Base rate of RCT from developing countries finding unexpected effects 2021-01-12T01:57:49.897Z


Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid vaccine safety: how correct are these allegations? · 2021-06-13T11:42:11.107Z · LW · GW

As others have said, I strongly dislike posting of 3 hour videos without any timemark or summary of the main points. This is making the community do the work of extracting the information; on top of that people will not watch most (or any) of the video before commenting, so  discussion quality will be low. 

To not be completely negative, I watched the section on "Vaccine suffers censored" (there are time marks in the description on youtube) where all three of them claim explicitly that there is no monitoring. This is clearly inaccurate, for example we know that Israel has recently reported that myocarditis might be occurring more often than expected in young men. In addition, I know that Germany has the SafeVac app to make it easier for people to report side effects after vaccination.   

Comment by MichaelLowe on Is there a way to test your personal COVID vaccine response? How do corticosteroids impact response? · 2021-06-03T16:46:56.218Z · LW · GW

Sure; there is plenty of research on kids with asthma taking vaccines, e.g. here

"Varicella vaccine failure in children was not associated with asthma or the use of inhaled steroids, but with the use of oral steroids" . 

For the same opinion as guideline, see here.  

I believe the reference is automatically generated; their database lookup (presumably!) works this way: "brand name"-> "name of substance"->  "interactions of this substance with another substance (in this case the vaccine)". I.e. they do not make a disambiguation between form of administration. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Is there a way to test your personal COVID vaccine response? How do corticosteroids impact response? · 2021-06-03T14:30:52.192Z · LW · GW

2) There are some real concerns regarding systemic corticosteroid effects, but they mostly apply when getting shots and (I think) tablets. Inhaled budesonide has a much shorter half life and reduced bio availability, so there is much less reason for concern. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Why don't long running conversations happen on LessWrong? · 2021-05-31T10:04:33.006Z · LW · GW

Long running conversations are extremely common on old-style bulletin message boards/fora (see here for an example. This is mostly/solely because of the software design where threads are ordered only by the latest reply. Whether or not this leads to qualitative debate is another matter, often the same points get belaboured  ad nauseam and moderators have to close old threads. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on What's your peace plan? · 2021-05-27T16:12:02.312Z · LW · GW

Negotiations are seem better than take-it-or-leave-it plans. 

I agree, but I am somewhat partial to "take-it" plans. Instead of any negotiation, Israel would unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank (just like they did from the Gaza Strip) ,agree with the US on terms and basically say: "You have a state now, do what you want with it" (not unlike how Singapore became an independent country involuntarily) .  

This has the benefit of simplifying  issues,  and solves an underappreciated problem on the Palestinian side: Any politician signing a deal that loses Jerusalem or other religiously significant land immediately becomes a prime target for assassination. 

This  applies to the Israeli side as well of course (it's what happened to Rabin); to solve it one could appoint somebody with a terminal sickness as the responsible Prime Minister.  

Comment by MichaelLowe on MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion · 2021-05-26T20:21:05.108Z · LW · GW

As a non-American: If the problem just applies to Texas or to Republican states in general, are there substantial barriers to getting an abortion in another state (for rationalists)? I have heard that argument made often online for why passing state level abortion bans is ineffective.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Are PS5 scalpers actually bad? · 2021-05-19T13:57:39.903Z · LW · GW

 Some points that I have not seen mentioned before:  


that this is just the kind of thing that happens when retailers are foolishly prevented (by public opinion, if not by law) from charging the true market price.

Yes, this is the natural course of events, just like it is natural that people will steal from me if I leave the door to my house open at all times. This however does not mean that the thieves are not morally to blame. (I understand this was not your actual point, but it is a common point in libertarian discussions). Both the manufacturer and the retailers consider the scalpers' intention and tactics to be unwelcome. (Per the linked article, the scalpers have to write human impersonating bots to fool the retailers' websites; they are not using public facing APIs). In that sense, scalpers are not playing by the rules and it is reasonable for people to be angry at scalpers, even though it may not agree with an utilitarian outlook on ethics.

b) Others have argued that through scalping people's time vs people's money is traded. That is correct, but it seems to me that you are also trading luck for money. Obviously, getting a PS5 in a store drop is governed by chance as well as time. I am not entirely sure how that changes the net welfare calculus: 

  1. On the one hand, through scalping the good goes to the consumer who is willing to spend the most in one resource (money), which is strongly correlated to how much they desire the PS5 (which is good for net welfare). Luck is not correlated to how much a consumer wants the good. 
  2. On the other hand, if you award goods by lotteries, people do not have to waste resources that do not actually incentivize  the production of PS5s. 


c) In the particular case of a PS5, it is preferable that the good goes to people with more time, rather than with more money, because the former will have more time to actually use the PS5, thus deriving more benefit from it. If everybody were perfectly rational, the rich bidders should have already priced that into their price, but I doubt that people are that rational in this circumstance without being able to really prove it. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Why Glen Weyl is a technocrat · 2021-05-17T08:52:19.428Z · LW · GW

The goal that they advocate is "This number will need to increase over time (ideally by late July) to 20 million a day to full remobilize the economy" I don't see how you get weekly/daily testing of 328 million American's with 20 million tests per day. They explicitely advocate that over time we should target a testing capacity that's lower then weekly/daily.  

They advocate for testing of workers, and  my quote was "for large parts of the population", so explicitly not everybody. 140 million tests per week is enough to cover the 125 million full time employed Americans, which would be enough for weekly testing. However, it was an incorrect reading on my part to assume that these tests should be distributed randomly to everybody in the workforce, the approach in the roadmap seems to rely on aggressive contact tracing + tests. 

Even if they would have spoken in favor of daily testing, saying "we want daily testing" isn't enough to get daily testing. It would have been needed to say "We should be okay with cheap low accuracy tests and allow them to be brought to market". That wasn't articulated in the roadmap.

Why are you saying this? Appendix A, B,C, and D deal explicitly and at length with how to achieve such testing capacity. You may disagree with their approach, but it is laid out. For example: 

INNOVATING FOR SCALE (ACHIEVING A MORE EFFICIENT 2 MILLION AND GETTING TO 100 MILLION) A potentially more powerful approach may be to develop simpler protocols. We are indeed seeing rapid innovation to accomplish this—for example, replacing nasal swabs with spit kits. Rapid innovation would favor lab structures with generic robots and plates that can be easily adapted. Innovative lab designs can then be cloned and replicated.


To maximize existing testing capacity and throughput for asymptomatic surveillance, each household or community should be offered the option of daily sample pooling to facilitate early detection of the virus. 

With regards to the top-down aspect, you say: 

It's decentral decision making where people on the ground and a lot of different perspectives are thus taken into account on the one hand and top-down bureaucracy on the other. The roadmap chooses the side of top-down bureaucracy. 

This is again at the very least an incomplete and uncharitable summary. Appendix D deals with "innovative organizational strategies at the local level": 

response to the pandemic similarly needs a centralized authority for information gathering/dissemination, oversight of national production, and surge capacity, but it also needs a distributed capacity for execution that can respond quickly and flexibly to local circumstance

It further lays out the benefits of a Fusion cell model that appears to integrate Top-Down with local decision making.  

Again, it seems to me that your goal is to interpret this roadmap in an uncharitable way. Given that Glen Weyl has had reasonable criticisms of the rationalist community in the past, we should instead be maximally charitable. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Why Glen Weyl is a technocrat · 2021-05-16T21:41:29.165Z · LW · GW

This seems to be quite uncharitable at best. Here are a few points that are incorrect and surprising:

Managing to both avoid speaking about the need for science will at the same time advocating regulation that make it harder to do the necessary science is quite an accomplishment for Harvard ethicists.

At no point in the report are regulations endorsed to slow down science. On the contrary, the report calls for speeding up research into vaccines and therapeutics (p.20): 

Throughout all four phases, research and development of both therapeutics and vaccines should proceed aggressively with the goal of accelerating the transition to phase 4 and hopscotching over the intermediate phases. 

Despite your claim that masks are not mentioned, mask usage is at least somewhat endorsed (albeit there is not much emphasis on it):  

Establish a culture of universal mask wearing in “hotspot” areas during outbreaks, and increased standards of hygiene and decontamination.

And of course, Weyl and the others deserve credit for calling for a massive increase in testing capacity with the goal of regular (weekly/daily) testing for large parts of the population very early. It is also not understandable how one would claim that a test-and-trace program is anti science, as it has been widely recognized as essential (including by rationalists).  

Comment by MichaelLowe on Does butterfly affect? · 2021-05-15T15:00:57.936Z · LW · GW

Thank you for this interesting post. Could you clarify your assertion that the real world is not an idealistic deterministic system? Of course we cannot model it as such, but ignoring quantum effects, the world is deterministic. In that sense it seems to me that we might be unable to never confidently conclude that the butterfly caused the hurricane, but it could still be true. (and yes, in that Buddhist fable, my position has always been that trees do fall down, even if nobody sees it)

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 5/6: Vaccine Patent Suspension · 2021-05-07T22:39:02.195Z · LW · GW

It feels odd to me to simultaneously argue that patents were unimportant and unenforced anyway so this will produce no benefit, and that the decision to suspend patents will hurt the drug companies so much that in the future they have less of an incentive to invest in drug development? 

I was also confused by this, but I can imagine the following scenario: 

There are 5 companies in the world with the necessary institutional knowledge to manufacture vaccines. Because of IP laws, the only way for them to manufacture a vaccine is to either license it or invent it. So by now, all of those companies have done one of either.  Voiding the patents now would not make a difference. 

However, if there is a new pandemic with the understanding that all vaccine patents will be voided as soon as they are filed (as an extreme case), why would Pfizer sink money into research when they know that Moderna definitely has the knowledge to manufacture mRNA vaccines and thus would copy it immediately. 

Basically (bad metaphor incoming), the first mover disadvantage does not occur when the moves are only seen after everybody has moved already.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think · 2021-05-06T22:41:58.357Z · LW · GW

I am offering 2:1 odds in favour of the other side.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Your Dog is Even Smarter Than You Think · 2021-05-06T21:02:13.370Z · LW · GW

It is commendable that OP put a lot of work into this post, but tbh it does seem like many claims are way too overconfident given the evidence. I fear the "specialists in field X are grossly incompetent" is a frequent bias on lw, which is why not many people have pointed out the problems with this post. 

1) Animal researchers have engaged with these type of videos; that they are not in awe about it, could also mean that they do not find it impressive or novel. Here is a good summary. It did not take me long to find this, and this link (or similar ones) should not be the 81st comment. 

2)Yes, doing research on elephants is impractical, but that has nothing to do with doing research on dogs.Many animal cognition researchers have dogs and are totally happy and willing to try to teach their dogs language in their free time.  

3)There are lots of studies with insane amount of resources poured into them with the goal of teaching animals language. Take this study in the 60s where they tried to teach a dolphin language by filling an apartment  with water, having the handler live with the dolphin, and giving him an occasional hand*** . (yes, you read that right)

4) Bunny appears to be a Poodle mix; given that poodles are known to be a very intelligent dog breed, it is at least conceivable that they learned some genuinely surprising things. 

I am willing to accept bets that general consensus in 3 years will be that Bunny and the vast majority of dogs in such studies do not have an episodic memory which they can communicate like claimed in this post.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Estimating COVID cases & deaths in India over the coming months · 2021-04-24T22:37:11.666Z · LW · GW

With regards to estimating the death rate, I would caution against applying American infection fatality rates. On the one hand, India has fewer very old/overweight people, but you might have already accounted for that. 

On the other hand, there is some evidence that severity in Indians and Bangladeshis is substantially lower. Among migrant workers in Singapore, who are mostly from India and Bangladesh, rate of ICU admission was only 0.0002 (20 out of 100 000 cases), which even accounting for the age of the average migrant worker is far lower than what we see in the US/Europe. I have seen some speculation that endemic coronaviruses in that region provide partial protection. I would look further into this to estimate expected death rates.

Comment by MichaelLowe on There Is No Control System For COVID · 2021-04-09T19:57:22.578Z · LW · GW

It does seem that close contacts of infected people acquire T-cell immunity even without infection, but at least 90 days after exposure there does not seem to be a decreasing trend:

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 4/9: Another Vaccine Passport Objection · 2021-04-09T17:07:54.274Z · LW · GW

Have you or anybody else sensibly written about the P1 variant in Manaus? Despite a prior infection rate of ca. 75% in January, Manaus not only experienced a surge in new infections, but also a record high in hospitalizations. This is evidence against the usual assertion that T-cell immunity will provide enough protection against new variants that we will not have to worry about Covid-19 anymore once 70% are vaccinated.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 4/9: Another Vaccine Passport Objection · 2021-04-09T17:04:45.584Z · LW · GW

Agreed. In addition, the quoted article is summarizing the policy incorrectly it seems: They write that the school will be closed when there is no evidence of in-school transmission, but that is wrong: if contact tracers find the source as outside of the school, the school will (presumably) not be closed.

Comment by MichaelLowe on There Is No Control System For COVID · 2021-04-06T23:29:20.230Z · LW · GW

So if the model is true, one potential source of temporal variation might be waning immunity acquired after being exposed but not infected. Will link studies later, but many non-infected people show some T-cell responses against Sars-Cov2. In this scenario, e.g. a doctor gets coughed on, gets lucky, and develops some sort of temporal immunity that protects them for the next few months. After some time though this protection wanes and their risk increases again (this would probably not be a binary but continuous process).

I know too little about immunology, but afaik T-cell immunity wanes very slowly, so it does not quite fit the mark. Maybe there are other forms of immunity/antibodies that would explain this better.

Comment by MichaelLowe on There Is No Control System For COVID · 2021-04-06T22:54:19.107Z · LW · GW

Very interesting model, thanks for writing this up! 

 I will have to think about it in more depth. How do settings fit into this scenario where we know that basically everyone (50-75%) gets infected in an arguably short time frame: meat plants, close living quarters or prisons?

Comment by MichaelLowe on There Is No Control System For COVID · 2021-04-06T22:51:50.657Z · LW · GW

This is an interesting hypothesis, but I find it implausible that there is large temporal variation in vitamin D levels. Seasonal variation which might be even the biggest factor affects everybody the same, and it just does not seem to match my experience that the majority of the population changes their diet in such random ways that they could become Vitamin d deficient by chance. Same with indoor/outdoor activities, most people's life is not that variable that they are spending each day outside one month, but not the next. Besides, Vitamin D deficiency is correlated very strongly with various commodities,  which definitely do not randomly fluctuate.


I would also bet that the secondary household attack rate is similar across different age groups (except children) while it is known that Vitamin D deficiency is much likelier in older people.

Comment by MichaelLowe on The EMH is False - Specific Strong Evidence · 2021-03-21T13:37:52.848Z · LW · GW

This is right. For people who do not know, you cannot actually use AMD GPUs for deep learning (at least not productively, AMD is trying to get there though), so AMD's rise has little to do with AI.

Comment by MichaelLowe on AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine and blood clots · 2021-03-16T15:00:23.885Z · LW · GW

This is the key point. All other comments are about the base rates of general forms of thrombosis, but the concern is about a rare, special type. It is actually not inconceivable that the risk of death for young people from this vaccine might be higher than the risk from Covid-19. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on AstraZeneca COVID Vaccine and blood clots · 2021-03-16T14:57:35.460Z · LW · GW

AstraZeneca is not a RNA based vaccine, so does not contain any LNPs as far as I know.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Nitric Oxide Spray... a cure for COVID19?? · 2021-03-16T13:11:01.666Z · LW · GW

Yes, but only if you do it early enough. By the time you are PCR positive I would assume it is already too late.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Nitric Oxide Spray... a cure for COVID19?? · 2021-03-15T22:25:20.862Z · LW · GW

Not implausible, similar RCTs exist for other nasal sprays ( But it would be important to know how many hours after application of the spray viral load was measured). This is for iota-carrageenan from a month ago, and widely available in some European countries. 

"In the multicenter, randomized, double-blind, controlled CARR-COV-02 study, 394 healthcare staff were randomly assigned to receive iota-carrageenan nasal spray (N = 199) or placebo (N = 195) four times per day. [...]The percentage of participants that developed COVID-19 was significantly lower in the group that received the iota-carrageenan spray compared to placebo (1.0% vs 5.1%, respectively; relative risk reduction for disease of 80.4 %; 95 % CI = 25-95 % )."   


 But it would be somewhat surprising if it were to protect you from complications once you are actually infected, as viral load in the throat or lungs would not be reduced.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-08T12:40:24.202Z · LW · GW

Thank you for this great post. I would like to comment on a particular part: 

"Besides, even in the technical classes, forgetting is the near-universal outcome, and the long-term benefits are mostly conceptual — for if you don’t use these skills continuously for the rest of your life, you’re almost certainly going to lose them. Maybe more than once." 

This seems strongly like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. At least for math, it is, as you say, very clear that skills build on top of each other, and that weak students struggle greatly because they lack the foundational skills. I used to tutor friends and used to be regularly shocked by how much they forgot: how to divide by fractions, summation with exponents, just basic stuff. So the following is pretty likely: 

1)If you don't understand old concepts in math, you will not understand many new concepts 

2) many students forget old concepts 

3)Spaced Repetition  (not necessarily software!) ensures remembering

 We should be making sure they remember this material not in 20 years, but in 2 years if and when we make them struggle through calculus (unless one has a realistic plan for how to let the majority of underachievers in math just drop out of advanced math classes). This gives mediocre students a fair chance of actually building deeper understanding of what is going on on a conceptual level, and underachieving students a chance to get acceptable grades so that they do not become dejected and apathetic.  

For math, students get assigned homework anyway. I see no reason why that homework should not include an automatically generated exercise aimed to repeat an old concept. Of course, multiple-choice flashcards would be a failure mode.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Research: Rescuers during the Holocaust · 2021-02-01T23:50:59.391Z · LW · GW

The rescuers were just random people hindered by bystander effect like everybody else.   

You do not seem to go into the possibility that many people who were asked to help refused to do so, in contrast to the rescuers. Since it was a literal matter of life and death, I believe that many or even most Jewish people did try to ask for help but were declined.  

But otherwise a great post, and I was happy to see it included in the Curiosity Book.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Did convalescent plasma therapy drive the evolution of more infectious covid strains? · 2021-01-27T22:18:38.016Z · LW · GW

Not very confident, but given that several what appears to be independent mutations have been identified, but with mutations in similar regions and at a similar time, it could make sense that a new or increasingly used therapy form could be behind this.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2021-01-20T21:48:55.155Z · LW · GW

While I agree that the review is written engagingly, and I personally would like to see more book reviews/summaries, I find this decision surprising. Surely, the most important question in evaluating a history book is whether it is accurate. The author addresses this point, but dismisses criticism with "the historians are upset they were bypassed", and "it does not seem important to me". This is neither true, kind or necessary: the authors of the review criticize that despite Heinrich's claims, the Catholic church did not have the power to bring about the changes in social kinship norms that Heinrich attributes to them. This is, like, the central thesis of the book, so it is certainly not unimportant. 

To his credit, the author of this review engages openly with the criticism of Charles Freeman in the comments.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Are there examples of rationalists getting censored for COVID-19 related communication? · 2021-01-15T22:34:15.122Z · LW · GW

Steve Kirsch is AFAIK not a rationalist, but he was banned from Medium for claiming the effectiveness of a specific drug in treating Covid-19 was 100% based on two trials. Personally I think his claim is overstated (confidence intervals and so on) but the main thrust of his argument is reasonable and definitely not even close to ban worthy.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Base rate of RCT from developing countries finding unexpected effects · 2021-01-12T20:46:15.331Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the answer, and I understand where you are coming from. But concluding that "we need to do more studies" is not useful in this case, when most of the future damage of the pandemic will happen in the next few months, and publishing new studies takes close to a year. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 12/24: We’re F***ed, It’s Over · 2020-12-30T20:47:25.453Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the explanation. I do not understand the formula however. As I read your explanation, if both strains had the exact same doubling time of 6.5 days, one strain would still be ln(2) *6.5/6.5 = 0.69 more infectious than the other one, so I must be misunderstanding.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Vaccination with the EMH · 2020-12-29T21:10:51.597Z · LW · GW

Very well written post, although I disagree with the main conclusions. But first of all, I agree that both in the original and in the updated version of the essay Kelly seems to imply that if an average artist goes for his strategy, they can expect (>= 50%) to be able to live off their work: 

I don’t know the actual true number, but I think a dedicated artist could cultivate 1,000 True Fans, and by their direct support using new technology, make an honest living. 

Having said that, I do not think your conclusions about the EMH hold here, or that they are somewhat inconsistent with your other statements. First of all you agree with the author regarding the superiority of the "1000 true fans" strategy over the broad appeal strategy.  

However, then you assert that according to the EMH it is impossible that one job is much easier than the other. But that would also mean that the "1000 true fans" path cannot be superior to the normal path, so both of your assertions are (somewhat) in conflict with each other.

But the EMH brings it all together in a much bigger way. It says:

  1. Is this author suggesting that it's much easier to do one job than another and make the same money?

Personally, I both believe that the 1000 true fans strategy is indeed more superior for many/most creators and in that sense a 20 dollar bill that is lying on the ground for a long time. If one believes in the EMH here, one would also need to explain why it took >10 years for OnlyFans and Substack to emerge. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on The point of a memory palace · 2020-12-21T00:01:13.118Z · LW · GW

I have also been experimenting with mind palaces for books this year, and have a slightly different experience. This is not meant to contradict your experience, just pointing out that it can vary for different people: 

1)"Constructing a memory palace makes textbook reading more engaging and focused."   

While I am indeed more focused while memorizing boring content, I would not necessarily say that it is more engaging, in part because I have to mentally switch between reading/listening and visualizing. Furthermore, despite long experience, visualizing does not feel effortless for me, so unlike you I cannot study a textbook this way longer than when I am just studying it.  

3) A memory palace helps you relate and understand concepts. 

True, and a very important point. My biggest gripe with Anki/Flashcards is how split up the knowledge becomes after  atomizing the pieces of information.  

4) Visualization practice and memory palaces make you more able to see and manipulate 3D structures. 

My loci in the memory palace are fairly generic, in that they would work just as well as 2D pictures, which is maybe why I do not feel like I got better at manipulating 3D structures. Certainly, I have never used a complex 3D structure in my mind palaces, it would just take too long in the first place. 


I also think that visualization/mind palaces would be tremendously worthwhile in school or/and work. They are great for deeper mastery of concepts, because they allow for longer recall AND building links between topics, but also for stupid grinding of facts before an exam.

Comment by MichaelLowe on How We Failed COVID-19 · 2020-12-03T13:39:52.051Z · LW · GW

This is a very important topic and question, but I fear that you generalize too much and your assessment of Western politicians' understanding lacks subtlety.  In particular, my opinion is that the obviously good strategies were just not politically feasible. In the beginning of the pandemic, I used to treat arguments of the form "The successful strategy of country A is just not possible in country B" as defeatism and status-quo bias, but I  now believe that the South Korean model is indeed not possible in Western democratic countries. This can be seen by creative and smart initiatives of some Western countries that nevertheless failed.

You mention that the government holds the following misconception: 

It's fine to hover just below the point where hospitals get overwhelmed - it's not important to bring down the number of active cases as low as possible

However, the German government is perfectly aware of the meaning of exponential spread, here is chancellor Angela Merkel explaining what R means and why a value of 1.1 would be too high. 

While hand-washing was an important recommendation in the beginning here as well, our public health messaging has been focused for some time now on droplet and aerosol transmission. School and university classrooms are often required to be ventilated at regular intervals (which for most schools is not doable, but that's a different topic). Hand sanitizer is also much easier to implement than any ventilation measure in Winter.

You also invoke the risk society thesis, but this would apply to Asian countries as well, which were able to contain the virus.    

In addition, I think "the summer success in Western countries was not due to measures but due too weather effects" is far too strong a claim. European countries had a decent contact tracing system and cancelled mass events, while the US did not have the first part and had far worse numbers in summer.


Why the South Korean model would not work in the West: 

South Korea did contact tracing very well, with huge invasions of privacy like checking CCTV data, publishing the whereabouts of infected individuals and using credit card transaction history. In the US and the UK contact tracers are happy if contacted individuals pick up their phone at all. It's paradoxical, but it seems to me that Western populations would rather accept a wrecked economy, restriction of movement AND hundred  thousands of deaths than a temporary surveillance program. 


Examples of Non-Asian countries with smart but failed initiatives:

As far as I can tell, there has only been one Western country to try to eradicate the virus, namely Israel which implemented very tight border control policies and a mobile phone surveillance initiative very early.  However, my impression is that cooperation of the populace is just not high enough, which is why a second lockdown had to be imposed.   

A to me pretty saddening case is the initiative of the Slovak government to test its entire working age population through cheap antigen tests.  Testing was semi voluntary, with the other option being mandatory quarantine. New infection numbers fell very rapidly, but because the testing was done in  parallel with a partial lockdown it's not exactly easy to determine causality. However, since many other European countries with similar lockdowns have at best a flattened curve it seems very likely that mass testing was a great idea which is why it's copied now in parts of England, Austria and Italy.  Despite the large success and subsequent reopening, another round of mass testing has in Slovakia been postponed indefinitely, mostly because the mandatory quarantine got many voters angry and popularity of the government has been waning rapidly.


So in conclusion, many smart policies are much harder to implement in Western countries and may actually reflect the preference of the population, and that our current situation is not because of governments "[...] making some silly errors, not updating their information, and not thinking through the long-term effects. " 

However, there was/is room for fairly cheap wins  through scientific and regulatory adaptation. This post is already too long, but briefly put the failure seems to be in those two areas. Despite strong theoretical justifications, no country (AFAIK) has so far approved at home, cheap antigen testing. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Open & Welcome Thread – November 2020 · 2020-11-22T21:30:23.391Z · LW · GW

Does anybody have recommended resources that explain the timeline of clinical trials of interventions? Specifically why they take so long and whether that is because of practical necessity or regulatory burden. Bonus points if Covid-19 is included as a context. 

Comment by MichaelLowe on Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine? · 2020-11-22T20:49:44.317Z · LW · GW

You are applying the incentive heuristic inconsistently. On the one hand you infer that if there was string evidence of long term effects, governments would be very vocal about it. But on the other hand, you ignore that these incentives would also apply to the Vitamin D effects that you cite. Governments would also surely have an interest to publicize an intervention that has  a 25 fold reduction in risk.  So the estimate is wrong or your conception of how governments work is wrong.  

I suggest that it is both. Other answers have already mentioned that a 25 fold reduction in risk would be ridiculous, and governments just do not respond to incentives like that.  

This study is a strong reason to fear  prevalent long term consequences for cognitive performance after even mild Covid-19 infections. 

On the other hand, you do not mention the strongest reason for supporting your view: the relatively underexplored long term effects of mRNA vaccines. However, if you worry about those, you should just get the traditional-style Oxford or J&J vaccines. Since they use the same technology as well established vaccines, taking them should be fundamentally as safe as getting your flu shot.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-13T02:24:43.375Z · LW · GW

The Cuomo video does not have the quote "stop the distribution of the vaccine", the clip says that Cuomo wants to shape or stop Trump's *plan*. This could mean that an alternative plan would be implemented  that would fulfill the Cuomo's requirements. 

I feel that getting the quote right is necessary if one is literally calling for pitchforks.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Does BioNtech's vaccine result of 90% disease prevention mean that 90% of the vaccinated can't pass the virus to other people? · 2020-11-10T23:01:12.563Z · LW · GW

but I will bet you ANYTHING that those who DO get infected are at least less infectious. 

I am less sure, based on the results of the Oxford vaccine trial: "Viral gRNA was detected in nose swabs from all animals and no difference was found on any day between vaccinated and control animals." Viral load is indeed lower in the lower respiratory tract, but my understanding is that infections spread mainly from the upper respiratory tract. And if you factor in how most infections are detected, namely by an individual experiencing symptoms, it is conceivable that vaccinated and thus asymptomatic Sars-Cov 2 carriers will be in effect more infectious.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Teach People to Recognize the Sound of Covid? · 2020-11-06T20:08:44.268Z · LW · GW

Reposting my comment under Zvi's post: 

Due to the online collection method I suspect that most of the positive samples were already quite advanced in their disease progression.  Since Covid-19 deposits in the lungs mainly in the latter part of the disease it is easier to identify them at that point, but also not that useful anymore because most of the transmission happens during the earlier part of the infection (both for symptomatic and asymptomatic people). 

These researchers  had a much better sample procedure, cough samples were mostly acquired at testing sites, where participants did not know yet whether they have Covid (much less risk of subconscious bias) and were presumably at an earlier stage of their disease. They also had much worse results, which I suspect are more realistic for a real world setting.  

What actually needs to be done is to do a longitudinal analysis, i.e. you record your baseline cough when you are healthy. Then if you want to check if you are infected, you cough again and compare that "potentially sick" cough against your baseline "non-covid cough". The potential of this approach is much higher since  baseline characteristics of the cough can be accounted for (smoker, asthmatic, crappy mic in phone). 

I have been thinking that it should be possible to gather training data for this quickly by identifying a subset of people that are somewhat likely to get sick in the near future like e.g. people participating in big parties, and acquire coughs from them prior and subsequent to infection. If somebody has ideas how to collect such data quickly, feel free to share.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 11/5: Don’t Mention the War · 2020-11-06T01:21:01.781Z · LW · GW

Regarding the cough identifying AI: Due to the online collection method I suspect that most of the positive samples were already quite advanced in their disease progression.  Since Covid-19 deposits in the lungs mainly in the latter part of the disease it is easier to identify them at that point, but also not that useful anymore because most of the transmission happens during the earlier part of the infection (both for symptomatic and asymptomatic people). 

These researchers  had a much better sample procedure, cough samples were mostly acquired at testing sites, where participants did not know yet whether they have Covid (much less risk of subconscious bias) and were presumably at an earlier stage of their disease. They also had much worse results, which I suspect are more realistic for a real world setting.  

What actually needs to be done is to do a longitudinal analysis, i.e. you record your baseline cough when you are healthy. Then if you want to check if you are infected, you cough again and compare that "potentially sick" cough against your baseline "non-covid cough". The potential of this approach is much higher since  baseline characteristics of the cough can be accounted for (smoker, asthmatic, crappy mic in phone). 

I have been thinking that it should be possible to gather training data for this quickly by identifying a subset of people that are somewhat likely to get sick in the near future like e.g. people participating in big parties, and acquire coughs from them prior and subsequent to infection. If somebody has ideas how to acquire such data, feel free to share. As an aside, I am somewhat surprised that we as a community interested in AI and out-of-the box thinking have not focused/discussed AI for Covid detection much earlier.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-11-02T15:47:09.734Z · LW · GW

We need more discussion of Slovakia's approach: Mass testing everybody with cheap antigen tests, testing is semi voluntary, if you don't have a negative test result you have to quarantine.  

I maintain that the Slovak government has shown extraordinary competence here, when compared against an admittedly low international baseline.  Even more astonishingly, the Lancet article makes it seem like they went against the advise of their scientific advisors who pushed for a 45 days lockdown.

  1. Before doing nationwide testing, they implemented a successful local test run.
  2. They understand what an incubation period is, and are therefore doing two runs, last weekend and this weekend.
  3. With antigen tests they settled for a good enough solution, understanding that they will catch the vast majority of infectious people who PCR tests would have caught as well.
  4. They managed to mobilize this whole initiative seemingly in a span of 2-3 weeks, with soldiers making sure distances are kept in waiting lines.

What I find most surprising is how discerning the government was in picking out the right advice and ignoring the bad scientific advice (at best governments follow one set of advisors completely, mostly they implement their recommendations in a worse than random way). Why bad? Because most epidemiologists only consider medical harm but not economic, and let the perfect be the enemy of the good: 

 The bad advice included: Antigen tests are less reliable than PCR tests, that there would be high infection risks at the testing sites, that not enough doctors would be available, that it would be immoral to forcibly quarantine people who do not want to be tested (apparently much better to effectively quarantine everybody in a lockdown), that a lockdown that would crush the economy was the better approach( what comes after the lockdown when the numbers will most likely rise again?) 

This is not to say that each individual point was wrong or unlikely to happen, just that the epistemic standard  when trying something new should not be "this will definitely work without any problems" but "this is worth a shot", particularly when the other alternatives have huge downsides as well. Neither am I saying that everything was done perfectly (I am unsure whether it is best to exclude 65+ citizens, citizens could maybe also do the swab testing supervised but themselves) 

The jury is still out on whether this will flatten the numbers, but we should all hope that it works out for them so we have a viable alternative.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Covid 8/27: The Fall of the CDC · 2020-08-29T23:49:41.144Z · LW · GW

Any remark on the recent reports of reinfections? In previous pieces you were quite critical of such reports, IIRC you estimated a minimum of 4 months of immunity. However, the US reinfection case seems to have been reinfected after less than two months, and with a much more serious reinfection to boot.

Comment by MichaelLowe on Are we in an AI overhang? · 2020-07-27T21:38:49.988Z · LW · GW

Your quoted cost for training the model is for training such a model **once**. This is not how the researchers do it, they train the models many times with different hyperparameters. I have no idea, however how hyperparameter tuning is done at such scales, but I guarantee that the compute cost is higher than just the cost for training it once.

Comment by MichaelLowe on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-23T16:39:21.302Z · LW · GW

Given that Steven Pinker retweeted Scott's deletion post and this news article , this issue will probably keep getting publicity for better or worse. Given this, some people will start looking for Scott's real name, and thus it would be a great idea to increase the entropy here by promoting a value for Scott's real name that is not ahem entirely accurate. Thoughts?

Comment by MichaelLowe on Can Covid-19 spread by surface transmission? · 2020-06-15T16:04:34.267Z · LW · GW

Evidence for surface transmission seems to exist: according to this article + report, staff in a hospital did not get infected themselves, but probably caused transmission between patients via non disinfected medical tools