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Comment by lexande on Covid 3/4: Declare Victory and Leave Home · 2021-03-07T05:18:36.853Z · LW · GW

- Is there any reason to think research that could lead to malaria vaccines is funding-constrained? There doesn't seem to be any shortage of in-mice studies, and in light of Eroom's Law the returns on marginal biomedical research investment seem low.
- Malaria is preventable and curable with existing drugs, so vaccines for it only make sense if their cost (including required research) works out lower than preventing it in other ways, which means some strategies that made sense for something like Covid won't make sense here.
- That's not how international waters works, you're still subject to the jurisdiction of the flag country and if they're okay with your trial you could do it more cheaply on land there.
- If you attempt an end-run of the developed-country regulators with your trial they will just refuse to approve anything based on your trial data, which is why pharma companies don't jurisdiction-shop much at present.
- That said developed country regulators do in fact approve challenge trials for malaria vaccines (as I noted) and vaccines for other curable diseases. Regulatory & IRB frameworks no doubt still add a bunch of overhead but this does further bound the potential benefits of attempting to work outside them.
- I don't know what "focusing on epistemics" could possibly entail in terms of concrete interventions. Trying to develop prediction markets I suppose? I have updated away from the usefulness of those based on their performances over the past past year though, and it seems like they are more constrained by policy than by lack of marginal funding (at retail donor levels).
- Policy change is still intractable.
- In general there are lots of margins on which the world might be improved, but the vast majority of them are not plausibly bottlenecked on resources that I or most EAs I know personally control. Learning about a few more such margins is not a significant update. I focus on bednets not because I think it's unusually much more important than other world-improving margins, nor because I think it will be a margin where unusually much improvement happens in coming years, but because it's a rare case of a margin where I think decisions I can make personally (about what to do with my disposable income dollars) are likely to have a nontrivial impact.

Comment by lexande on Covid 3/4: Declare Victory and Leave Home · 2021-03-06T07:05:34.957Z · LW · GW

It’s plausible that the Covid-19 pandemic could end up net massively saving lives, and a lot of Effective Altruists (and anyone looking to actually help people) have some updating to do. It’s also worth saying that 409k people died of malaria in 2020 around the world, despite a lot of mitigation efforts, so can we please please please do some challenge trials and ramp up production in advance and otherwise give this the urgency it deserves?

What update is this supposed to cause for Effective Altruists? We already knew that policy around all sorts of global health (and other) issues is very far from optimal, but there's nothing we can do about that. Even a global pandemic wasn't enough to get authorities to treat trials and approvals with appropriate urgency and consideration of the costs of inaction, so what hope would a tiny number of advocates have? We can fantasize all day about what we'd do if we ran the world, but back in reality policy change is intractable and donating to incrementally-scalable interventions like bednets remains the best most of us can personally do. Or am I misunderstanding what you meant here?

(Note also that malaria vaccine human challenge trials were already a thing; Effective Altruist John Beshir participated as a subject in one in 2019.)

Comment by lexande on $1,000 Bounty for Pro-BLM Policy Analysis · 2020-06-19T07:37:17.599Z · LW · GW
Yes, I'm conflating "BLM movement" and "individual Americans who want to help BLM achieve its goals" because isn't it the same thing.

No? I want to help BLM achieve its goals, but "launch a nationwide discussion" and "come to a consensus policy" are not actions I can personally take. If I post policy proposals on Facebook it seems unlikely to me that many people will read or be influenced by them; it also seems unlikely that they would be better than many other policy ideas already out there. If you actually do think that lack of policy ideas is the most important bottleneck for BLM and that personal Facebook posts by non-experts is a promising way of addressing it then that's a possible answer, but if so I'd like to see your analysis for why you believe that.

find solutions that both sides support

Note that at the national level this is inherently very difficult because for any proposal made by one party, the other party has an incentive to oppose it in order to deny the proposing party a victory (and the accompanying halo of strength and efficacy). But fortunately this is not necessarily a problem for at least some approaches to the police reform issue, because police are mostly controlled by state & city governments, and as noted many states and cities are under undisputed Democratic Party control, so the relevant politics are within rather than between parties.

defend shops from looters so people have more sympathy for your side

This seems to have already been done; reports of looting have become increasingly rare and polls report public sympathy for BLM is very high.

Comment by lexande on $1,000 Bounty for Pro-BLM Policy Analysis · 2020-06-18T14:40:22.097Z · LW · GW

The question was not what the "BLM movement" should do, but what an individual Americans should do; your steps do not seem actionable for individuals. Your steps 1 and 2 also partly beg the question.

Additionally, assuming the support of all Democratic politicians is highly dubious; a number of cities that have been marked by highly visible abusive police behavior in recent weeks are already controlled by Democratic mayors and city councils, who in many cases have nonetheless refused to hold the police accountable. And support of 50% of the population (which BLM now has) is certainly not always enough to pass "whatever policy you want" absent coordinated organization and in the face of political inertia; for example marijuana legalization has had majority nationwide support for years but has no near-term prospect of passage at the federal level.

Comment by lexande on English Bread Regulations · 2020-05-23T02:27:07.891Z · LW · GW

1) People are probably less likely to throw out stale bread if it's impossible to obtain fresh bread?

2) If the price of e.g. fish is less regulated but generally higher than that of bread, banning fresh bread would lead to a larger rise in the price of fish as more rich people switch to it, which would perhaps lead to fishermen working longer hours and catching more fish, helping make up the overall calorie shortfall from the poor harvest without increasing costs for poor people who could never afford fish in the first place. Whereas letting the price of bread itself rise would be more regressive?

3) Same as with fish but with meat from livestock, pushing tradeoffs in the direction of "slaughter this year" vs "keep fattening up for next year", which could be desirable if the wheat shortage is expected to be temporary, and might even decrease demand for wheat as livestock feed if that was a thing at the time?

Not sure how large any of these effects would be.

Comment by lexande on How long should someone quarantine to be sure they aren't contagious with Covid? · 2020-03-22T06:43:02.475Z · LW · GW

Since apparently some confirmed cases never develop symptoms (this study of Diamond Princess passengers estimates 18%), it seems the answer to your second question is "never"?

Comment by lexande on Rent Needs to Decrease · 2019-10-16T21:17:16.226Z · LW · GW

The world population is not infinite. If somebody moves to San Francisco that means lower demand and lower rents wherever they came from (and conversely many other US cities now have housing crises caused by exiles from San Francisco). The desirable cities should be allowed to expand until there is more than enough room for everybody (yes, everybody) who wants to live in them to live in them, at which point landlords will no longer have the leverage to keep rents high.

Comment by lexande on The Rocket Alignment Problem · 2018-10-11T00:30:22.826Z · LW · GW

Next time I see somebody say "shoot for the moon so if you miss you'll land among the stars" I'm going to link them here.

Comment by lexande on Secondary Stressors and Tactile Ambition · 2018-07-16T04:52:05.679Z · LW · GW
You seem to be saying that you prefer general words that encompass many concepts rather than specific and more precise words.

I can believe that you meant something more specific and precise than "worrying sometimes makes things worse" when you said "secondary stressors", but your post failed to get any more precise distinction across, and if people used the term as jargon they wouldn't be using it for anything more precise than "worrying making things worse". (Less sure about the motivation vs "tactile ambition" example since I don't know of any decent framework for thinking about motivation.)

Comment by lexande on The Craft And The Codex · 2018-07-11T22:58:24.014Z · LW · GW

Yeah, Lesswrong sometimes feels a bit like a forum for a fad diet that has a compelling story for why it might work and seemed to have greatly helped a few people anecdotally, so the forum filled up with people excited about it, but it doesn't seem to actually work for most of them. Yet they keep coming back because their friends are on the forum now and because they don't want to admit failure.

Comment by lexande on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-10T16:01:23.850Z · LW · GW

FDIC doesn't insure safe deposit boxes. It does insure your checking account balance, but your bank still has to figure out somewhere with a nonnegative interest rate to put your money (since the FDIC insurance triggers only after the bank itself is wiped out). Or find a way to charge you enough fees to make your effective interest rate negative.

Comment by lexande on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-09T15:56:00.115Z · LW · GW

Yeah, ignoring the option to declare bankruptcy or foreclose, effectively bounding your downside, seems like a major gap in this analysis. Especially as many jurisdictions usually allow people to keep significant assets (primary residence, 401ks) in bankruptcy. (Though on the other hand since 2005 US bankruptcy law obliges many filers to accept "repayment plans" for some fraction of what they owe, so it's not quite "discharging your debt for free".) That said I guess the most common debt for people reading this post is probably nondischargeable student debt; it makes sense if it's mainly talking about that.

Comment by lexande on Debt is an Anti-investment · 2018-07-09T15:35:36.456Z · LW · GW

Bank lockboxes have fees, which typically work out to more negative interest than the most negative actually-observed government-debt interest rates. (Indeed the operating & insurance costs of bank lockboxes at scale are basically a lower bound on how low government-debt interest rates can go in the market; this article from the European interest rate lows in 2016 suggest insurance costs of 0.5-1%.)

Comment by lexande on A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy · 2018-02-01T20:30:53.707Z · LW · GW

Bitcoin is (currently) pretty much useless as a medium of exchange. It remains of some practical use as a store of value resilient to certain legal risks (e.g. as the answer to the question Eliezer asked in this Facebook post), and in general with a risk profile uncorrelated with other assets. Its strength over other cryptocurrencies for this use case is based primarily on being the most established Schelling point. It's also possible (though not looking particularly likely) that future software changes will eventually make it useful as a medium of exchange again.

Comment by lexande on A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy · 2018-02-01T20:16:47.583Z · LW · GW

I'm one of the 15%. Given declining marginal utility of money , high-risk-high-financial-reward bets have never appealed to me; the financial EV would have to be ridiculously high for the EV in utilons to be positive. I considered getting some BTC as a curiosity in 2011 but decided it was too much hassle. However discussions in the aftermath of the 2016 election led me to conclude that holding a small amount of cryptocurrency could decrease overall risk by mitigating certain legal risks (e.g. money you can memorise might be good to have if you're a fleeing refugee), and so I bought some in early 2017, despite assuming that the then-current price was basically efficient and so expecting 0% average returns. I have of course been pleasantly surprised by the returns since then, but continue to make decisions based on the assumption of 0% expected returns going forward. (I'm waiting to rebalance out until the capital gains are long-term for tax purposes.)

Comment by lexande on A LessWrong Crypto Autopsy · 2018-02-01T20:04:57.991Z · LW · GW

I agree that this is the appropriate strategy to use when adding an investment to your portfolio, but note that if applied to Bitcoin it did not yield the sort enormous gains that motivated this post. So if you think the Bitcoin example should lead us to update away from outside-view-motivated beliefs about our ability to spot market inefficiencies/investment opportunities, you should probably also endorse updating away from outside-view-motivated portfolio strategies like picking an allocation and rebalancing.

I just ran some numbers on this. Suppose you had $100k in savings, read the 2011 LessWrong post and were convinced to adopt a 95% cash 5% bitcoin allocation at the end of Q1 2011, and thereafter rebalanced on the last Monday of every quarter. (Assume for simplicity that your non-Bitcoin holdings earn zero interest, that you don't add or remove any money from your total savings during the period, and that you successfully avoided having your BTC stolen in MtGox etc.) If you ignore taxes, then at the end of 2017 you'd be left with $414k, which is decent but not life-changing. Further, since you're rebalancing every quarter you're paying a lot of taxes if you're in the US; assuming a federal+state short term capital gains rate of 30% you'd end up with $284k. (By only rebalancing yearly you can decrease your tax liability but you miss out on some of the big rallies; assuming a 15% long-term capital gains rate you end up with $258k.)

By contrast just buying the same $5k of BTC in Q1 2011 and hodling until the end of 2017 would leave you with around $75M (perhaps $60M after tax), which is more like the sort of "winning" Scott seems to be thinking about here. But how would you know to do that rather than, say, selling in mid-2011 for $100k?

Comment by lexande on Hero Licensing · 2017-12-14T22:54:52.541Z · LW · GW

Pat and Maude's arguments seem somewhat more reasonable if they're essentially saying "if you're so smart, why aren't you high-status?" Since nearly everyone (including many people who explicitly claim not to) places a high value on status at least within some social sphere, and status is instrumentally useful for so many goals even if you don't value it terminally, a human can be assumed to already be trying as hard as they can to increase their status, and thus it's a decent predictive proxy for a their general ability to achieve their goals. "I hesitate to call anyone a rationalist other than the person smiling down from atop a huge pile of utility." (Eliezer himself has in fact acquired impressive amounts of status in many of the spheres he seems to care about, so this is quite a weak argument against him, but the same is probably not true for most of the audience of this piece.)

Comment by lexande on Updates from Boston · 2017-12-14T20:45:08.846Z · LW · GW

In my experience "pop" is connotationally very different from how the Boston rationalists "backthumb"; "backthumb" contains a value judgement that the nascent conversation branch would be a poor use of time even if there is much that could be said about it, while "pop" is primarily used to return to a previous topic after a conversation branch has exhausted itself naturally.

Comment by lexande on Sunset at Noon · 2017-12-14T20:41:10.651Z · LW · GW

I notice that I am confused why people are so extremely disinclined to keep gratitude journals (the effect of which does apparently replicate) even when they report doing it makes them feel better. (Of course I don't keep one either, the idea seems aversive and I don't know why.)

Comment by lexande on More Dakka · 2017-12-14T20:32:07.965Z · LW · GW

The social reality of how hard you can reasonably be expected to try/the "standard amount" of trying is actually really important, because it gates the tremendous value of social diversification.

After Hurricane Sandy, when lower Manhattan was without power but I still had power in upper Manhattan, I let a couple of friends sleep in my double bed while I slept on my own couch. In principle they could have applied more dakka to ensure their apartment would be livable in natural disasters, but this would be very expensive and the ability to fall back on mutual aid creates a lot of value by decreasing the need for such extraordinary precautions, mitigating unknown unknowns, and lowering everybody's P(totally fucked). (Especially when this scales up from a temporary local power outage to something like being an international refugee.)

On the other hand, if a couple I knew similarly well had shown up in NYC with no notice asking if they could sleep in my bed while I slept on my couch, I would say no. If they had booked a confirmed Airbnb but the host had flaked out at the last minute, I'd probably say yes. If they had gone to Aqueduct Racetrack expecting to win enough for a hotel room but their horse had lost, I'd say no. It seems to me this mostly comes down to whether they had a prima facie reasonable plan, or whether they were predictably likely to take unfair advantage of mutual aid all along in a way that needs to be timelessly disincentivised. But this means a lot depends on what your particular subculture considers "prima facie reasonable" and what unknowns it considers known.

(Which of the following are prima facie reasonable to rely on in retirement planning such that you can fairly expect aid from more fortunate friends if they fail? 1. bitcoin investments, 2. stock index investments, 3. gold, 4. a home you own in the US, 5. USD in savings accounts, 6. a defined-benefit employer pension, 7. US Social Security, 8. US Medicare, 9. absence of punitive wealth taxes in the US, 10. your ability to get a new job after years out of the workforce, 11. your children's unconditional support, 12. the singularity arriving before you get too old to work. The answer will vary a lot with your social circle's politics and memes with only a very indirect dependence on wider objective reality.)

Comment by lexande on You May Already Be A Sinner · 2009-03-12T18:11:01.839Z · LW · GW

That doesn't explain why subjects who thought a good heart would mean a lower post-exercise pain threshold took their hands out sooner.

Looking at the actual data from the article, since Yvain neglected to actually state the results of the second case. Subjects told that a good heart was correlated with higher pain threshold after exercise showed an 11.84 second increase in mean immersion time, while subjects told that a good heart was correlated with a decrease in pain threshold showed a 7.63 second decrease in mean immersion time.