Posts

The Flynn Effect Clarified 2020-12-12T05:18:53.327Z
Book review: WEIRDest People 2020-11-30T03:33:17.510Z
Book review: Age Later 2020-10-27T04:21:12.428Z
Black Death at the Golden Gate (book review) 2020-06-26T16:09:06.866Z
COVID-19: The Illusion of Stability 2020-06-08T18:46:54.259Z
Book review: Human Compatible 2020-01-19T03:32:04.989Z
Another AI Winter? 2019-12-25T00:58:48.715Z
Book Review: The AI Does Not Hate You 2019-10-28T17:45:26.050Z
Drexler on AI Risk 2019-02-01T05:11:01.008Z
Bundle your Experiments 2019-01-18T23:22:08.660Z
Time Biases 2019-01-12T21:35:54.276Z
Book review: Artificial Intelligence Safety and Security 2018-12-08T03:47:17.098Z
Where is my Flying Car? 2018-10-15T18:39:38.010Z
Book review: Pearl's Book of Why 2018-07-07T17:30:30.994Z

Comments

Comment by petermccluskey on Anti-Aging: State of the Art · 2021-01-10T05:59:25.173Z · LW · GW

Baze has technology for cheaper and more convenient blood tests. So far they're only using it to sell vitamins. I presume regulatory obstacles are delaying more valuable uses.

Comment by petermccluskey on Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from? · 2021-01-10T05:22:37.934Z · LW · GW

I've put together some guesses about what's important for US competence as a nation, loosely based on ideas from WEIRDest People and Where is my Flying Car?.

Human societies likely default to small groups that fragment (due to disagreements) if they grow much above 20 people.

Over the past 10 millennia or so, it has become common to use extended ties of kinship to scale up to the Dunbar number, and sometimes well beyond that.

Western civilization scaled up to unprecedented levels of trust and cooperation via a set of fairly new cultural features: moral universalism, use of impartial rules rather than contextual particularism, the expectation of supernatural punishment for undetected crimes, more emphasis on analytical thinking, and more positive-sum thinking.

The US has been partly held together by a shared religion, whose teachings promote trust between co-religionists, and which also encourage treating others as potential converts.

Shared enemies (Nazis, Communism, maybe briefly Islam) created additional, but temporary, boosts to cooperation within the English speaking world. Some of the polarization we've recently experienced is just a return to patterns that were previously common. If that were most of what's going wrong, I'd be fairly optimistic about the future of the US.

Over the past few decades, the US has experienced a decline in religion (or a least in a shared religion).

Science got too aggressive about demanding that we disbelieve any knowledge beyond what scientific journals would publish. That eroded beliefs in supernatural phenomena, and also eroded beliefs in the religion(s) that helped to promote large-scale trust and cooperation.

Science didn't succeed in replacing religion with something more rigorous. Instead, new quasi-religions sprouted (e.g. Green fundamentalism, and the cult of Trump). They're optimized more for features such as compatibility with forager instincts, than the ability to promote prosperity.

In contrast, the Protestant religion was selected in part for its ability to foster cooperation between distant strangers.

I'm concerned that many US problems of the past few decades (including The Great Stagnation) can only be solved by something like a return to being a Christian nation. The tension between Science and Christianity seems strong enough that it's hard to see how that is feasible.

Another problem is that democracy has morphed from a tool, to a goal in itself.

That has undercut the authority of political parties. They used to have near total control over what candidates were on the ballot. Then, starting around 1970, there was a massive shift toward direct voter control over who each party nominated.

That made it harder to hold any institution accountable for political results. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that this trend started around the same time as The Great Stagnation. It seems correlated with reduced trust in authority in general, although I can't tell whether this is a cause or effect.

WEIRDest People also claims that WEIRD cultures have produced lower testosterone levels, via monogamy. That's important, since it reduces impulsivity, reduces competitive urges, and increases positive-sum thinking.

But testosterone seems to have decreased over the past few decades, so the US ought to be in a better position than most societies to rebuild institutions.

I'm maybe 90% confident that the US still has enough competence to postpone collapse and civil war for a few decades.

It seems like there should be some research on how companies, nonprofits, etc. scale up past the Dunbar number. But I'm unclear whether it's relevant to groups as big as the US, but WEIRDest People has led me to expect that the optimal approach for a group of 300 million people will be rather different from the optimal approach for 200,000 people.

Comment by petermccluskey on Why the outside view suggests that longevity escape velocity is a long time away and cryonics is a much more feasible option for those alive today: signal-boosting a comment by Calm-Meet9916 on Reddit · 2021-01-08T18:09:50.224Z · LW · GW

I agree that Aubrey is too optimistic, but there's been a bit more progress than you indicate.

Alzheimer's appears to be curable (although not easily treatable), at least if it's treated early.

There's been progress in understanding what lifestyle mistakes are the leading causes of cardiovascular disease. 20-30 years ago most people thought it was mainly saturated fat, now there's more awareness of diabetes-related factors.

Comment by petermccluskey on Open & Welcome Thread - December 2020 · 2020-12-31T06:04:24.997Z · LW · GW

The GreaterWrong.com interface offers a theme with light text on a dark background.

Comment by petermccluskey on My Model of the New COVID Strain and US Response · 2020-12-28T02:35:22.651Z · LW · GW

Something is odd about how people are analyzing vaccine effects.

My guess is that the US is doing a tolerable enough job of vaccinating the vulnerable first that the IFR will start dropping by around 50% per month, for new infections, starting in a week or so (until we get to limits due to people refusing to be vaccinated?). So even if we get another wave with infection rates 2 or 3 times the recent levels, it seems unlikely to keep the death and hospitalization rates from declining.

It will also become gradually easier to keep r low due to the increasing number of people who are immune.

Comment by petermccluskey on What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain? · 2020-12-28T01:18:01.760Z · LW · GW

Little reaction to the likely spread of the new strains.

Comment by petermccluskey on What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain? · 2020-12-27T19:43:38.559Z · LW · GW

You can short VIX futures.

Shorting VXX is a bit like shorting VIX, often better.

Comment by petermccluskey on What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain? · 2020-12-27T06:12:22.969Z · LW · GW

I do trade oil and VIX futures. This is competent advice, close to what I would have written if I'd found the time. I don't expect much reaction to this news, but if I did, I'd short March oil futures, maybe hedging by buying September oil futures.

Comment by petermccluskey on What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain? · 2020-12-25T21:00:39.153Z · LW · GW

What would need to happen for this -not- to lead to a crash?

Many investors remembering that selling in mid-March was a bad idea, and that the economy recovers from pandemics faster than most commentators expected.

Comment by petermccluskey on What trade should we make if we're all getting the new COVID strain? · 2020-12-25T20:56:51.813Z · LW · GW

VXX is not a good way to compare volatility across years. VIX and similar measures are showing fairly high volatility, but no signs of new panic recently.

Comment by petermccluskey on How Hard Would It Be To Make A COVID Vaccine For Oneself? · 2020-12-21T18:35:12.452Z · LW · GW

The RADVAC website has more information, possibly enough to tell experts how to do the same for other viruses.

Comment by petermccluskey on Gauging the conscious experience of LessWrong · 2020-12-20T21:34:40.756Z · LW · GW

My sound imagination seems a lot more like real sound than my visual imagination seems like seeing.

I suspect I do a lot more visual thinking than verbal thinking, but the verbal thinking is mostly at a conscious level, and the visual thinking is mostly subconscious.

Comment by petermccluskey on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-20T19:05:45.282Z · LW · GW

I'll guess that there's no literature on the subject.

FDA rules require a lot more work per patient for trials. I'm guessing something like $10k per patient, so you're likely proposing more than a trillion dollars in spending. And that assumes there are no problems with hiring and training enough people to run the trials.

Comment by petermccluskey on We desperately need to talk more about human challenge trials. · 2020-12-19T20:59:22.378Z · LW · GW

Let me suggest that human challenge trials are a bad idea in a pandemic such as this, because they're too slow.

We can see, from RADVAC use that competent experts who were focused on minimizing their personal risk, that at least some untested vaccines look safer than a lack of vaccines.

So the only ethical strategy was to approve emergency use of at least some vaccines back around February. Possibly there were some vaccines were too novel for this to be safe. Do any of the people who are saying untested vaccines are risky quantify the risks that they believe support their position?

Why might the experts with the most media attention be wrong about this?

  • the FDA is scared of anything which would suggest that their normal process hurts people by delaying good medicine.
  • pharma companies are worried that competitors will be able to sell new medicines more easily.
  • both expect to be blamed much more for harm caused by medicine than for harm due to lack of medicine.
Comment by petermccluskey on Which sources do you trust the most on nutrition advice for exercise? · 2020-12-16T04:03:45.486Z · LW · GW

If you're willing to put a good deal of effort into this, I suggest Staffan Lindeberg's book. There's a good deal that can be inferred from his evidence from very different cultures with different disease rates.

Beyond that, I like Chris Masterjohn, Dale Bredesen, Stephan Guyenet, and Chris Kresser.

Comment by petermccluskey on Why quantitative methods are heartwarming · 2020-12-13T05:10:40.346Z · LW · GW

Yes and no.

Most social changes have too many effects to be pure wins, so a widespread shift to quantification will likely cause some harm in addition to benefits.

The WEIRDest People in the World has some hints about the trade-offs. E.g. in many cultures, people don't buy from the merchant who offers them the best deal. They buy from the merchant to whom they're most closely connected (as in kin). A switch to more competitive markets makes trade more efficient, at the cost of weakening some social bonds.

The Institutional Revolution: Measurement and the Economic Emergence of the Modern World, by Douglas Allen, argues that trends of this nature played an important role in the industrial revolution. In particular, the practice of honor duels seems to have ended due to better ways of measuring how honorable a person is.

Comment by petermccluskey on Anti-EMH Evidence (and a plea for help) · 2020-12-07T03:10:48.928Z · LW · GW

My impression is that market efficiency varies a lot from year to year.

Recessions tend to be associated with less efficient markets. I presume that's because it takes a lot more capital to correct mispricing when the overall market makes large moves.

If a phenomenon only exists one year per decade, then it's less valuable to have enough liquid capital to exploit it, fewer people have the patience needed to remain alert enough to notice it, etc.

2020 has had mispricings that seem more unusual than once per decade phenomena.

Comment by petermccluskey on How a billionaire could spend their money to help the disadvantaged: 7 ideas from the top of my head · 2020-12-05T05:47:59.172Z · LW · GW

For idea 5, Michael Kremer's patent-buyout proposal seems more directly focused on doing something similar but better for patented drugs (presumably via a charity?). It looks valuable, but $1 billion worth of charity seems rather small for this kind of project.

Comment by petermccluskey on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-05T02:42:50.239Z · LW · GW

And I’d be quite surprised if none of Google, OpenAI, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla ends up being a major player.

If we get transformative AI in 2028, then I agree. I have some Google shares for AI-related reasons. But if we don't get it until 2040, then I'd be mildly surprised if any of them will be close enough to the cutting edge to be major players.

Comment by petermccluskey on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-04T21:25:59.058Z · LW · GW

Something like half of the companies that look overvalued do not look like they'll benefit much from AI. They look more like they were chosen for safety against risks such as recessions and other near-term risks. I'm thinking of companies such as Apple, Chipotle, Home Depot, Lululemon, Mastercard, and Guidewire.

The "next few decades" is too long a time. Try evaluating what would have happened if you'd invested in companies in 2008 that looked like they would benefit from this decade's demand for electric vehicles, robocars, or solar. Or what would have happened if you had tried to act in 1986 on Drexler's forecast (in Engines of Creation) of a global hypertext system taking off within 10 years?

I'm guessing that if I'd tried those, I'd have guessed on Toyota or Honda for electric vehicles; for solar I actually made some money in Evergreen Solar in 2005-6, so I'm guessing it would have been my top choice (with a few others from this list?); I don't know what I would have found for robocars; and I would have bought Autodesk if I'd realized it owned Xanadu (I'm unsure when I was able to find out that Autodesk had acquired Xanadu).

How well would those have worked? Evergreen Solar became worthless. Some of the more successful solar companies (Canadian Solar, First Solar) are still below their 2008 peak. Honda and Toyota have been unimpressive. Autodesk has done well, but mostly not while it owned Xanadu or during the dot-com boom.

This suggests that expecting an industrial revolution-level change after 2030 is a poor reason for choosing index funds that are loaded with high p/e stocks.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-04T00:22:03.431Z · LW · GW

I did not get the impression that Henrich believes in or implies linear progress.

The citation for the chart on p 315 is Kin-Networks and Institutional Development. It sort of looks like the data came from table C.6, column 1 or 2. Oddly, that uses the term commune instead of representative government.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-04T00:20:02.088Z · LW · GW

I don't have any evidence directly answering that, but levirate marriage seems to have been encouraged among a wide variety of pre-industrial cultures.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-04T00:17:44.327Z · LW · GW

He is aware of some relevant Roman norms. From page 176:

Early Roman law, for example, prohibited close cousin marriage, though the law of the Roman Empire - where Christianity was born - permitted it without social stigma.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-03T05:10:15.697Z · LW · GW

It seems like there should be a significant reputation cost to the reversal, since it needed to be widely understood.

I'd expect arbitary exploration to be averse to conspicuous costs. Whereas planned strategies can be plausibly motivated by a vision of inheriting valuable land from widows who have less pressure to leave the land to kin in their wills.

Comment by petermccluskey on Are index funds still a good investment? · 2020-12-02T23:34:58.454Z · LW · GW

I think the Michael Burry concerns are reasonable. That mostly means a few of the most popular index funds are overpriced. There are many funds to choose from, and funds that aren't imitating the most popular ones still look like reasonable investments.

See also Colby Davis for some hints about which types of funds look risky.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-02T23:07:11.908Z · LW · GW

You appear to be correct about the sentence that you quote (with the estimated probability of zero).

Henrich (and Fukuyama?) appear to overstate the novelty of the church's influence on land ownership and marriage norms.

I searched for "land ownership in ancient rome", and found evidence in Property Rights in Ancient Rome that supports at least a small part of the Henrich / Fukuyama story of land ownership:

In the nineteenth century, legal theory created the myth of absolute, exclusive, and unbounded individual ownership, which seemingly had its roots in classical Roman law. The chapter shows that such ownership was never an abstract, unlimited right in ancient Rome. Ownership was rather a dynamic category with changing legal content according to its social, political, and economic environment. It met a broader target, and fostered conditions amenable to an optimal exploitation of the main natural resource, agrarian land.

How much should I alter my opinion of the book due to these issues?

Creationists sometimes criticize stories such as a linear increase in the size of horses. They have a valid point that evolutionists sometimes misleadingly portray change as an inevitable, linear form of progress. We should have some distrust of evolutionists, but that doesn't say much about the central features of evolutionary theory. Historian's reactions to Henrich sound a bit like this - valid criticisms, which don't tell me much about the ideas in which I'm interested.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-02T23:04:04.566Z · LW · GW

You are probably at least half right about the elite versus general population difference. Henrich is often vague about whether he's describing upper class phenomena or more pervasive changes, and I see hints that changes usually spread to the general population more slowly than Henrich implies.

He goes overboard in arguing against the great man theory of history. I mostly agree with Henrich that we should pay more attention to models of decentralized sources of beliefs. But Henrich seems to contribute to polarization between extremes on this axis, when I want something closer to a middle ground.

Henrich mostly uses the term individualism to refer to beliefs. You appear to be using it in a less standard way.

New working conditions around 1800 presumably created some pressure for workers to be less individualistic. Maybe that even led to mass schooling designed to beat some conformity into the average worker. Yet that doesn't mean those pressures had much effect on culture. It sure looks like the West continues to value individualism more highly than do most cultures.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-12-01T03:05:30.636Z · LW · GW

I think they both have good points, and I previously had some trouble reconciling them.

I expect that a modest fraction of the relevant culture can be altered within months by things such as co-worker influences that promote punctuality, obedience to non-kin bosses, and maybe even a slight change in honesty. There are few contexts other than immigration in which peer effects change drastically enough have those effects.

I previously thought that Clark's arguments implied that at least 50% of the labor quality difference was due to genes. Henrich convinced me to lower that estimate to less than 25%, partly by seeing a better model of environmental factors than I'd previously comparing it to. I guess I exaggerated when I said that resolves the disagreement, but I now see a clearer middle ground.

Farewell to Alms doesn't have a clear argument for genetic effects. It does indicate that the effects tend to be passed from parents to children, but he didn't really try to rule out culture in that book. Clark may make stronger arguments for genetic effects in The Son Also Rises, but I haven't read that.

Caplan overstates his point. The evidence is complicated by selection effects (the people who migrate are better workers, and also more open to adopting a new culture), and by location effects (taxi drivers and maids in San Francisco create more value than they would performing the same actions in a low-wage country). But there's still some genuine change happening with migration that rarely happens when Westerners try to export Western productivity to third world countries.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-11-30T20:23:34.802Z · LW · GW

Yes. There's a fair amount of dispute about whether the dark ages were bad. Henrich doesn't claim the average person was better off then, only that the cultural changes were moving in a direction that made phenomena such as the enlightenment more likely. His model suggests that the destruction of kin ties had many bad effects, and doesn't suggest that the benefits came quickly.

He expresses a similar but clearer picture about the adoption of farming being initially bad:

With the "right" set of institutions, farmers could spread across the landscape like an epidemic, driving out or assimilating any hunter-gatherers in their path. Thus, early farming spread not because rational individuals prefer to farm, but because farming communities with particular institutions beat mobile hunter-gatherer populations in intergroup competition.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: WEIRDest People · 2020-11-30T20:20:56.748Z · LW · GW

Pomeranz describes New World resources as one of the main causes of the IR, maybe second to convenient coal in Britain.

Henrich would likely reply that the correlation between colonialism and the IR was mostly causal in the other direction.

Institutional / cultural explanations seem to have a better track record than natural resources at explaining other divergences, although I don't know of rigorous comparisons. Think South Korea versus North Korea, and think of Russia's natural resources.

I (and likely Henrich) suggest that colonialism helped the IR slightly, by expanding the population that was accumulating knowledge.

Henrich argues that pervasive attitudes are more important than the whims of a single ruler, and would undoubtedly claim that cultural differences explain why it was the West that colonized. The Vries book claims there was a clear difference between globalist attitudes in Britain versus China denying that anything outside its borders mattered; that sort of follows from the universalist features of WEIRD culture.

Western culture established a practice of couples moving away from parents upon marriage, whereas kin ties discourage moving. I'd expect that to have an important effect on who moves to another continent.

I think GDP differences were small before 1800, and I haven't seen a good argument that they're important.

Comment by petermccluskey on Bucky's Shortform · 2020-11-24T05:51:37.337Z · LW · GW

Derek Lowe writes:

My own wild guess is that perhaps the two-full-dose protocol raised too many antibodies to the adenovirus vector itself, and made the second dose less effective. This has always been a concern with the viral-vector idea.

It sounds like there was a medium-sized prior that the lower first dose would be better - why else would they have tested it?

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 11/12: The Winds of Winter · 2020-11-12T20:44:34.250Z · LW · GW

Look at what happened to the stock market on the day Pfizer announced its results

People are likely to miss the extent of the market reaction, due to a focus on market indexes which include both companies that benefit from the pandemic and those that are hurt by it.

The S&P 500 initially rose 4% in response to the vaccine news, but gave back most of those gains by the end of the day.

Here's a selection of interesting reactions (Monday's close versus Friday's close):

  • Zoom Video -17%
  • Alpha Pro Tech [makes PPE] -15%
  • Amazon -5%
  • Hawaiian Holdings [airline] +51%
  • AMC Entertainment [movie theaters] +51%
  • Norwegian Cruise Line +27%
  • Lyft +26%
  • Cedar Fair [amusement parks] +25%
Comment by petermccluskey on A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall · 2020-11-10T05:55:26.955Z · LW · GW

Nuclear costs are declining in China.

My impression is that China has copied some of the US regulatory framework, but still allows more discretion.

I used financial data from CGN Power Company to estimate nuclear electricity selling prices. Data for 2011 from this report shows RMB0.3695 ($0.0558) / KWh, declining to RMB0.30 ($0.0425) / KWh in 2020 (from this report).

That's not enough to have a big effect on the Chinese economy, but it's enough to show that something's working better in China than in the US.

Comment by petermccluskey on A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall · 2020-11-09T23:51:06.877Z · LW · GW

The author does overstate the harm from NNI. Drexler's vision needed larger-scale coordination than just a bunch of small academic labs that needed to focus on publishing papers. It needed something closer to the Apollo program. The details of NNI are just a small part of the political and cultural changes which made it harder to organize an Apollo program in 2000 than it was in 1960.

The author does have libertarian tendencies, but he implies that libertarianism is less important than the difference between a well-run government and a poorly run government. A fair amount of the book is devoted to analyzing why the US government became worse around 1970.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-11-05T02:02:03.296Z · LW · GW

Another option is a trial where everyone gets a vaccine. Each patient is randomized to get one of multiple vaccines. That should provide better evidence about the relative desirability of each vaccine. I'm pretty sure that we ought to want to focus on which vaccines are best, not on whether vaccines meet some pre-defined standard of effectiveness.

Comment by petermccluskey on Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from? · 2020-11-04T06:01:17.524Z · LW · GW

There are some important relevant insights in Henrich's book The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I'll say more after I finish reading the book.

Comment by petermccluskey on Book review: Age Later · 2020-10-30T23:41:19.961Z · LW · GW

I give more weight than you do to the variety of species in which calorie restriction has shown benefits.

It does seem quite possible that calorie restriction does worse in high disease environments. But humans in the developed world are exposed to a good deal less infectious disease than what we're evolved for. That suggests that it might be healthy to weaken our immune system slightly (but there's almost certainly an age past which that ceases to be true).

Still, I'm not at all tempted to do continuous calorie restriction. I currently do one or two days per week of limiting myself to <1000 calories, and eat until I feel full on most other days. I completely stopped calorie restriction for about three weeks near the start of the pandemic, due to increased concerns about immune system risks.

The metformin studies are downplaying some possibly important selection effects. I don't see a need to hypothesize tricks beyond that.

Both the diabetic group and the non-diabetic group had some undiagnosed health problems. For some unknown fraction of diabetics, those health problems caused them to be excluded because doctors saw that their poor health called for a switch from metformin to a more drastic treatment. It's unclear how a study could produce comparable selection effects in non-diabetics.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid Covid Covid Covid Covid 10/29: All We Ever Talk About · 2020-10-30T16:41:16.901Z · LW · GW

Alex Tabarrok has some related discussion in How to Vaccinate and Continue Clinical Trials.

I'm unclear why blinding is critical. It should have almost no effect on safety evidence. It seems likely to have a moderate effect on the quality of the efficacy evidence. But the harm from delaying vaccines for a few weeks seems a good deal larger than the harm from not having ideal information about which vaccine is most effective.

Comment by petermccluskey on Effective Epidemiology · 2020-10-23T22:20:07.023Z · LW · GW

My guess is that less than 5% of the value of schools depends on paper. I expect that the value of in-person school compared to remote comes from things like interaction with peers, or day care. See The Elephant in the Brain for more hints.

Comment by petermccluskey on Stupid Questions October 2020 · 2020-10-23T04:14:39.129Z · LW · GW

The term "life expectancy" usually refers to something that's not a prediction. It's constructed from the past year's results of many age groups. See https://www.britannica.com/science/life-expectancy.

Comment by petermccluskey on Effective Epidemiology · 2020-10-23T03:29:19.542Z · LW · GW

I like the general approach and organization of this post.

I have some modest disagreements about the details.

I doubt that many schools will manage to get HVAC right even if someone does provide them with clear rules, and our system doesn't seem competent enough to provide such rules within a reasonable time.

Having schools be mostly outdoors would solve many problems. I expect that most people overestimate the costs of being outdoors.

I know that I am very reluctant to step out into the rain. But there are many situations where I've gone out hiking in light rain, and once I'm out there, the subjective costs feel dramatically lower than they feel when I'm just stepping out into the rain. That remains true even now that I'm aware of the effect. I suspect something like that is causing many people to mistakenly assume that outdoor schools are prohibitively unpleasant.

Comment by petermccluskey on Bet On Biden · 2020-10-18T03:01:02.141Z · LW · GW

If you have any trust in Nate you cannot think Biden is below ~80% to win.

That seems too strong. I'm assigning a 50% chance to Nate being the best authority on this, and a 50% chance to markets being the best authority. I still agree that betting on Biden has positive expected value.

My main reason for doubting Nate is the likelihood that the pandemic will have strange effects on turnout. I'm unwilling to bet on which direction that will surprise people.

Comment by petermccluskey on The rationalist community's location problem · 2020-10-16T03:02:19.493Z · LW · GW

One type of evidence to look at in selecting a location is trust, as in how likely people are to say that others can be trusted.

See figure 3 in Trust, Growth and Well-being for evidence by state.

H/T Joseph Henrich's great book The WEIRDest People in the World.

Comment by petermccluskey on Why Boston? · 2020-10-12T02:33:28.881Z · LW · GW

I know that Boston has prestigious hospitals, but I'm unclear how to usefully compare the health they deliver.

One thing I can compare is the ease of getting blood tests. Most states allow residents to order blood tests via privatemdlabs.com, Life Extension, etc. But MA is one of the states that prohibits that, meaning that if you want tests that an average doctor thinks are unneeded (as I often do), it can be costly and time consuming to find a doctor who will sign off on them.

Comment by petermccluskey on Weird Things About Money · 2020-10-06T23:15:43.426Z · LW · GW

But if the economy were a computer program, debt would seem like a big hack. There’s no absolute guarantee that debt can be collected.

I can see how mathematicians would dislike an entity that lacks absolute guarantees, but it seems like a quite normal attribute to encounter in the real world.

We can be in a situation where “no one has enough money”—the great depression was a time when there were too few jobs and too much work left undone.

That's mostly accurate, but it leaves out an important step in the causal chain: the "too little money" meant that the wages which workers were accustomed to getting became too high. For reasons that are likely related to bargaining strategies, workers wouldn't accept (or sometimes weren't allowed to accept) wages that gave them fewer dollars, even when those fewer dollars bought them more goods than they were accustomed to.

In other words, there's a path for the value of money to re-adjust, but there's enough opposition to it that most economists have given up on it.

The scarcity problem would not exist if money could be reliably manufactured through debt. ... So it seems like we want to facilitate negative bank accounts “as much as possible, but not too much”?

I'm unclear what "facilitate" is doing here. "Negative bank accounts" is one way to describe a solution, but deflation meant that pretty much everyone preferred a positive bank account to "borrow and invest".

Central banks know how to manufacture money. The main problems are figuring out the right amounts, and ensuring that central banks create those amounts.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-10-02T22:17:28.910Z · LW · GW

The White House has announced that Trump is taking vitamin D. I presume that will increase its popularity a bit, but it might also increase resistance from Very Serious People a bit.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-10-01T17:06:38.612Z · LW · GW

According to this crude estimate, one sheep can support enough vitamin D for several thousand people. There are over a billion sheep, so if all wool went to vitamin D production, it would be enough for several trillion people.

The price of lanolin would likely soar, but that's a small problem compared to the pandemic.

There's likely some important constraints on scaling up the manufacturing process, maybe complicated by safety regulations which would be inappropriate for this context.

Something is likely to keep the number of people taking vitamin D well below a billion this winter, but my best guess is that it's going to be lack of demand rather than major supply constraints.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-10-01T02:10:47.156Z · LW · GW

What limits scaling up the wool-based production? I'm pretty sure there's enough wool.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 9/10: Vitamin D · 2020-09-30T04:28:17.578Z · LW · GW

The skin color study confirms that vitamin D doesn't protect against infection. But I don't see it saying anything clear about how much harm a person suffers if they're infected.

Comment by petermccluskey on Covid 9/24: Until Morale Improves · 2020-09-28T03:37:30.514Z · LW · GW

The Japanese study is pretty weird.

Here are some ideas I brainstormed fairly quickly:

I see no signs of researcher misconduct, but I don't see enough evidence to be very confident that their evidence is real.

Could people in Japan be much healthier to start with than most of the countries that have an IFR > 0.1%?

  • what are Japanese vitamin D levels?
  • I suspect they have high vitamin K2 levels (from natto, kimchi, etc.). What does this do?
  • less obesity?
  • different genes (blood type? fewer APOE4 alleles?)

Could transmission there involve a much lower initial viral load?

Could they do an unusually good job of preventing transmission to vulnerable people, while enabling plenty of transmission between others?

The only research I found time to do was to check the vitamin D content of fish. I was mildly surprised to find that it's high enough to make vitamin D deficiency fairly rare in a culture that expects virtually everyone to eat fish.

I'll give a 25% chance that vitamin D explains more than half of this puzzle. Most of the other ideas are quite unlikely to explain more than 5% each.