Posts

Book review: Shut Out 2021-09-03T19:07:31.446Z
Book review: The Explanation of Ideology 2021-07-20T03:42:36.250Z
New Dementia Trial Results 2021-07-02T23:04:46.548Z
Avoid News, Part 2: What the Stock Market Taught Me about News 2021-06-14T20:54:05.386Z
Book review: The Geography of Thought 2021-02-09T18:47:35.781Z
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 Beyond fire alarms: freeing the groupstruck · 2021-09-28T15:13:17.579Z · LW · GW

Doesn't the conclusions section serve this purpose?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on How much should we value life? · 2021-09-09T03:54:09.679Z · LW · GW

I expect there are a lot more ways to buy a 0.01% risk reduction for $100k.

Let me approach this a different way. Is there anything deterring you from valuing your life at $3^^^3? What behaviors would such a person have that differ from a person who values their life at $1 billion?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Why there are no online CFAR workshops? · 2021-09-09T03:02:01.553Z · LW · GW

I haven't tried to find a clear explanation of why meditation retreats are more valuable than other approaches to meditation. I have some intuitions, but I expect that most meditation instructors would say something like "experience tells us this is what works". That's also most of how CFAR ended up with its current approach. I'm also relying a lot on personal experience - I'm more open to new ideas and new habits in a multi-day retreat than in the other contexts that I've tried.

Any workshop, meditation retreat, or university is going to involve some amount of indoctrination. CFAR does a fairly ordinary amount of it compared to those reference classes.

You're correct that it's hard to know in advance whether something like this will brainwash you. It seems healthy to plan in advance to get sanity checks from your pre-CFAR friends a week after the workshop, and then repeat that a year later. CFAR is pretty comfortable with participants seeking out contrary opinions before and after workshops.

The post Hold Off On Proposing Solutions provides evidence that temporarily suppressing certain types of opinions can enable people to be more creative about finding good ideas. CFAR participants appear to benefit from similar effects.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on How much should we value life? · 2021-09-07T22:17:50.318Z · LW · GW

The dollar value that I treat my life as being worth is heavily influenced by my wealth.

If I'm currently willing to pay $100k to avoid a 1% chance of dying, that doesn't mean that a 100x increase in my estimate of life expectancy will convince me to pay $100k to avoid a 0.01% chance of dying - that change might bankrupt me.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Why there are no online CFAR workshops? · 2021-09-06T19:02:27.450Z · LW · GW

How would you compare that to a meditation retreat that asks participants to minimize contact with the outside world for the duration of the retreat?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Why there are no online CFAR workshops? · 2021-09-05T20:51:45.816Z · LW · GW
  1. Maybe CFAR workshop requires full embedding with no distraction?

This is fairly close. Zoom has some distractions that limit its ability to fully replace being in the same room with people. More importantly, CFAR depends on a social environment where it feels safe to question how rational you currently are. That safety might be compromised by taking a workshop while staying in a house with people who aren't actively promoting the right kind of curiosity. I haven't talked with CFAR people about this in the past few years, but it's at least a rough explanation of their original reasons.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: Shut Out · 2021-09-05T20:26:48.338Z · LW · GW

The housing bubble was mostly a distraction that would have had no large impact if it wasn’t for this mistake.

I doubt that a majority of economists would agree with that sentence.

I mostly agree with your first two sentences, and with most of Jacob's comments. I disagree with him about the moral hazards, but that's not very relevant to the near term consequences of bailout decisions.

If the Fed had increased the money supply in the fall of 2008 as aggressively as it did in the spring of 2020, I think that would have been more effective at stabilizing the economy than bailing out Lehman Brothers.

I want to signal-boost another point from Jacob's post:

The US government decreed that US treasuries have a risk-weight of 0%, that they’re considered a highly liquid asset on par with cash, that the government is exempt from single-counterparty limits, and so on and so forth. Every major European and Asian regulator does the same. The only way banks can comply with all the regulations is by being massively exposed to government debt in all its forms.

There were a few days in March 2020 when US government bonds became rather risky investments. That should scare people more than it has.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: Shut Out · 2021-09-05T16:49:16.091Z · LW · GW

My understanding is that this approach also predicts that Australia would experience a recession around 2008. How would the Austrian approach explain the absence of such a recession?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: Shut Out · 2021-09-05T16:47:47.248Z · LW · GW

The book has lots of statistics that hint at why your narrative is misleading. Since you seem to prefer examples of individuals over statistics, I'll point you to an Erdmann blog post about a responsible borrower who got misleadingly used as an example of someone who banks were recklessly lending to.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on SL4 in more legible format · 2021-08-12T18:52:37.595Z · LW · GW

I suggest looking at hypetombox.pl, which should convert the archive into a Unix mbox file. You probably want to use wget first.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on The Myth of the Myth of the Lone Genius · 2021-08-03T15:05:13.367Z · LW · GW

If we dissuade them from being lone geniuses, what do they do instead?

Become accountants?

Find co-founders for their startups, thereby increasing their startup's chance of success?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: The Explanation of Ideology · 2021-07-22T03:37:11.993Z · LW · GW

He uses it pretty broadly, without a clear definition:

Most of the universalist ideologies agree in their portrayal of the idea of fraternity: from Christianity, which holds that all men are brothers, to the Third International which co-ordinates fraternal relations between parties.

His description of the opposite is maybe clearer: "all the forms of parochialism, all types of ethnocentricity".

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: The Explanation of Ideology · 2021-07-20T19:06:05.656Z · LW · GW

I did note that he says:

urbanization erodes community i.e. makes the family more nuclear. But your report seems to indicate either more change than he implied, or that he was wrong about Finland in 1983.

I assume that “universalist” corresponds to “community”?

No, universalism is a separate dimension, probably resulting more from equality than from community.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book Review: Order Without Law · 2021-07-12T03:21:12.520Z · LW · GW

He comes across as a low-key anarchist

I did not get that impression from reading the book (a long time ago). Instead, I got the impression that he was a competent scholar who was somewhat reluctantly reporting evidence that didn't support his political views.

Here a clear denial that he's an anarchist.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on New Dementia Trial Results · 2021-07-06T18:55:46.348Z · LW · GW

It's vaguely paleo-ish. Here's a summary. For more detail, see his book The End of Alzheimer’s Program.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Intro to Debt Crises · 2021-07-05T20:00:28.345Z · LW · GW

That paraphrase is mostly good. I'm trying to separate monetary phenomena, which are the main problem in recessions, from reckless debt levels, which are the main contributor to government debt crises.

Yes, my explanation is mostly compatible with yours.

I didn't try to explain how a system becomes vulnerable. I think that happens via recency bias causing misjudgments, plus competitive pressures that Romeo mentions.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Intro to Debt Crises · 2021-07-02T23:01:02.088Z · LW · GW

An alternate perspective that I sometimes use is to view the crash as a short squeeze.

Going into debt is equivalent to selling short a currency. It's usually safer than shorting a stock, because currencies are designed so that their value is stable, rather than to usually go up.

Just like someone who owes GameStop shares needs to have the ability to buy back those shares, a player in debt needs the ability to regain dollars.

There are important limits to how many dollars one can safely owe, and it depends a fair amount on how other traders of dollars behave.

If one big player, or many little players, misjudge their risks, they need to acquire more dollars. Sometimes everything works out fine because lenders are optimistic enough to lend more. Sometimes big players expect things to work out poorly, and that causes them to compete for drive up the price of dollars (as they would drive up the price of GameStop) in order to cut their risks. Guesses about what others will do can play a key role here, which is part of why the result is hard to predict.

One somewhat unique feature of modern currencies is that central banks are at least nominally able to supply unlimited quantities of them, and there are widespread expert opinions that they out to do roughly that when the value of the currency is being bid up (i.e. when there's deflation). There's some sign of a trend towards central banks doing better at that. But it's still not obvious what's preventing them from doing better. (This is mostly relevant to standard recessions, which are caused by an unexpected decline in the inflation rate; some debts can't be handled by stabilizing the currency, so I'm a bit hesitant to accept your broad framing of the term debt crises).

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Covid 7/1: Don’t Panic · 2021-07-01T17:14:28.623Z · LW · GW

Note that the review of The Premonition is by Alex Tabarrok, not Tyler.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Questions about multivitamins, especially manganese · 2021-06-20T00:45:57.714Z · LW · GW

Too much calcium can be harmful, although that one doesn't have much. Harm from calcium can probably be avoided by getting enough vitamin K2 from fermented foods or a supplement. You're probably not getting K2 from the multivitamin.

Potassium deficiencies are common (but likely less so in vegans). Supplements aren't allowed to have much potassium, but it's easy to get potassium chloride and use that in place of salt.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Questions about multivitamins, especially manganese · 2021-06-20T00:27:37.242Z · LW · GW

The iodine comment is confusing, but not clearly wrong. I experienced low thyroid levels that were likely due to excess iodine from kelp powder. But I wouldn't worry about getting too much iodine from a multivitamin.

I'm currently taking chromium supplements, due to a test result showing I had below average levels, plus the advice of someone whose opinion I trust a lot more than I trust Louie's opinion.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on The aducanumab approval · 2021-06-18T03:15:18.206Z · LW · GW

Crappy drugs that only slow the decline a bit might need an aducanumab comparison, but why would a drug that reverses the decline need that?

See Cassava's trial results.

See also this clinical trial of Bredesen's approach (press release here).

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Taboo "Outside View" · 2021-06-17T19:31:56.829Z · LW · GW

The book Noise by Daniel Kahneman et al sometimes uses the terms statistical thinking and causal thinking as substitutes for outside and inside views.

These terms seem better at reminding me what the categories are meant to be, and why evolution prepared us less for one of them. But they still leave some confusion about how to draw the boundary between the concepts.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on The aducanumab approval · 2021-06-17T18:26:59.995Z · LW · GW

Companies already knew beforehand that Alzheimer drugs are a multi-billion dollar market.

But they didn't know how willing the FDA was to approve placebo-like drugs.

Cassava Sciences, whose Alzheimer drug candidate doesn't target beta amyloid, rose in response to that approval. I doubt that many people will be satisfied enough with this drug to deter signups for new trials.

I don't know what the net effect will be on the development of good drugs, and I doubt that anyone else does either.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on [Prediction] What war between the USA and China would look like in 2050 · 2021-05-26T18:28:06.483Z · LW · GW

Part of what I'm asking is how long would Taiwan resist assimilation if assimilation is the only way to re-establish trade with the world?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on [Prediction] What war between the USA and China would look like in 2050 · 2021-05-26T17:38:49.034Z · LW · GW

Why would the Beijing government invade Taiwan? Couldn't it get most of what it wants by taking control of the airspace and shipping lanes around Taiwan?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Zvi's Law of No Evidence · 2021-05-14T15:15:30.065Z · LW · GW

I disagree. Much of what's going wrong is differing meanings of the word evidence.

Most people are oblivious to the Bayesian meaning of the word evidence. When I hear an ordinary person say "no evidence", I usually interpret it as "no evidence that's admissible in a court", or maybe even "no proof".

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on MIRI location optimization (and related topics) discussion · 2021-05-09T20:31:23.846Z · LW · GW

Ticks: I've found more ticks on me in the bay area than I did when I lived in Connecticut and Rhode Island. I don't think that's fully explained by behavioral changes.

I have a good deal of control over my exposure to ticks. I haven't put much effort into avoiding them. Well over 90% of the times I've found ticks on me were after going off-trail. Brushing against tall grass seems especially high risk. Wide trails seem to have very low risk. The clearest exception I've seen to this pattern may have involved transmission via a dog.

I started getting more tick bites after I stopped using sunscreen. That's definitely not due to getting more ticks on me. I think the sunscreen caused them to wander around much longer before deciding where to bite, giving me more time to find them when they're still crawling.

I've never found a tick more than 24 hours after my suspected exposure. I don't think I'm unusually diligent about checking for them.

The big caveat here is that the ticks that transmit Lyme are smaller than the ones I'm used to finding on me. I had a recent test that detected small amounts of a Lyme virus in my blood. I haven't seen any corresponding symptoms, so I don't have any guess as to where I lived when I got infected. I presume I never detected the tick that caused it.

Other insects: those mosquito maps seem misleading. There's a lot of local variation. Most parts of California seem pretty mosquito-free. The few parts that I've found bad were in mountains where the snow recently melted. The median location in New England has significantly more mosquitoes, and also a wider variety of other distracting insects, than the median location in California. My impression is that Maine is the worst state overall for insect distractions of the states that I have enough experience with to evaluate (mainly New England and the area from Colorado west), yet those maps suggest it's good.

I consider grass pollen to be a bigger negative than insects. Grass pollen bothers me much more in New England than it does anywhere in the west.

My overall preferences (for reasons mostly involving weather, outdoor recreational options, and political climate): Of the top 5 places that you mention, Reno is my top choice, Bellingham is 2nd, New Hampshire is 3rd. Colorado also seems worth considering.

There's a significant chance I'll want to stay in the bay area, probably moving to somewhere a bit less urban than Berkeley.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Best empirical evidence on better than SP500 investment returns? · 2021-04-25T20:37:24.262Z · LW · GW

The best answers to these questions that I've seen are in the book Expected Returns, which I reviewed here.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on [deleted post] 2021-04-18T02:02:42.847Z

I see important benefits, and big risks.

What stops the government from taking more money in ways that it doesn't classify as taxes? E.g. civil forfeiture?

It could increase hostility to new immigrants. That might be solved by taxing people when they immigrate. I'm unsure how to evaluate the effects of those taxes.

the one main reason to expect the government to shrink is that it acts irresponsibly and politicians take out debt with no good plan to pay it back. However, if this happens, shouldn’t we celebrate that the government is shrinking?

I don't know. Does it imply that the government gets taken over by a government that can afford more military spending?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on People Will Listen · 2021-04-12T20:54:14.069Z · LW · GW

How many LWers bought Bitcoin in 2011 and ended up with poor returns due to the demise of Mt. Gox?

I almost ended up losing a little of my money that way, but was stopped when my KYC evidence was rejected for no clear reason. I ended up doing well by buying Ripples a couple of years later, but I don't know whether I would have done that if I had lost money in my first attempt.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Covid 2/25: Holding Pattern · 2021-03-25T04:43:28.399Z · LW · GW

It's got to be either reporting delays, or people dying months after they contracted the virus. I've changed my mind a bit, and I'm currently guessing it's more the latter.

I compared the ratio of reported deaths over the past week in California (1273) and New York state (406). This clearly has no connection with people who recently tested positive, since New York has been reporting over twice as many new cases as California recently.

It was only before mid-January that California last reported something in excess of twice the new cases that NY reported, and only around Christmas or earlier that California reported 3 times as many new cases a NY.

So unless there's something quite misleading about the ratio of California to NY numbers, recent deaths are dominated by people who contracted the virus around Christmas / New Years.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Thirty-three randomly selected bioethics papers · 2021-03-24T18:57:57.390Z · LW · GW

It looks like the average academic bioethicist is ok (with high variance), and is not having much effect outside academia.

Like lawyers, the bioethicists we hear about the most are the ones defending the least ethical clients.

Are the less conspicuous bioethicists doing the equivalent of mundane, mildly beneficial lawyers who write contracts? Or are they mostly engaged in intellectual masturbation?

I'm unclear on why I'd hire a bioethicist unless I was trying to defend behavior that looks unethical. Which suggests that there isn't much demand for bioethicists to do constructive things.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on What are the best resources to point people who are skeptical of getting vaccinated for COVID-19 to? · 2021-03-21T23:33:03.794Z · LW · GW

I suggest the RaDVaC article, as evidence of what experts think about vaccine safety when they're focused on protecting themselves.

You might follow that up with this suggestion about why the FDA might mislead us: if people notice that some vaccines are safer than the alternative by really big margins, they'll start asking why we don't just bypass FDA review in some cases. That will bias the FDA to suggest that most vaccines are tough choices, which need the FDA's expertise to evaluate. But given big variations in how harmful diseases are, this will lead the FDA to be too cautious about the worst diseases.

Also, it can't hurt to mention evidence of asymmetric blame that motivates the FDA to overstate the risks of all medical treatments.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Why Hasn't Effective Altruism Grown Since 2015? · 2021-03-09T19:15:36.617Z · LW · GW

If you act on it by donating, you can be done with it. It’s a conversation-stopper.

In 2014, it felt like donations were a good conversation topic. There were enough new charities to evaluate that it was worthwhile to get other people's opinions. The EA community and the number of new charities were small enough that we could come close to knowing most of the people involved in starting the charities, and expect most EAs to know something about those new charities.

Then the EA movement became much larger than the Dunbar number, it became harder to keep track of all the charities, and the value of additional funding declined a bit. At least some of those factors made it harder for EA to be a good community.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Covid 2/25: Holding Pattern · 2021-03-03T05:27:10.229Z · LW · GW

The slow decline in deaths seems like it must be primarily due to delayed reporting.

We know that there were a few big batches of delayed reports, plus day of the week effects. I can't think of a good reason to expect those without also expecting a significant number of small batches.

I expect that hospitalization data is much more reliable evidence about the timing of bad health. It shows the expected sharp drop. It also dropped faster than the death rate after the summer wave, and maybe slightly faster than the death rate after the first wave.

In order believe that the death rate was dropping much more slowly than the reported hospitalization rate, it would seem to require something like deaths per hospitalization rise as hospitals become less overwhelmed, or that there are reporting problems that have a significant effect on the rate of change of hospitalization data. Neither seems likely.

I suppose there might be some predictable demographic changes that alter the death rate (i.e. younger people get infected at earlier stages of each wave), but for recent data it's hard to reconcile that with the effects of vaccines.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: The Geography of Thought · 2021-02-28T03:52:00.547Z · LW · GW

When talking at a high level, the author refers to cultures that were heavily influenced by China, versus European cultures. But many specific research results or anecdotes are only available for one Eastern and one Western nation. For those, he mostly refers to the specific nations, and leaves it to the reader to make inferences about how well those apply to similar nations.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Covid 2/18: Vaccines Still Work · 2021-02-19T16:27:04.746Z · LW · GW

Yes, Scott's first 25% appears to be only about preventing infection.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Covid 2/18: Vaccines Still Work · 2021-02-18T23:28:14.276Z · LW · GW

These two numbers being identical thus suggests Scott doesn’t see it that way, and in particular that he’s thinking that if it doesn’t work in a hospital (or doesn’t work in a hospital for any given reasonable dosing method) it also doesn’t work as a supplement.

I don't imagine Scott thinks that. I assume the most important difference is between vitamin D working to prevent infections, versus vitamin D preventing serious harm given infection.

Could the difference between the Spain and Brazil studies be due to bigger vitamin D deficiencies in Spain?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Book review: The Geography of Thought · 2021-02-12T20:10:04.523Z · LW · GW

That might have some interesting implications for where mind uploading will initially become popular.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on How would free prediction markets have altered the pandemic? · 2021-02-10T00:28:20.528Z · LW · GW

Here are some pairs of contracts that would have been informative last spring:

  • Vaccinations in 2020 if human challenge trials are started by June 1.

  • Vaccinations in 2020 if human challenge trials are not started by June 1.

  • COVID deaths in 2020 if rapid at-home tests are approved by July 1.

  • COVID deaths in 2020 if rapid at-home tests are not approved by July 1.

  • COVID deaths in 2020 if most states keep schools closed all year.

  • COVID deaths in 2020 if most states reopen schools in September.

  • Vaccinations in winter 2021 if vaccine manufacturers are paid at least $1000 per dose for the first 10 million doses.

  • Vaccinations in winter 2021 if vaccine manufacturers are paid at most $100 per dose for the first 10 million doses.

Some contracts that would have been informative in October:

  • COVID deaths in 2021 if state health agencies are put in charge of most vaccinations.
  • COVID deaths in 2021 if drug stores are put in charge of most vaccinations.
  • COVID deaths in 2021 if hospitals are put in charge of most vaccinations.

It would likely require decades of advocacy by prediction market supporters before mainstream opinion shapers feel constrained to acknowledge that these markets constitute expert opinions. But if they did acknowledge that expertise enough for it to alter government policies, I'd guess that 2 or 3 of those policy changes would have cut COVID deaths by about 10% each.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Metric selection bias: why Moore's law is less important than you think · 2021-02-08T03:26:34.652Z · LW · GW

The decline in solar costs is known as Swanson's Law.

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on ESRogs's Shortform · 2021-01-31T18:26:00.758Z · LW · GW

I'm unsure why you'd expect anything to be better than pure plays such as shorting bond or Eurodollar futures.

I expect the effects on value minus growth to be rather small.

If you're betting that rising rates will be due to increased inflation, more than rising real rates, then it's worth looking at companies that have borrowed at low long-term rates. Maybe shipping companies (dry bulk?), homebuilders, airplane leasing companies?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on [deleted post] 2021-01-26T04:09:10.133Z

Maybe ask him when was the right time for doctors to start having an opinion about whether smoking is unhealthy?

Comment by PeterMcCluskey on Benefits of "micro-tracking" for personal health measurements? · 2021-01-19T22:12:57.473Z · LW · GW

For food, I've found macro-tracking to be sustainable for 5+ years, whereas I would not be willing to sustain micro-tracking for more than a few weeks.

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.