it? 2020-01-06T00:30:01.261Z
ESC Process Notes: Detail-Focused Books 2019-12-31T22:00:01.194Z
ESC Process Notes: Claim Evaluation vs. Syntheses 2019-12-24T17:00:02.010Z
[Part 1] Amplifying generalist research via forecasting – Models of impact and challenges 2019-12-19T15:50:33.412Z
[Part 2] Amplifying generalist research via forecasting – results from a preliminary exploration 2019-12-19T15:49:45.901Z
How’s that Epistemic Spot Check Project Coming? 2019-12-16T22:50:01.675Z
Epistemic Spot Check: Fatigue and the Central Governor Module 2019-12-01T00:10:00.742Z
Epistemic Spot Check: Unconditional Parenting 2019-11-10T20:10:00.932Z


Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on A Contamination Theory of the Obesity Epidemic · 2021-07-27T21:29:48.626Z · LW · GW
  1. Diets produce modest reductions in weight over the span of weeks or months, but the weight comes back over time. There's been a lot of searching for effective diets, but they're all about the same in large populations.


I think this problem is extremely real but the academic studies overstate them, because people who succeed with their first diet and keep succeeding don't sign up for diet RCTs. They're selecting diet-resistant people.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Sherrinford's Shortform · 2021-07-27T20:59:24.699Z · LW · GW

Not quite. The point is that the studies are mostly done on parents with pretty similar styles, so there isn't enough variation in parenting style to lead to detectable variation in outcomes. It's the equivalent of studying how water affects plant growth, but giving every plant in the range of 5% of what you think their ideal is, while varying other factors (light, nutrients, plant genetics) tremendously.  Your results don't show that water doesn't matter for plants, they show that the impact of that small variation in water is lost amongst the noise.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Sherrinford's Shortform · 2021-07-26T22:33:06.662Z · LW · GW

The thing the available evidence can show us is that variations in parenting choices don't explain much variation in outcomes, among the populations studied, which tend to be WEIRD and in the case of adoption studies have passed an explicit bar for estimated parenting quality. This is not the same as "parents don't have much of an influence on the development of their own children", which is easily disproven by looking at the 5th percentile parents.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Is there a theoretical upper limit on the R0 of Covid variants? · 2021-07-26T22:00:43.530Z · LW · GW

R0 is generally a pretty good "this is how contagious this virus is" metric, and is dependent on the environment. If two diseases have different R0s in the same environment, the one with the higher R is more contagious (modulo something really weird). But environmental changes can affect R0 as much as they affect Rt.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Article on IQ: The Inappropriately Excluded · 2021-07-25T09:34:42.867Z · LW · GW

Some police departments do this explicitly.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-22T23:36:46.233Z · LW · GW

The polyethylene glycol thing is discussed elsewhere on this page and I think they remember more specifics than I do. I do expect this problem is solvable, but you wouldn't want to run out of mRNA shots before that happens.

The lifetime limit per disease is based on:

  • General knowledge of the immune system
  • Most people found the second shot worst than the first, although there are exceptions
  • My own response to the second shot was exceptionally bad, after a normal first shot (like, 99th percentile, still seeking medical treatment for it bad. I don't regret getting the shot because I expect I also would have been an exceptionally bad covid case, but it does affect my cost/benefit calculation around further shots)
  • In the course of seeking treatment for my long term side effects, hearing from medical providers that they're seeing a lot of people in the same boat. There's no denominator on this of course, but it doesn't seem to just be me.
Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on ($1000 bounty) How effective are marginal vaccine doses against the covid delta variant? · 2021-07-22T23:22:46.557Z · LW · GW

On the cost side: I've heard concerns that due to the delivery mechanism there might be a total number of mRNA shots (for any disease) you can use per lifetime, and side effects seem to increase per dose suggesting individuals might have a lifetime limit for any particular disease as well. If there is a lifetime limit, you want to think about how to allocate those across boosters and variants, and getting a third identical shot could be a huge waste.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion · 2021-06-29T01:15:37.566Z · LW · GW

My guess is anyone with access to MIRI's resources could get an out-of-state abortion easily enough in most circumstances, but not all abortions are planned and elective- if someone has a medical emergency in late pregnancy, they won't have time to fly elsewhere. Even if the law has a carve out for life-of-the-mother, you're still surrounded by doctors with no experience doing abortions and are more likely to have ethical qualms, making them slower to decide an abortion is necessary (which is a feature for some people and a bug for others).

Going out of state for non-emergency abortions should be an option for MIRI employees and their spouses, but that benefits from a long list of privileges that many Americans don't have:

  1. ability to take off work for days with very little notice
  2. familiarity with travel
  3. money for travel, hotel, and missed work (which may take multiple days, if the state you travel to has a mandatory waiting period)
  4. ability to identify and book with a provider in another state
  5. Someone else who has all those things and loves you enough to go with you

These add up to be pretty big barriers to American poor people.  To the extent this isn't reflected in the state-level statistics, I expect it's because even people living in states where abortion is technically legal may live many hundreds of miles from a provider, and so face much the same problems. The map in this article gives an idea of the scope of the problem, although overstates it because the less served areas are also less populated.

Even for a sophisticated middle class person with plenty of time to plan, you still need to travel at a stressful time and then travel back having just undergone an invasive medical procedure (and worry what happens if you need to seek local help for the side effects), and either stick around for days or travel back while still suffering the short term effects of it.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Why do patients in mental institutions get so little attention in the public discourse? · 2021-06-13T05:19:27.165Z · LW · GW

In the particular case of factory farming, there's a costly-but-simple solution: stop doing it. The animals' lives are not worth having, so we stop creating them.  For some subset of patients in mental hospitals, who can't create good lives for themselves on their own and a further subset of whom are dangerous to others, it's really not clear what we should be doing. Just letting people go created a bunch of negative externalities and it's questionable whether the patients themselves were better off.  Really amazingly good care, when we know how to do it, which is not always, is excruciatingly expensive. So even if someone cares about this issue a lot, it's really not obvious what they should do or ask for.

EDIT: I finished rereading the SSC post I linked to and apparently there just is a better thing, outpatient commitment, and we should get right on that.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Are PS5 scalpers actually bad? · 2021-05-18T23:05:25.923Z · LW · GW

One cost of having prices raised by scalpers rather than retailers is that it's easier for scammers to impersonate scalpers than large retailers, so this raises the rate of scams. I don't really care what price PS5s sell for, but increasing the rate of theft-by-scam seems really bad.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Why I Work on Ads · 2021-05-04T19:01:40.466Z · LW · GW

I agree with you that the best case scenario for ads is very positive sum, but I take issue with...


  • I am mildly happy.  I got to see content I wanted to see, without having to pay for it, but I had to watch a silly ad for an economically illiterate insurance agency.  Meh.

I would frame this as "I paid with time and attention", rather than "I didn't pay for it".  There are definitely times when trading time or attention for money is an excellent trade, but it's not guaranteed and it's not the same as not paying for something. I'm curious if you take advantage of the "get paid to watch ads" programs, and why or why not, since it's essentially the same trade but with a different default.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Give it a google · 2021-04-24T23:12:33.103Z · LW · GW

I am delighted to learn about million short

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Quick examination of miles per micromort for US drivers, with adjustments for safety-increasing behavior · 2021-04-22T22:43:38.170Z · LW · GW

Do you have a car? Most rationalists in Berkeley don't, so unless it's nearby or you're doing one of a small set of public-transit compatible routes, Uber/Lyft are the only option.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Young kids catching COVID: how much to worry? · 2021-04-22T22:39:08.075Z · LW · GW

The linked article is low quality. It proposes a mechanism but gives no evidence for its frequency or severity or even if it actually happens at all.  It is clearly not doing cost/benefit calculations.

Overall you seem to be putting the burden on Steven to prove that there isn't a risk to masks, rather than doing anything to demonstrate that there is. I agree with considering the costs as well as benefits of masks and would love to see real data on the costs of masks, but this is an unfair burden to put on Steven in particular as a reward for a pretty useful write-up.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on WordPress Destroys Editing Process, Seeking Alternatives · 2021-04-19T22:01:27.574Z · LW · GW

Did you find a new platform you were happy with? I'm launching a new website with an associated blog and would also like to escape Wordpress's terrible new UI.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Don't Sell Your Soul · 2021-04-09T04:51:23.766Z · LW · GW

I figured out the problem. "This is costless in my ontology and expensive in another, making it a good signal of which ontology I believe" is the exact same algorithm that led doctors to go from autopsies to childbirth without washing their hands. It was a way to prove they didn't believe the silly peasant superstitions about disease and demons.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Don't Sell Your Soul · 2021-04-08T06:18:28.381Z · LW · GW

Anyone for whom executive function is a limiting reagent, unless the $10 is exceptionally significant to them.  If it's a one-off transaction, it costs more than just the minute to watch the ad- it's the time and energy to evaluate the offer, see if there are any catches, refocus after disrupting your thoughts, fight against any impact the ad would have on you (they wouldn't keep making this deal if it wasn't positive EV for them. Maybe they're mistaken, maybe you're an exception- but that takes thought to figure out)... The fact that it's a pretty good hourly rate doesn't matter if it's not actually running long enough to amortize the evaluation costs.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Don't Sell Your Soul · 2021-04-07T04:43:47.688Z · LW · GW

Souls aside, if you wouldn't watch an ad for $10, you shouldn't sign a 54 point contract for $10. It's just not a good use of your time.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on What if we all just stayed at home and didn’t get covid for two weeks? · 2021-01-22T17:57:00.352Z · LW · GW

From research I did on New Zealand: 14 days isn't long enough if people are isolating together- live infections get passed to housemates partway through, who are still contagious when the 14 days are up. So either you have to truly isolate everyone, or extend it by some number of days for each additional person.

Also, I assume you mean "14 days, unless they test positive or show symptoms", but then you have to figure out how to test and verify symptoms for everyone.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Group house norms really do seem toxic to many people. · 2021-01-16T02:34:26.765Z · LW · GW

A bunch of people have alluded to Decision Tree being "non-representative" in ways I worried people might interpret as "unusually bad" rather than "different by design in ways that predictably made things harder". I also think there are some lessons from the Decision Tree experiment that aren't currently obvious and could save people a lot of heartache. So I got permission from the organizers to share more of the story.

There was a group house in the bay that had a history of taking in strays (more than one in fact, but we're only talking about one). They would get to know people, usually online, with job loss, needing to escape abuse, or just wanting to move to CA and needing some help to get some feet under them and give them a few months couch time and food. It worked in part because the hosts were really good at boundaries and so really could limit themselves to just providing couch, food, and an amount of emotional support they were truly comfortable with. I don't know the whole roster, but I know at least four people this house took in who were much better off for it, and no one who was made worse off.

But they only had one couch, and it took months to get people on their feet, and so many people needed help. So with the help of a benefactor they decided to create an entire house dedicated to giving people this launching pad. That was Decision Tree. The plan was to subsidize rent and provide various RA/RD types to help people get on track.

Unfortunately this meant that you went from a house full of fully functional people + one rescue person, to a house full of rescues (with the people who became functional fastest leaving soonest).  There are a million reasons someone might need a place to crash for a few months. An unfortunate number of them are also reasons someone might be a difficult roommate. People who have only ever lived in dysfunctional situations, or are coming off a major trauma, are on average either harder to live or find living with other people harder. The subsidized rent meant that some portion of people genuinely couldn't afford to move, which could force housemates to stay together where richer people would have moved apart. 

So that's why I think Decision Tree is not a great data point for group houses as a whole. 

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Power Buys You Distance From The Crime · 2021-01-15T07:50:08.772Z · LW · GW

John and I had a fantastic offline discussion and I'm currently revising this in light of that. We're also working on a postmortem on the whole thing that I expect to be very informative. I keep mission creeping on my edits and response and it's going to take a while so I'm writing the bare minimum comment to register that this is happening.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on How long should someone quarantine to be sure they aren't contagious with Covid? · 2021-01-15T01:16:51.059Z · LW · GW

I looked into the success of different countries' quarantines. New Zealand had both the best implementation and the best data, so I draw most of my conclusions from them. With a 14 day quarantine (testing on day 3 and 12), New Zealand had a "barely visible on the graph" number of import-adjacent infections. But according to a statistical model, these are caused by infections caught during quarantine (i.e. a couple with one infected member quarantines together, the second member catches it on day 7,  leaves after an effective quarantine of only 7 days, then spreads it in the wild), so if people are completely isolated and occasionally tested, 14 days in indeed sufficient



Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Group house norms really do seem toxic to many people. · 2021-01-12T00:28:27.663Z · LW · GW

I agree that Decision Tree was non-representative by design (in ways I'm not sure are public), in ways that will make it perform worse on average. I think that should have been noted more explicitly. I also think deluks is being really brave in naming something that made them a worse person, and I'm grateful they provided that data point.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Power Buys You Distance From The Crime · 2021-01-11T05:59:05.023Z · LW · GW

I've been thinking a lot about this comment, and wanted to think more, but it seems useful to have something up as voting starts, so....

I think there's A Thing JW both agree is harmful (around assigning people moral responsibility when they're responding to incentives), and that I was trying to fight against. One thing I took from this comment is there's a good chance I had only a partial victory against Harmful Thing, and tried to pull down the master's house with the master's tools. I'd be very interested in exploring that further. (I also think it's possible JW is doing the same thing... it's a hard trap to escape)

I don't think giving up the question "Who should we blame?" entirely is a good idea. Possibly the benefits of the norm would outweigh the costs for LessWrong in particular, but I don't believe such a norm would be a pareto improvement. 

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Thoughts on Mustachianism · 2021-01-10T22:56:54.012Z · LW · GW

People often assume he's all about frugality. In reality, he thinks that some things are worth spending good money on.

From my limited reading of MMM, he's pretty intolerant/dismissive of people who have different beliefs about what is worth spending money on, which is a pet peeve of mine. 

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Philosophy of Therapy · 2021-01-09T00:02:57.134Z · LW · GW

I'm confused why this is a response to my comment, which was not an argument for or against the dodo bird verdict but about definitions.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Prize: Interesting Examples of Evaluations · 2020-12-13T06:11:32.250Z · LW · GW

Oh man, I wish you'd come in under the deadline.

For people who don't feel like clicking: it's a quantification of behavior predicted by different scores on Big-5.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Prize: Interesting Examples of Evaluations · 2020-12-08T18:10:11.032Z · LW · GW


Last week we announced a prize for the best example of an evaluation. The winner of the evaluations prize is David Manheim, for his detailed suggestions on quantitative measures in psychology.  I selected this answer because, although IAT was already on my list, David provided novel information about multiple tests that saved me a lot of work in evaluating them. David has had involvement with QURI (which funded this work) in the past and may again in the future, so this feels a little awkward, but ultimately it was the best suggestion so it didn’t feel right to take the prize away from him.

EDIT: David has elected to have the prize donated to GiveWell.

Honorable mentions to Orborde on financial stress tests, which was a very relevant suggestion that I was unfortunately already familiar with, and alexrjl on rock climbing route grades, which I would never have thought of in a million years but has less transferability to the kinds of things we want to evaluate.


How useful was this prize? I think running the contest was more useful than $50 of my time, however it was not as useful as it could have been because the target moved after we announced the contest. I went from writing about evaluations as a whole to specifically evaluations that worked, and I’m sure if I’d asked for examples of that they would have been provided. So possibly I should have waited to refine my question before asking for examples. On the other hand, the project was refined in part by looking at a wide array of examples (generated here and elsewhere), and it might have taken longer to hone in on a specific facet without the contest.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on The LessWrong 2018 Book is Available for Pre-order · 2020-12-03T05:14:03.404Z · LW · GW

Other timeless but year-of-publication restricted anthologies like "Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror" and  "Year's Best Science Writing"  have either "Nth annual" or [year the entries were published] prominently on the title.  This is an established convention. The problems of "what the hell book did I read that in?", "Finding the books on Amazon" and "Have I read this already? Who's to say." seem much bigger to me than a fraction of the audience that hasn't picked up that convention AND will be blocked from reading by it.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Prize: Interesting Examples of Evaluations · 2020-11-28T22:36:39.701Z · LW · GW

Have moved to comments. Thank you both for the feedback.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine? · 2020-11-28T17:39:35.827Z · LW · GW

My risk model treats all the available vaccines as "drug that was developed under political and financial pressure and whose trials ended much sooner than is normally the case".


I think we can do better than that, even in the current information climate. Drugs can be almost anything and have almost any goal. Vaccines are a pretty narrow class of treatment that are attempting to do one thing- give you an immune memory that will trigger if infected by a disease. They do that by exposing you to some part of the disease. The natural cap of badness of that attempt is giving you the disease itself- anything more needs an explanation.

Some examples off the top of my head where a vaccine caused effects you wouldn't get from the disease itself (not all of which rendered the vaccine net negative):

  1. certain adjuvants encouraged cancer (e.g. some pet vaccine)
  2. the vaccine triggered an immune overreaction that left people worse off if actually infected (there was an STD vaccine that did this, and I believe SARS-1)
  3. Allergy to something else in the vaccine (e.g. eggs in the flu vaccine).

Of these, we'd expect #3 to show up nigh immediately upon immunization, and is not dependent on how many people were exposed to actual covid, so we have a fairly large sample size.  I vaguely recollect that where #2 was a factor, it was pretty universally true, not a rare reaction- so the sample size is probably large enough for that too. 

This is complicated by the fact that at least one of the covid vaccines is using an entirely new mechanism. This could leave us vulnerable to certain problems like the adjuvants, that take a long time and large sample size to catch. 

Certainly some people are very sensitive and medically excused from vaccines- but those people are pretty screwed if they catch the actual disease too. The only reason not getting the vaccine is viable for them is herd immunity.

I'm not an expert and I haven't looked into this very long. But there are mechanistic models that can help us predict the risk here, and I think it's a mistake to use the entire collection of FDA-monitored treatments as a reference class.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Final Babble Challenge (for now): 100 ways to light a candle · 2020-11-28T16:32:29.007Z · LW · GW

Eli was in fact checking in while I babbled, in retrospect he was putting out feelers for redirection but I was so happy with how generative I was being I wasn't that responsive, and I think he was reluctant to push back because what if strict separation of babble and prune was the best process? It also might not have been obvious how much transformation my babbled ideas needed to be usable until we did the next step.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Final Babble Challenge (for now): 100 ways to light a candle · 2020-11-28T00:41:32.451Z · LW · GW

Follow up: @elityre asked to discuss doublecrux ideas and I spent a little more than an hour spewing forth topics. There were 74 in the first 30 minutes and its slowed down from there. I don't think I would have done that nearly as easily without the babble challenges.

It turns out these were answers to the slightly wrong question, so we had to do a prune pass. I'm not sure if it would have been better to clarify first, or if the absolute babble freedom ended up  leading to better post-pruning ideas.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine? · 2020-11-26T04:11:54.436Z · LW · GW

What's the model under which the vaccine is more dangerous than the virus it's based on? That's not unknown, but it would be quite weird.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on The (Unofficial) Less Wrong Comment Challenge · 2020-11-25T20:54:02.598Z · LW · GW

I wonder what could be done to make commenting more rewarding for people.

Comment by pktechgirl on [deleted post] 2020-11-25T19:06:21.382Z

My understanding is that flushable is not a legally protected term, and many things labeled flushable will clog your pipes or the sewage system. Any thoughts on this?

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Using false but instrumentally rational beliefs for your career? · 2020-11-25T02:30:54.958Z · LW · GW

I can't say it's impossible, but you would have to constantly go back and forth whenever you got new information, while hiding from yourself that you were doing so, and at a certain point it becomes psychologically easier to work hard despite a lack of guaranteed success.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Using false but instrumentally rational beliefs for your career? · 2020-11-24T15:19:37.465Z · LW · GW

I agree the post strongly frames things as for potential winners who aren't considering other options, but I think that's a mistake for this exact reason. Even if a set that benefits from self-deceit exists, you can't know if you're in it while you're self-deceiving.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy · 2020-11-24T02:57:43.316Z · LW · GW

Yes, oxytocin and other hormones released during hugs/sex have a similar effect to drugs. Actually, most drugs don’t add anything into your body but will simply increase/activate or affect hormones naturally present, which will give you an altered state of mind

This doesn't seem surprising or compelling to me. People say similar things about morphine and sugar, but of course drugs take advantage of existing systems that evolved (imperfectly) to help you: why would you evolve a neurochemical system set up for the sole purpose of fucking up your life if you took the wrong chemical? The surprising thing would be if drugs used a system that didn't have a normal, survival-aiding purpose.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Using false but instrumentally rational beliefs for your career? · 2020-11-24T02:28:50.254Z · LW · GW
  • Regardless of what the truth is, it seems like working hard is the best way forward, rather than getting lazy or seeking side-hustles.

This isn't obvious to me. If you are in, say, the bottom 90% and have no chance of getting an academic job no matter how hard you work, knowing as soon as possible and making exit plans seems like the best thing.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Final Babble Challenge (for now): 100 ways to light a candle · 2020-11-18T23:50:21.195Z · LW · GW

Filler text for preview

  1. flaming arrow to the wick
  2. set containing room on fire, candle will go up eventually
  3. manifest fire magic
  4. lighter
  5. match
  6. an already flaming candle
  7. throw in fireplace
  8. off of gas stove burner
  9. off of water heater pilot light
  10. ask a friend to do it for me
  11. magnifying glass in hot sun
  12. put a bounty on FB/LW/craigslist to light the candle
  13. Drop candle in with box of candles meant for a vigil
  14. Leave candle at that thing Catholics and Anglicans have where they light candles to pray for people.
  15. put in room full of flammable gas, light gas on fire.
  16. tie a string to wick, set string on fire from far away
  17. place in rural CA in the fall
  18. place next to sparking power lines in CA
  19. dip in grease fire.
  20. leave in front of an oculus lens or crystal ball on a bright day
  21. Train a mouse to run to candles, throw mouse into fire without immediately killing it.
  22. Train eagle to drop candle over forest fire.
  23. That spark thing you use to light bunsen burners
  24. a bunsen burner
  25. leave in meth lab
  26. catapult into forest fire.
  27. failed potato gun thing that girl had in 9th grade that took her eyebrows off.
  28. laser
  29. set up escape room that requires cutting through a rope, leave a candle and flint but no knife.
  30. extremely high friction between two candle wicks.
  31. place against traditional lightbulb at high wattage
  32. leave on top of shitty electric blanket
  33. leave near a bucket of water and drop some lithium in it
  34. send into coal mine with poor safety record.
  35. set piece of paper on fire, use to light wick
  36. lean against desktop heat sink, mine bitcoin
  37. toss into tire fire
  38. toss into oil well fire.
  39. leave next to warehouse that stores oil improperly, wait
  40. run in dryer on high
  41. strip rubber coating from a heating pad and tie wick to it, turn on.
  42. stick in electrical socket
  43. throw into ocean in a bottle with a note marked "burn me"
  44. Start religion where good things will come to you if you light the candle.
  45. place under rocket at next shuttle launch
  46. start new trend of candle poi spinning
  47. go back in time to give to that girl on reddit whose boyfriend lit her memorial candle, tell him it has sentimental value
  48. act helpless in public and hope someone stops to help
  49. hire taskrabbit
  50. leave on electric teakettle
  51. microwave with a fork
  52. leave in nuclear test site
  53. flamethrower
  54. order child not to set it on fire, leave the room
  55. leave on top of car engine, drain coolant.
  56. spread rumor candles prevent covid
  57. label as "anti-mosquito candle", bring to party
  58. call utility company for pilot light and ask them to throw this on.
  59. hold next to tattoo in an MRI
  60. piss off River Tam
  61. place on top of electric heater
  62. plug into circuit breaker
  63. bring to protest where flashbangs are expected
  64. tie to rock, throw into a CRT tv.
  65. Ask [redacted] for ideas
  66. run a space heater on a daisy chain of electrical cords
  67. put in toaster
  68. put on birthday cake before lighting
  69. wish really hard
  70. attach to a firework
  71. put wood alcohol in humidifier, spark lighter a foot away
  72. cut off electricity to town, sell for a lot of money
  73. give to someone who really hates moths
  74. cut wick with sword so fast it spontaneously ignites
  75. bring to gender reveal party in CA
  76. bring to haunted house set
  77. develop petrov day ritual around candles
  78. tie to sleeve of motorcycle jacket, fall off of motorcycle on that side at high speed
  79. train dog to hold slow-burning stick to candle
  80. leave in fireplace
  81. drag wick across sand paper
  82. sparklers
  83. those little explosives we had at the beach that one time
  84. train chimp to use lighter
  85. train cat to knock candle into trash fire
  86. give to aging wizard with long beard
  87. hide inside forbidden book in authoritarian society
  88. toss into trash incinerator
  89. soak in alcohol and leave near heater
  90. soak in volatile oil and leave near heater
  91. put in box of TNT and drop
  92. olympic flame in greece
  93. hide in olympic torch
  94. teach people without electricity to sterilize tools with it
  95. insist guests light it in order to enter my house
  96. set up candle-lighting toll on a bridge
  97. shoot wick with gun
  98. set pendulum on fire and let it hit the candle
  99. set boomerang on fire and same
  100. flaming sword.
Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Impostor Syndrome as skill/dominance mismatch · 2020-11-07T22:24:22.917Z · LW · GW

Alternate explanation: people who are capable of believing they are good at a thing will eventually stop trying to improve, while people who are stuck perceiving themselves as unacceptably bad at X will continue working to get better.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Babble Challenge: 50 thoughts on stable, cooperative institutions · 2020-11-07T19:02:33.176Z · LW · GW

 >! eating some space for preview purposes :::

  1. I look smarter than people in areas with weaker infrastructure because the infrastructure is taking cognitive load off of me
  2. Invisible hand, bitches!
  3. It's not always obvious when the magic that let you form and maintain something goes away: there's a long lead time before the cracks appear, long enough that you may have lost all the people who could recreate the original magic. Similar to the England/scurvy/lime juice story.
  4. It's easy to misidentify the magic, especially when there are incentives to do so.
  5. Geeks/MOPS/sociopaths
  6. Possible that Great Depression led to unusual period of government competence because other jobs were scarce and there was a premium on job stability, so they could attract better applicants.
  7. Anna seems to be skipping over institutional/individual alignment
  8. Certain kinds of coordination have gotten vastly easier or moved from impossible to possible using modern logistics tech.
  9. How are CA's electrical failures related to bad governance? I see bad results but it's not obvious the necessitating circumstances had responses that wouldn't be called bad governance.
  10. Not clear how much worse the US actually did on covid- Europe is having a resurgence now.
  11. Curious about how subcultures are harder to form, seems like it would be way easier than when you were stuck in the same 200 person town for life.
    1. Predicted response: being too easy to form/join is actually bad.
  12. HAM radio culture as described in that autism book was a dead ringer for lesswrong, and that was pre-1975.
  13. [redacted]
  14. Pushing out casuals is hard because sometimes they are nice and your friends.
  15. Gatekeeping is so, so hard/frowned upon in our culture
  16. Unless you call breaking past the gates appropriation, then you're allowed defenses.
  17. Sometimes geeks are really weak on particular skills and bringing in some casuals with those skills is really helpful to the overall subculture.
  18. What are the net effects if it becomes harder to keep out casuals?
    1. Fewer subcultures reach critical mass -> less novel art.
      1. Wasn't there a study showing pop music is changing much slower than it used to? That could be confirmatory if the methodology is good.
    2. How does this interact with science?
      1. Lack of defended factions leads to even more pressure for premature consensus than currently exists.
    3. Something something inter-institution diversity vs intra-institution diversity.
      1. Is it more important that a single campus has many viewpoints represented, or that each viewpoint has a stronghold university focusing on it?
      2. Dad talking about how jazz had got more locally but less nationally diverse.
        1. From the perspective of people living at that time, that's more variety which seems good.
        2. That scene in Treme where the high-status Jazz player has to defend New Orleans jazz.
      3. multiple institutions with very different views are easier to defend than the same institutions with a variety of views.
      4. But any given student is attending at most one school at a time, and will only get a single POV if at at a stronghold institution.
        1. Large schools could have a stronghold + tokens from other viewpoints, who will not be as productive as scholars at strongholds for their viewpoints. It's not like there's a shortage of professors.
  19. Chapman leaves out the conversion of casuals -> geeks, or how hard it can be to distinguish future geeks from future casuals.
    1. If it's too hard to join your club, people won't do it and the club will atrophy and ossify. E.g. wikipedia editor culture.
      1. Ray's melting gold essay
  20. Where the hell did the 6:1 ratio in Chapman's essay come from?
  21. "Under [the Geeks, MOPs, and Sociopaths] model [...] it has somehow become easier and more common for people to successfully ape the appearances of an institutional culture, while not truly being true to it "
    1. This has been happening in television. It used to be tactical competence (acting, dialogue, continuity), which is easy to assess early, was strongly associated with strategic competence (which often can't be assessed until the show is over) (Sopranos, Mad Men). Or tactical incompetence made it obvious who had strategic competence (Babylon 5). But lately they've figured out how to have good tactical competence without deep strategy, leading to shows that are compelling until a deeply disappointing ending (Game of Thrones).
  22. The strongest form of Effective Altruism parasitizes first-world institutions by benefiting from the intangible resources like trust and prosociality, while not contributing to them, and moving resources from the populations with those institutions to the (much, much needier) populations outside of them. This can be very moral on an individual level (because those outside the institutions are so much needier than those inside, for the exact reason of being outside), but disastrous if widespread because the institutions do actually need resources to run.
    1. This suggests that bringing people into the institutional ecosystem (e.g. immigration) is better/more sustainable than moving resources from one ecosystem to another.
  23. Maybe taking away all the rewards of power/declaring them immoral was a terrible idea, because it drove all the good-but-not-100%-self-sacrificing people out of power.
  24. Amazon seems way more competent than Google but I'd rather work for Google because they're nicer.
    1. Eh, is that true? I hated working for Google specifically because they didn't care about my actual productivity, and Amazon has supposedly softened from when everyone was wrung out in 18 months.
    2. Door desks are still stupid though.
    3. See also: not buying developers the best laptops.
  25. Some institutions (PTA) run on invisible slack and we ate up all the slack.
    1. Two income trap.
  26. I'm learning to draw and have all the resources I could possibly use at my fingertips. Art school is less necessary than it used to be. Grad school used to be the only way to keep up with academic research: now I have sci-hub and twitter. This can simultaneously be awesome for me, outside of art school and academia, but if art school/academia had an off-the-books goal it will suffer as people/resources leave.
  27. Existing institutions that have invisibly lost the magic can inhibit the formation/expansion of newer institutions that have it.
  28. WEIRD cultures' fairness towards strangers is in fact really weird and would be bad to lose.
  29. Destroying minority-owned institutions that made them less dependent on the majority had a worse impact than the majority excluding the minority from their institutions (e.g. Tulsa massacre, "Urban Renewal" destroying black business districts)
  30. Coding bootcamps were originally aimed at people who knew how to code but needed a little polish before they could excel at software eng. They ran through that backlog and are now their taking people from 0->coder. This greatly lowers the value of a bootcamp grad and the bubble is due to pop soon.
    1. Ditto datascience?
    2. [Redacted] described the same thing with plumbing. Master plumbers are replaced with people who have been taught how to execute a few things but can't manage the system as a whole.
  31. Treating public education as a thing done for the students as opposed to the country (which benefits from educated citizens) has huge implications for how you focus, especially what you do with the tails of the IQ curve.
    1. Treating public education as for the students rather than for the country is a huge luxury. As a country declines, it can either give it up or collapse.
  32. The concept of nepotism being bad is fairly new and precious.
  33. Many political institutions are dead inside but received lip service anyway. Some of Trump's inflammatory statements weren't different from what other politicians thought, people just objected to or enjoyed him saying it out loud.
  34. George Washington was an unusually good country founder.
  35. Cults are typically providing a (semblance of a) real need and much of the stigmatization of cults stigmatizes meeting that need, which just pushes people towards unhealthy ways of meeting it.
  36. Institutions (and people) taking charge without responsibility do a lot of damage.


Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on What is the typical course of COVID-19? What are the variants? · 2020-10-31T16:08:11.300Z · LW · GW

If the interventions have aggregate impact distinct from individual impact, they're by definition not identical

Why not? I don't see how that follows.

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on What is the typical course of COVID-19? What are the variants? · 2020-10-30T03:13:36.660Z · LW · GW


Say I have the option to purchase a lottery ticket with a 1/10m chance of winning, a $1m guaranteed jackpot, and a $1 ticket price. The EV of a ticket is $1m/10m - $1 = -$0.9, a bad deal. What is the value of information that narrows the odds?

If it narrowed the odds all the way to 1/1, the value would be $999,999, obviously a very good deal. I should be willing to pay up to almost $999,999 for it.

But if the odds are doubled? The EV of a purchase is now $1/5-$1 = -$0.80. In one sense I’ve gained $0.1. But since buying a lottery ticket is still EV < 0, I won’t purchase one, and so the information nets me no money. The information is worth $0 to me, as long as I have the option not to buy a ticket.

But… maybe there are multiple interventions that double my odds? Under the above rule, the first three are worth nothing and the fourth is worth $2^4/10 - $1 = $0.6. It seems wrong that 4 identical interventions would have such different values. I could just divide .6  by 4, but what if I’m not certain how many doublings will be available?

Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Babble challenge: 50 consequences of intelligent ant colonies · 2020-10-29T17:36:07.071Z · LW · GW

Filler text for preview purposes....

  1. Take-back-to-nest ant poison stops working 
  2. Can form treaties with ants to stay out of my kitchen in exchange for sugar cubes
  3. Ants develop anti-poison technology
  4. Ants identify humans as source of poison and begin formulating counter attacks
  5. Ants identify humans as source of food and begin worshipping them
  6. Discworld/Children of Time style computers -> less dependence on rare earth metals
  7. Ants begin taking out poison factories
  8. Ants begin raiding poison factories to use on other bugs
  9. Massive decrease in ant predators, as ants organize to take them down -> increase in other insects eaten by those predators. Spider in SimAnt taken down instantly
  10. Ants used as spies in war -> new and better pesticides, ant proofing, and ant detection
  11. Necrocolony in chernobyl begins biting other colonies and turning them into zombies
  12. That species of ant in Europe that's all one giant supercolony learns to distinguish between colonies and thus war is returned.
  13. Giant increase in funding for studying ants -> I regret not going to grad school to study eusocial insects now that it's both interesting and profitable
  14. Ants can be hired to do microcleaning, Disney-style.
  15. Microconstruction takes off as ants are used as construction labor
  16. Ants weather proof their shelter
  17. Ants get good at hiding their colonies, but you can hire ants to find other ant colonies.
  18. Ant chemical detectors, similar to the bee detectors we have now.
  19. Huge debate about the morality of ant farms
  20. Ants can coordinate to have a single item carried by many at once.
  21. Ants develop heating and cooling systems for their colonies, expanding their possible range.
  22. Ants discover global warming and develop carbon sink technology, we are all saved.
  23. Ants develop eugenics program leading to super ants.
  24. Ants learn to conglomerate into large shapes, can act as humanoid -> competing with humans for jobs. They are treated like illegal immigrants.
  25. Ants recognize nuclear war as threat, organize worldwide campaign to disable all nukes simultaneously
  26. Ants recognize nuclear war as awesome for them because it kills their smartest predators, organize worldwide simultaneous launch.
  27. Process of uplifting teaches humans about the development of intelligence -> brings about or prevents UFAI.
  28. Process of uplifting teaches humans about the development of intelligence -> terrorists and governments uplift other animals to be used as spies. Every animal becomes suspect, biome is nuked and paved.
  29. Ant art becomes possible and trendy, creating an art bubble that eventually pops. Art colonies then left to starve to death as their work is no longer valuable.
  30. Ants as watch dogs: learn to identify family members and trip alarm if someone comes in without one of them. Fire ants used as full guard dogs.
  31. Ants used to clean infected wounds and do microsurgeries.
  32. Jains and other sects that honor insect life become smug and righteous, leverage into better treatment for all insects just in case.
  33. No construction can take place without an Ant Impact Statement. Ants become new construction chokepoint, get rich off of NIMBY bribes.
  34. Ant digging abilities used to find treasure.
  35. Ants replace mine rats.
  36. Ants employed to keep public areas clean. Parks, beaches, etc become way less disgusting.
  37. Ants used for simple home automation, like pet feeders.
  38. Beautiful ant farms placed in museums, later looked back on as akin to when we displayed humans in zoos.
  39. Ant colonies develop mental illnesses. They are made hopelessly worse by human psychologists. Ant psychologists become a thing.
  40. Ratatouille but with ants
  41. [redacted]
  42. Ants take over contagious-disease medical care, as they can't possibly get sick from a human disease. Human doctors and nurses very upset about this, attempt to block with protests and strikes but that just accelerate ant dominance.
  43. Movie about child with ant colony best friend.
  44. Ant-facing businesses become the hot new thing, billions invested in tiny furniture, nicer colonies, etc. Ants prove to mostly not care and the bubble pops.
  45. Humans decide aliens caused the uplift, begin praying to aliens for their own uplift
  46. Humans wage war to destroy all ants, resulting destruction plus lack of ants leads to human extinction as well.
  47. Ants used to cross air-gap in unnetworked computers. Eventually hackers discover a way to hack ants and thousands of highly secured computers are compromised.
  48. Ant exercise program advertised. It is terrible and the progenitor is eventually sued out of existence.
  49. Ant mafia develops.
  50. New genius-ant-proof containers developed to store food.
Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Babble challenge: 50 ways of sending something to the moon · 2020-10-28T20:12:09.942Z · LW · GW

I reject your reality and substitute my own.

More constructively, I am confused as to the model behind rules. There are two main confusions:

  • Rejecting variants requires pruning, and this is purely a babble challenge, so why don't variants count? I think coaxing variants out is pretty integral to getting my brain in a babble mode.
  • Why do some things that clearly won't work (bird in a space suit) count while others (watching Tiger King) don't?
Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Babble challenge: 50 ways of sending something to the moon · 2020-10-28T02:05:30.620Z · LW · GW


  1. Rail gun
  2. Write a letter to NASA
  3. Write a letter to China
  4. Write a letter to Russia
  5. Write a letter to SpaceX
  6. Ask [Redacted 1] to ask Elon Musk
  7. Ask [Redacted 2] to ask Elon Musk
  8. Ask [Redacted 2] to get me invited to a party where Elon Musk will be so I can ask them
  9. Travel back in time and kidnap Wener Von Braun to recruit him to my space program instead
  10. Send item back in time and hide it in Apollo 11 landing module
  11. Start my own rocketry company
  12. Does EU have a space program? Write to them.
  13. Get really good at Kerbal Space Program until I can start my own rocketry company
  14. Give money to KSP devs and see if they can make a real rocketry company
  15. Cannon (won't work because escape velocity)
  16. Cannot on ISS.
  17. Invent teleportation myself
  18. Fund invention of teleportation
  19. Develop psychic powers, steal secret of teleportation from someone who already knows.
  20. Ask for ideas on twitter
  21. Ask for ideas on FB
  22. Ask for ideas on LW
  23. Ask for ideas on my blog
  24. Ask [Redacted 3] in particular, he seems good at interacting with the physical world.
  25. Recruit top rocketry dude at Space X to my own program
  26. Have child, raise to be rocket scientist, polgar style.
  27. Kick it really hard
  28. Bring enough moon rocks down to Earth to make it count as "The Moon", walk to it and place item
  29. blow up moon, let dust settle on Earth, making it "the Moon", place anywhere
  30. Drone but better
  31. Hang around by NASA campus and make small talk till I find someone who can help.
  32. Find the guy who wrote the moon jujitsu class poem, maybe he has ideas.
  33. Portal gun
  34. Convince DARPA/IARPA to fund teleportation to the moon
  35. Endow a prize to whoever gets item to the moon, see what turns up.
  36. Convince someone else to endow said prize.
  37. Get 3D printer on moon, send information to spin up my item.
  38. Invent nanobots, send to moon on a spaceship, have them assemble item.
  39. Invent flying nanobots, let them get to the moon themselves, assemble item.
  40. Flying nanobots carry item to moon.
  41. Get EM to build space elevator, launch from top
  42. Get NASA to build space elevator...
  43. Get China to build space elevator...
  44. Get EU to build space elevator...
  45. Get Russia to build space elevator...
  46. Start moon tourism company, include item as payload
  47. Start prison colony on moon, send item up as payload
  48. Plant idea to place item on moon in EM's head, Inception style.
  49. Convince China US is about to do it, see if they beat us to it
  50. Will that cannon from Moon is a Harsh Mistress work in reverse? Seems like it could, especially if it was a guided missile instead of a rock.


Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on Open & Welcome Thread – October 2020 · 2020-10-23T00:41:04.811Z · LW · GW

I’m Elizabeth.You may remember me from such series as Epistemic Spot Checks and the LessWrong Covid Effort, but for the last year my main focus has been developing a method for Knowledge Bootstrapping- going from 0 to 1 in an unfamiliar field without undue deference to credentialism. I’m at the stage where I have a system that works well for me, and I’ve gotten feedback from a few other people about what works and doesn’t work for them, but there’s a long way to go. A lot of my knowledge is implicit and not explained on the page, plus I am only one person; what works for me will not translate perfectly for every human. So I’m looking for test subjects.

One particular part of my method is breaking down one large question into many smaller questions. This has several purposes: it forces you to clarify what you actually care about, and makes it more obvious what information is relevant. I describe this process and the reasoning behind it here, but not very well.  I’m looking for test subjects that have a research question, and would like to practice breaking it down into smaller questions, with the goal of refining the technique and my teaching of it.

What This Looks Like

  1. Come up with a question you might like to research.
  2. You book a phone call with me via calendly, or email me at elizabeth -at- to set up a time. 
  3. We discuss your question in an attempt to break it down into smaller parts.
  4. I sure hope some people actually go off and research the new questions but there’s no commitment required to do so.

What Are the Expected Outcomes?

  • You will have a better understanding of what you actually want to know and will be better positioned to find answers.
  • You will be better able to break down your next research question, without me.
  • I will make some of my metis on breaking down questions more explicit.
  • I will become better at teaching the technique of breaking down questions.
  • I learn techniques from you I couldn’t have learned on my own.
Comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) on The Trouble With Babbles · 2020-10-22T23:38:32.658Z · LW · GW

6. Draw ideas instead of writing them down in words, so there's more time to think between ideas, a higher barrier to committing them to paper, and you'll get bored with very similar ones faster.