Comment by waveman on Optimized Propaganda with Bayesian Networks: Comment on "Articulating Lay Theories Through Graphical Models" · 2020-06-29T03:52:47.359Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW
how to use causal graphical models to study why ordinary people have the beliefs they do, and how to intervene to make them be less wrong.

Note to self - a good reason to listen carefully to people's reasons for their beliefs, even/especially when they are nonsensical. They may have structure that can be exploited.

Comment by waveman on The Illusion of Ethical Progress · 2020-06-28T21:49:33.421Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As with much philosophizing, I agree with your diagnosis of the problem, but the solution seems dubious.

ultimate reality can be experienced

You see this claim all the time (e.g. Ken Wilber) but I have yet to see a shred of evidence for it. Given how the brain works, there seems to be no pathway to experience ultimate reality directly.

Bear in mind also the claim

the ultimate reality is the source of all existence

So we are supposed to be able to directly apprehend the source of all existence. The fact that many people experience similar feelings/insights/beliefs is weak evidence for the claim. Not much stronger than the common feeling among each and every new generation that they are the most virtuous and ethical of all generations. (As an aside, which usually comes with the feeling that they are the first to discover the wonders of sex and drugs/alcohol).

On the question of enlightenment this is a very overloaded term.

One use of the term that I found useful and other rationalists might is "The Finders" by Jeffery A Martin. This is a practical and useful version of enlightenment with very little mystification and few grandiose claims.

Comment by waveman on Personal experience of coffee as nootropic · 2020-06-26T04:58:27.097Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting that there seems to be very little research in preventing tolerance effects. Maybe there is an opportunity there.

Comment by waveman on A Personal (Interim) COVID-19 Postmortem · 2020-06-26T04:56:50.315Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Very interesting/useful.

I suggest it is important to separate the desirability of a course of action and its political feasibility e.g. in relation to border closures.

In epidemiology it is a basic fact in the 101 textbook that slowing long distance transmission (using quarantines / travel restrictions) is very important. Unfortunately this got caught up in claims of xenophobia etc. Countries that have been relatively successful have implemented such restrictions.

I would be interested in some justification of the claim that face masks are not very useful. From all my reading, this seems to be false.

One mistake I made was not to aggressively look for countries that were successful (like Taiwan) and to enquire what they did (border closures/tightly enforced quarantine, face masks, isolating people with cold/flu/fever symptoms - even though this is not a "valid" test for CV it gathers and uses much useful information).

Like many I got caught up in the false dichotomy of lockdown=ruined economy versus no-lockdown=many will die.

Comment by waveman on The Economic Consequences of Noise Traders · 2020-06-14T22:25:47.207Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

More in this paper. Noise Trader Risk in Financial Markets.

Anyone interested in this should also read

Search also for books A Random Walk Down Wall St, and A Non-Random Walk Down Wall St.

LWers in my experience tend to be a little too ready to accept the Efficient Markets Hypothesis as truth. The Ludic fallacy as Taleb calls it.

Bottom line: markets may not be quite efficient, and indeed prices can stray far from fundamentals at times, but it is still pretty hard to beat buy and forget broad indexing.

Comment by waveman on Possible takeaways from the coronavirus pandemic for slow AI takeoff · 2020-06-14T00:50:29.424Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That analysis has been trenchantly criticised and I don't find it convincing.

Comment by waveman on [Link] "Will He Go?" book review (Scott Aaronson) · 2020-06-13T00:35:16.735Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Apart from Trump making the obvious and true point that mail-in ballots are ripe for fraud, all the evidence for people not accepting presidential election results seems to be from the Democrat side. For example:

This anxiety about whether Trump would concede seems to include a significant element of projection.

inb4 "So you're saying Trump is a good man, a good president, an honest man".

No I am not saying that.

Comment by waveman on Self-Predicting Markets · 2020-06-11T01:08:04.430Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW
The market is really weird.

The EMH is only true at a zero-th approximation. There are many reasons why arbitragers cannot fix wrong prices, see e.g. "The Limits of Arbitrage" by Schliefer. There is a whole literature on this, not all of which is valid. Keynes said that markets can stay wrong longer than you can stay solvent.

All this suggests that prices can vary from value, but that it may not be too easy to make money from this insight.

I don't know the specifics of Hertz but very low stock prices tend to reflect the option values inherent in the asset. There might be a possibility that a Venture capital fund may want the stock for some reason. Even small possibilities, of large payouts, can move the price.

There is a lot more to finance than first appears. In the book series "market wizards", several traders comment that they have read hundreds of books on the topic, on top of their own research. My own experience over almost 40 years is that it is at a degree of difficulty similar to learning physics to an advanced level, and on top of that it is very challenging psychologically.

Comment by waveman on Growing Independence · 2020-06-08T02:01:25.376Z · score: 14 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There is a great book along these lines, highly recommended: "Parent Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon.

One thing the book emphasises more than OP is letting children make their own decisions wherever possible. This encourages them to take responsibility for their own outcomes and massively helps them to learn. It is important - and empowering - to allow them to experience the consequences of their decisions.

Our daughter picked her own clothes from the age of 8, for example. There were only two instances where we overruled her about her own life choices after she turned 12. We never forced her to do homework. [She ended up with a PhD in a hard science, so yes she mostly did her homework. But it is her life.]

A lot of this seems counter-intuitive to people. Parenthood seems to trigger some sort of authoritarian program in many otherwise liberal people. It may be that you could make better decisions on a given issue than your children, but they lose the opportunity to learn when you do that.

It may also be that you would not actually make better decisions than your child. Conjure up in your mind a 16 year old dressed for a party a) in clothes of their own choosing, b) in clothes chosen by their parents. Who did the better job?

Comment by waveman on Open & Welcome Thread - June 2020 · 2020-06-05T05:29:31.017Z · score: 0 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Mod note: Copied over from one of Zvi's Covid posts to keep the relevant thread on-topic:



I would simply like to point out here 3 things.

1. The definition of homicide from wikipedia "A homicide requires only a volitional act by another person that results in death, and thus a homicide may result from accidental, reckless, or negligent acts even if there is no intent to cause harm" Such a finding in an autopsy report does not imply a crime let alone murder.

2. The autopsy report ordered by his family showed quantities of numerous drugs including very significant, potentially lethal, quantities of Fentanyl, a drug often associated with respiratory failure, in George Floyd's blood. Floyd was also positive for Coronavirus, which is known to impact heart and lung function, and had heart disease and various other relevant medical conditions. Consider the possibility that the causal chain is less clear than might appear superficially.

3. I see at this point no court finding of murder.

OP asked for only comments on the CV pandemic but I think that his inflammatory comment requires some clarification.

Comment by waveman on Covid-19 6/4: The Eye of the Storm · 2020-06-05T00:38:31.189Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW
not as well as New York.

I take issue with the use of the word "well" in relation to the debacle in New York, past or current.

Taiwan; 0.3 deaths per million total, 1 death / 24 million in the last month

Australia 4 deaths per million total. 7 deaths / 25 million in the last month.

New York State: 1,550 deaths / million total. 5,000 deaths per 9 million in the last month. To compare to Taiwan or Australia it would be 12,000/25 million in the last month. Let the scale of that failure sink in.

New York's current *daily* death rate (10/million) exceeds Australia's total across the whole pandemic.

I see no evidence of herd immunity being a significant factor yet. I see no indication that things are under control.

Impact of the demonstrations.

I don't know the numbers of people in the demonstrations, let's say 100,000. Let's say 3% get infected as a result. That would be 3,000, significantly more than the reported daily new cases of ca 1,000. However given a ratio of 10% for deaths to reported cases, it is evident that reported cases are massively understated, perhaps 10 fold. Even so 3,000/(10*1,000)= 30% is a significant increment on the daily case load. And the people infected in the demonstrations may be people who might not have been infected in more normal circumstances.

[Rest of the comment moved to Open Thread]

Comment by waveman on Testing and contact tracing impact assessment model? · 2020-06-04T00:40:02.470Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wish I'd watched this before. Very good insight into the perils of making models.

Comment by waveman on My prediction for Covid-19 · 2020-06-01T02:54:10.593Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you dismiss the non-lockdown options too glibly. Like many, you seem trapped in the dilemma "lockdown and kill the economy vs no lockdown and kill the people". You, and many others, need to have a close look at what countries like Taiwan (and others) have done - no lockdown and few deaths.

Possibly there is an element of western arrogance in the way many western countries refuse to learn from Asian countries that have been far more successful in keeping their economies open and deaths low. Two key elements that are surprisingly effective: ubiquitous use of face masks, and the use of cheap, simple, rapid metrics to exclude people from schools, shops, workplaces, and public transportation.

Simple metrics like checking for cold/flu symptoms and taking temperatures are not infallible ways to determine if someone has the SARS-CoV2 virus. But they are very useful, and can be done at a rate that dwarfs the possible rate of PCR tests. As a result you can actually gather more information across the whole society, and the information is more current.

Lockdown is also ruinously expensive and unsustainable. In my simulations maybe $20M/life saved, $300K/capita over a year.

Remember we need only get R0(eff)< 1. We do not need to get it to zero. That means a bit more than a 50% reduction, maybe 60% from the base rate ~2.5.

The level of infection at which "herd immunity" occurs is IMHO very much up in the air. The simple SIR models tend to overstate the level needed, because they generally don't take into account the fact that in epidemics the super-spreaders get taken out, one way or another, quite early, and the remaining more cautious and safer people have a much lower effective R0. IMHO it may be as low as 15% or as high as 50%, but unlikely to be as high as 65%. Epidemiologists talk about epidemics dying out for mysterious reasons, and it is speculated it is something about the microstructure of society, like superspreaders and more generally the variance of infectivity/susceptibility of people and groups, that is responsible.

Comment by waveman on Possible takeaways from the coronavirus pandemic for slow AI takeoff · 2020-05-31T23:08:45.759Z · score: 3 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think we have our answer to the Fermi paradox in our hopeless response to the CV pandemic. The median European country has had deaths/million more than 10 times worse than best practice (Taiwan etc).

Civilizations will arise when the species concerned is only barely able to manage the job. I think world history suggests that this is very true of us. The chances of being up to handling the much more complex, difficult challenges of going to the next level seem low.

Comment by waveman on Your abstraction isn't wrong, it's just really bad · 2020-05-27T02:29:10.273Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to have the idea that a programming language should define a certain set of abstractions and that is that. But to many one of the key powers that programming brings is the ability to define and model new abstractions. In addition to your list I also would therefore also require

  • Ability to create powerful abstractions within the language, and
  • Ease of avoiding redundancy/repetition and/or boiler plate code in aid of such abstractions.
Comment by waveman on Should I self-variolate to COVID-19 · 2020-05-25T22:29:58.200Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If deliberately infecting yourself, consider taking measures to check and to optimize your immune response.

Nutritionally rich diet, protein, vitamin D3/sunshine, etc.

Comment by waveman on Replication Dynamics Bridge to RL in Thermodynamic Limit · 2020-05-18T23:45:10.806Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The phenotypes affect the environment e.g. via competition for resources. At the same time, prey species are evolving. It looks to me like this model works in a limit where the environment is large and/or in the short term, but breaks down beyond that.

It is an interesting connection. By the way another way you can look at evolution is that the organisms absorb information from the environment.

Comment by waveman on The EMH Aten't Dead · 2020-05-16T00:51:36.014Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expand on which momentum anomaly you tested? One type is cross-sectional momentum (buy the top 1/10th of stocks that went up and short the bottom 1/10th), which is subject to major periods of drastic underperformance. This is all well documented in the literature. The other type is using momentum on the market as a whole, perhaps switching between asset classes based on momentum. I would not think that you could assess a strategy based on 6 months of performance.

My view as an investor since the 1980s is that the EMH is true to a 0th approximation. However massive agency issues in the fund management industry leave room to outperform on a risk adjusted basis if your incentives are different from the average fund manager. Some anomalies are just not exploitable by fund managers/agents because they would lose all their funds under management after periods > 12 months of underperformance.

LW readers interested in the topic may like reading the Alphaarchitect blog.

Comment by waveman on Why COVID-19 prevention at the margin might be bad for most LWers · 2020-05-11T07:35:49.103Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

1. Most people tend to be right about 60% of the time when they feel fairly certain. If we apply this logic to your assumptions, the chance that they are all correct is approximately 0. Many things we were told about CV2 turned out to be wrong. That is a bit simplistic, but your analysis should take into account that your assumptions may not all be correct, and the consequences of this. For example what if young people have silent organ damage, as has been reported? What if immunity is limited, uncertain, or short-lived, as if often the case with corona viruses? Such errors could be very costly. In general the strategy of "pick the most likely scenario and bet erh farm on that one scenario" is a poor strategy.

2. By getting infected now, you are giving away much by way of option value. The value of getting immunized later, of having better treatment later, of having better and less costly methods of limiting infection, etc.

3. You are falling for the false dichotomy of lockdown versus uncontrolled pandemic. I suggest you have a close look at Taiwan, which has had approximately 1/700th the death rate of the US for example, and which did not have a lockdown. While Taiwan did make a fast start, Australia got down into the Taiwan range of active cases within about 5 weeks, and other countries could also do this with a brief lockdown.

Techniques used by Taiwan include contact tracing, strict controls on entrants to the country, enforcement of quarantine of cases, use of soft metrics like temperature and cold/fever symptoms with exclusion from schools/work/transport for the symptomatic, and others. They have selectively closed some high risk businesses like "hostess bars".

This problem of becoming fixated on one aspect of a problem or one one thing generally, "Einstellung" in German, is an important cognitive bias that is not talked about often enough IMHO. A common example these days is the notion that the USA has one problem, Donald Trump, and with him gone all would be right with the world again.

Comment by waveman on Hammer and Mask - Wide spread use of reusable particle filtering masks as a SARS-CoV-2 eradication strategy · 2020-05-09T12:22:38.624Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In my program I assume

Fraction of people compliant with the masks policy(asymmetric-distancing-fraction-compliant-fv) 0.7
Fraction of infection that still gets through from mask wearer to other person (asymmetric-distancing-outbound-ineffectiveness) 0.3
Fraction of infection that still gets through from non-mask-wearer to mask-wearing person (asymmetric-distancing-inbound-ineffectiveness) 0.8

Given this, and numerous other assumptions including no other measures taken, the death rate falls from 0.65% to 0.48% of the population. This is a good benefit but not a total solution.

If you have better numbers for mask effectiveness than the ones I guesstimated above please let me know.

The other main dubious assumption in my model (other than no other measures taken) is uniformity of people. I am adding some options on that tomorrow.

Comment by waveman on Does isolating the high-risk suppress COVID-19? · 2020-05-07T11:48:37.483Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In the series of posts including this one Robin Hanson has explored this option, along with various scenarios of deliberately infecting young volunteers with a reduced dose (variolation). In other viral illnesses such as smallpox infecting with reduced doses can greatly reduce the severity of the illness and mortality.

One of the issues is the feasibility of isolating high risk people. How do you isolate people who need care (e.g. people in care homes / nursing homes) from young people, when young people are going to be looking after them? Another is if you want to get to herd immunity, you may not have enough young healthy adults for this (perhaps 60% are needed, while young healthy adults are about 40-45% of the community).

Comment by waveman on How uniform is the neocortex? · 2020-05-04T07:30:52.067Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good summary and exposition of the situation.

In "On Intelligence", there is a hand-wavy argument that actions as well as perception can be seen as a sort of prediction. When I read this, it kind of made sense. But afterwards, when I was thinking how I would implement this insight in code, I began to feel a bit unclear about exactly how this would work. I have never seen a clear exposition from Jeff Hawkins or Numenta (his company). This is surprising because I generally find he provides very clear explanations for his ideas.

Does anyone have a clear idea of how actions would work as some kind of prediction? A pointer to something on this would be good also.

Comment by waveman on The Embarrassing Problem of Premature Exploitation · 2020-05-01T05:21:49.851Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
An apple has 100 calories and lots of vitamins

In comparison to the sugar drink yes, but not compared to highly nutritious things


More nutritious food

Most fruits have been bred for high sugar content, low fiber content, large size. Bottom line is 90% of the calories in fruit are actually added sugar. The claimed highly nutritious nature of fruits is largely a PR myth.

Good post though.

Comment by waveman on Hammer and Mask - Wide spread use of reusable particle filtering masks as a SARS-CoV-2 eradication strategy · 2020-04-14T23:43:19.338Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW
Sufficient flattening would be extremely difficult to achieve

The range for effective R0 in which the virus spreads to the point of herd immunity in a reasonable time, without blowing out the hospital system and without infection rates collapsing, is extremely narrow.If you want to be very sure to avoid a blowout you have to basically be quite likely to produce a collapse in # cases. Maybe you could turn the isolation on and off but that is also very tricky.

Even if achieved, flattening would be a protracted process, lasting 1-2 years, with all that implies in terms of the economy.

As OP mentioned, the cost in lives lost would also be high for a flattening where 60+% of the community is infected. People argue that "only" old people/boomers are killed but... 1) the average years of life lost seems to be substantial (~11 years). This is not people dying a couple of months early 2)

See the modeling done for the Australian government here - if you read between the lines you can see this confirms the above points, which originally came from a simple spreadsheet I did.

Finally, daily reminder that Taiwan has very few cases, one death so far in April, without shutting down their economy. This idea that you have a dilemma of health versus economy is quite false. The dilemma is competence versus stupidity.

On the masks issue, OP's proposal seems plausible, reducing effective R0. I am working on a program to model this and I will add this option and see what happens. It is a pity the authorities lied to us about masks, in order to preserve them for those with greater need when they were in very short supply.

Comment by waveman on Coronavirus: Justified Key Insights Thread · 2020-04-14T00:40:18.441Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
5: There was a huge EMH failure w/r/t C19, and it hasn't been explained away AFAIK.

I would like to hear what he is talking about here.

Perhaps he is thinking that free individuals cannot solve the problem and governments can?

Some arguments against this

1. The pandemic started in a country ruled by the Communist party. The CCP has in recent years has become more authoritarian, limited free speech, censored the internet, punished and silenced whistle-blowers, thrown our foreign journalists etc.

2. Early efforts in the US were stymied by incompetence and over-zealous regulation by the FDA and CDC. The CDC distributed faulty tests but would not allow other tests to be used, Manufacturers who wanted to make masks and other protective equipment were told that approvals would take months.

3. In a number of cases, government officials - including health officials - gave false assurances of safety and low risk e.g. the advice that it was safe to attend the NYC Chinese New Year celebrations.

4. No serious economist actually believes in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis. So why would it be true?

Some arguments for it:

1. Cruise ships, which largely operate outside meaningful regulation, have been a big problem. Over 25% of cases in Australia came from cruise ships, for example. Social distancing is very difficult on cruise ships and poor quality filtering of recycled air conditioning seems also to be a factor.

2. Collective action in the face of externalities (such as the risk of infecting other people) is difficult without some form of mandated collective action.

3. Border controls appear to have been a big factor in reducing the importation of cases to many countries. As one example Australia closed borders to China earlier than to the US and Europe, and apparently this is why Australia had few case imported directly from China. Most libertarians support national borders and quarantine measures, but not all do.

Or maybe he is arguing that the markets responded to the pandemic irrationally.

I don't know how you could know this right now. There has been great uncertainty about the course of the pandemic, its health effects, the responses by governments, money printing etc. We are in the fog of war, flying largely blind.

I invite anyone who thinks markets are obviously irrational to exploit their superior insights by making billions of dollars by trading. If you can outperform the market consistently by 2% per annum, rich people will beg you to charge them high fees for managing their money for them. You might find it is harder that it looks. Having one successful trade (e.g. buying bitcoin at some point) is not much evidence of superior skill.

6b: Stock prices take into account the next 15+ years of earnings. The real C19 shock only damages the next 2 years of earnings. A financial recession would damage many more years. Stock prices mainly reflect central bank policy, not C19.

This is a bit over-simplified. Past pandemics have actually damaged the economy well past the duration of the pandemic. Many businesses will go under, which is a permanent loss. There is potential serious damage to supply chains and webs of interlinked businesses. Young people who fail to get a job early on (e.g. in the depression) have in the past suffered long term damage to their prospects.

I agree central bank and government policy is a huge factor for any investor. And it is vexing because it is so hard to predict. How could you predict that they allowed Lehman to go under, but not others? Valuations pre this pandemic were high, on the premise that central banks would print money on the first sign of trouble. Without central bank support, almost all existing banks would be out of business within days. Back in the 1920s banks would typically operate at leverage ratios of 2:1 to avoid bank runs. These days 10:1 is considered conservative. The central banks have enabled in many ways a massive ramp up in financial risk.

Comment by waveman on Review of "Lifecycle Investing" · 2020-04-12T06:05:10.676Z · score: 30 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There is a grain of truth in what the book says but I offer four caveats for the reader to consider.

1. Basing expected returns on the US market is an egregious case of selection bias. The US market is an outlier and an unexpected outlier at that. Suggesting in 1900 to anyone that they put their net worth into the US market would have been a brave move - a ruinous civil war, rampant corruption, booms and busts, etc - Are you Joking! "Triumph of the Optimists" has some figures for other markets but not for all - many markets went to zero and never recovered. Yes you can diversify globally but this cuts the returns almost in half compared to the US market's recent history.

People will often say they are bullish on America. This is an easier argument to dispute than it used to be - "So, nothing really serious can go wrong in a country that elected Donald Trump as president?". But more seriously one's feelings of confidence are a very poor prognostic indicator, as Japanese investors found post 1989.

2. Any mention of the normal distribution or the central limit theorem in relation to financial markets opens you to huge errors. This is the ludic fallacy - markets are not tame and do not comply with tractable probability distributions. The returns from one year to the next are not independent and identically distributed, and nor is the underlying distribution necessarily tame enough for the CLT to apply. I suggest to rework the numbers with more realistic distributions such as Student's t or a power law distribution. Results may be worse than you intuitively expect.

3. There is a more subtle problem... Books advocating leverage, stocks for the long run, index and forget etc, tend to appear after a run-up in the market (as in this case after a 50% surge after the GFC slump). People tend to invest in this way also. Last year, as the market was making new highs several people advised me that they had decided on stocks for the long run because stocks always outperform bonds (until they don't - consider the Japanese stock market, currently at 50% lower than its level in 1989). Many of these "long term holders" have since sold out, perhaps close to the bottom. My suggestion is that anyone feeling an urgent and pressing need to invest in the market for the long run may do well to trickle-feed their money into the market over a period of a few years.

4. Terrible market returns often coincide with hard times for the portfolio owner, such as unemployment, slumps in the value of other assets and other difficulties. Having a leveraged portfolio that went to zero or beyond ("losses can exceed your initial investment" as they say in the fine print) in 1932 would have been very unfortunate. Margin purchases of stocks were very popular in 1929, and in general high levels of margin lending seem to be an indicator of trouble ahead.

I do commend the study of markets to the LW community. There are so many interesting aspects to it - psychology (yours and others'), cognitive biases, subtle statistical issues and many lessons on the limitations of vanilla statistics, the subtleties of risk management in the real world, the difficulties of a system comprising intelligent adaptive agents, agency issues. And it is a way to put your insights into the nature of reality to the test.

Comment by waveman on COVID-19: List of ideas to reduce the direct harm from the virus, with an emphasis on unusual ideas · 2020-04-09T23:54:22.380Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Possible use of ACEi or ARB drugs al long as Blood Pressure is not too low see

Nutrient rich diet rich in digestible complete protein, accessible minerals like Zinc and Iron, Vitamins D3 and K2. Hint: meat.

Low carbohydrate healthy fat diet reduces Oxygen requirement by 15% & improves ventilator outcomes.

Evidence based approach to reducing incidence of metabolic syndrome, obesity and diabetes in the community. High blood glucose levels impact immune system function adversely and can be rapidly controlled in many people by greatly reducing carbohydrate intake.

Given higher death rates from pneumonia in people with *low* LDL cholesterol, and weak evidence for overall benefits, reconsider widespread use of statin medications.

Use of less accurate tests as pre-screening for tests and for selective isolation e.g. Temperature, as used in the one actual success story Taiwan. You can check far more temperatures than you can do blood tests or swabs. If you have cold/flu symptoms you are not going to stay at school/work/ get on the subway. Selective testing is one way to solve the "needle in a haystack" problem of looking for community transmitted cases See also for Taiwan's low rate, far lower than much touted alleged success stories.

There is also a whole category of "preparing for the next one" items, which Taiwan did following the SARS episode a while back.

Comment by waveman on Body Mass and Risk from COVID-19 and Influenza · 2020-04-08T05:27:04.732Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
formalized as Body Mass Index (BMI, weight in kilograms divided by squared height in metres)

Seriously, BMI is a terrible metric. It is hardly any better than just plan weight. In Ancel Keys' original paper he was looking for a way to estimate subcutaneous fat. Two problems here a) subcutaneous fat is pretty benign - visceral fat is the problem, b) BMI badly estimates even subcutaneous fat. So it measures the wrong thing, badly.

In many studies BMI in the slightly overweight range has the lowest mortality. BMI ignores body composition. Thus people who are skinny-fat and metabolically healthy show up as a 'healthy' BMI. Athletes, fit muscular people show up as overweight or obese. BMI does not work for smokers and ex smokers, older people, the skinny fat, athletes and muscular people - in general it works for perhaps slightly less than half the population.

The continued use of BMI is a good example of the problem in medicine of incumbency bias - beliefs and practice that are not based on solid evidence persist and can only be displaced by overwhelming evidence, and maybe not even then. - in particular have a look at table 2.

Note in the first study referred to in OP's link the excess risk from being overweight is not statistically significant and even the excess risk from being obese is small. But even a bad metric like BMI is enough to see that being morbidly obese is bad. The risk from being underweight is often higher and may be attributed (as OP mentioned) to current or past smoking, but also to prior or current illness.

In both studies we see the typical U shaped curve for BMI and bad things. ABSI typically has a monotonic curve and is robust to issues like smoking. It is a real pity these studies did not use a decent metric.

In the CCP Corona Virus study we see that people who are "overweight" are *less* likely to be in critical care than the general public.

There are various hypotheses about why morbidly obese people are more vulnerable to CCP Corona virus. Perhaps it is related to metabolic syndrome as high or high normal serum glucose tends to depress the immune system.

Comment by waveman on How credible is the theory that COVID19 escaped from a Wuhan Lab? · 2020-04-03T09:01:02.369Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To me it sounds more like a screw-up than a conspiracy. [Also check out the origins of the term "conspiracy theory".] This is *not* the theory that this was a bioweapon that escaped.

There was a paper a while back not peer reviewed and 'withdrawn' and the Chinese authors have been keeping a "low profile" ever since:

"The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus" now at

by Botao Xiao
South China University of Technology

I have been following the youtuber's channel of the video in the OP for a while and found it good value for understanding China. Whether this theory is right I am not sure. But nothing in this surprises me. Yes he hates the CCP but what that may not be entirely irrational.
Things that make this possibly more likely:

  • Cover-up - CCP always covers things up, blame others (e.g. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman trying to blame the US for the CV)
  • Slack procedures - There have been many leakages of infectious material from Chinese labs
  • Selling infected animals at markets - not at all surprising in a country that has been through what the CCP inflicted in China. You do what you need to do to survive....

We will probably never know for sure as long as the CCP is in power.

Comment by waveman on How many people have died in China from Covid-19? · 2020-03-30T06:43:22.994Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

CCP controlled China's statistics are very unreliable across many fields. Sometimes, more or less by chance, they are right. I came to this conclusion as a long time investor trying to understand their economy. These unreliable statistics have a long pedigree. Mao famously ordered every third field to be left fallow during the great leap forward, because there would be nowhere to store the bountiful harvests. Back in the real world, tens of millions died of starvation.

As with investors in the US before the SEC was created, making it harder to simply make up profit numbers, one must resort to indirect measures. I used to look at webcams in Wuhan but these have been shut down. The Tom Tom Wuhan traffic report still seems to be flatlining

You can look at air quality reports over time which show some deterioration (suggesting more activity),no2,26.412,117.510,5

Another data source comes from anecdotal reports from Wuhan. For example, crematoria were worked off their feet, working more shifts, and were importing workers from other parts of China [this was reported at the time - I am not based this on the RFA report]. This would be strange if deaths were as reported, because the increase would only be a modest increment on the usual rate of deaths. Many of these sources have vanished from the scene, making our task more difficult. Foreign reporters have been thrown out and foreign citizens experience growing difficulties in staying in the country. This does prompt the question "If you have nothing to hide, why are you hiding it".

There are also anecdotal reports of hospitals and doctors being given quotas of Corona deaths they were allowed to report, etc.

This paper suggests there were many more cases than reported and has references to other papers that used various indirect methods to make similar estimates. It is a lot harder to estimate deaths.

In terms of the credibility of RFA I don't have an opinion. But in general my Marketing 101 lecturer told us "If you have something to say, say it. Otherwise lie, or use show biz". It might be in this case they have something to say. Nothing in the story was a surprise to me.

All this is not very satisfactory. My probability distribution is very broad at the moment, with little weight on the official numbers. If I had to guess I would think somewhere between 3-10 times the official numbers died but without much confidence. In situations like this I find it helpful to hold onto the fact of uncertainty.

One might look for more hard-to-fake signals that things are under control such as the holding of the overdue CCP national congress, which was deferred (

Perhaps in time we will be able to look at future census and population figures, or surveys to get an indirect idea of how many died. But please keep this secret or they will be faked too.

Comment by waveman on Peter's COVID Consolidated Brief for 29 March · 2020-03-30T04:41:18.904Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Don’t touch your face (duh)
Wash your hands (duh)

You need to practise these things, and get others to hold you accountable for doing them. I have seen people on TV tell everyone not to touch their face and then *touch their face*.

You are only as smart as your dumbest mistake.

Comment by waveman on mind viruses about body viruses · 2020-03-28T06:53:38.868Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose it will be too late, but one way to test the "flatten the curve" idea is to note how many countries go to saturated populations while still keeping the need for ICU/ventilators always within capacity. The advertised claim for FTC was that it would allow everyone who needed treatment to get it.

That is how many countries do not overload capacity, while not crushing the virus.

My claim is that no-one will achieve this. That is they will either crush the virus (CCP China ex Wuhan etc, Taiwan) or have a blowout (North Italy).

I spent several days modeling this and regardless of how complex the models, the window to achieve this is very narrow. Models done by experienced professionals produce much the same result.

The intuition is that exponential growth either blows up or collapses. The zone where it grows very slowly is narrow (typically 1<R0<1.08). This happens even when you take into account the fact that fractions of the population become immune over time and so the growth rate slows as you approach saturation.

It is true that reducing the raw R0 (based on pristine population) does reduce the total number infected, because the effective R0 falls under 1.0 sooner and the virus dies out. But this is still in a world where there are huge capacity overloads.

Comment by waveman on COVID-19 growth rates vs interventions · 2020-03-28T02:32:51.195Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I also notice a lot of countries have had two peaks. Possibly this is a combination of stopping overseas visitors, combined with testing focused on overseas arrivals (and neglecting local transmission which is harder to find), combined with a ramp-up of testing which produces a spike in apparent cases.

Do the initial lull in confirmed cases is likely to be a false dawn.

Comment by waveman on COVID-19 growth rates vs interventions · 2020-03-28T02:29:54.486Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you - this is very helpful to me.

We don’t currently have any countries with a large number of cases where the doubling time is >6 days and holds steady for a prolonged period.

I spent a few days looking at this, doing simulations etc. The zone where you slow the growth rate to a low rate, not exploding and not collapsing, is very narrow. It is roughly R0 = 0.98 to 1.10.

So, given

1. The effect on R0 of a given set of measures is quite uncertain and hard to predict, and

2. To flatten the curve without causing a collapse in cases you need to hit a very narrow zone,

the implication is that to be confident that you will not have an explosion, you need to target an implosion in cases. If you think you can finesse "how much can we get away with" you are probably kidding yourself.

Comment by waveman on Authorities and Amateurs · 2020-03-25T09:57:41.894Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On this particular topic, some actual (official) experts are starting to come forward with good material.

I like this one, with the new insight that quarantine in isolation was very important. Beyond "please stay home".




is an expert trying to reverse engineer the government's strategy. [I do have some concerns with his approach, he seems to have an exaggerated view of how accurately you can manage R0. There is such a narrow zone for R0 between "it blows up fast and high" and "it rapidly declines close to zero", that IMHO it is futile to try to finesse how much slackness we can get away with.]

Comment by waveman on Authorities and Amateurs · 2020-03-25T09:45:51.566Z · score: 26 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I have been stewing about this question in general for a while. When I look back at my long (so far) life, I think of the many times I have been misled by so-called experts.

From which I learned that experts, even real ones:

  • Are subject to massive cognitive biases, without realizing it. One common one is the filtering of data based on prior beliefs, not updating when new evidence comes along. Science advances funeral by funeral.
  • Are often influenced by mercenary motives, and are frequently oblivious to it.
  • Often defer to out of date, wrong or incompetent but powerful figures. Another reason why science advances funeral by funeral. Medicine is particularly prey to this problem, due to the strict hierarchy in medical organisations.
  • Frequently optimize something other than truth. Publication, career advancement, money (as mentioned above), status, etc. Ask "What is the success metric?".

On top of that a lot of self-proclaimed and even highly credentialed 'experts' don't actually have much of a clue. Because:

  • Fields often have huge blind spots. E.g. I frequently see studies of the influence of childhood poverty or education or SES etc on people's lives, in which the model explicitly assumes that there is no influence from parent to child via genes. Knowledge of statistics and of mathematics, key tools for understanding pandemics, are particularly weak in many fields. In my country it is typical of doctors to have mathematics only up to year 11.
  • People are experts in a far more narrow domain than they realize. My own country has a Chief Medical Officer, who seems to have little grasp of the management of epidemics. Long ago he was a medical specialist in a largely irrelevant field, for several decades a bureaucrat/political player. Dunning Kruger Syndrome.
  • Training often induces in people a hefty dose of arrogance - medical training being a particularly unfortunate example; law is another - and this arrogance is transferred to areas beyond the person's sphere of competence.
  • Fields of study are often set up with safeguards and barriers which may or may not be well intentioned, but which prevent outsiders with good ideas from having any influence. In endocrinology, a field that impacts me personally, the practitioners in my country appear to have lost large swathes of knowledge and nothing can be done about it (e.g. of how to understand complex systems, so that endocrinological problems are typically assessed in terms of "is this individual blood level 'normal'" rather than looking at the system as a whole).
  • Ideas, beliefs and practices that were formed based on little or no evidence become entrenched and remain in place, while anyone trying to overturn them is held to extremely high standards of rigor. Have a look at the evidence behind the original recommendations to avoid saturated fats, and to eat "healthy" trans fat laden margarines for example.

Important **None of this is to say that an amateur with google and ten minutes to spare can do better**. be cautious. It is very hard to do better than flawed experts.

Personally I have worked out, over time, some heuristics which have proven useful to sort out actual experts. Some things that mark out an actual expert:

1. They can make surprisingly accurate predictions. Better than most people, and better than simple techniques like linear extrapolation.

2. They can fix things that are broken. Whether broken machines, or dysfunctional social systems, or sick people.

3. They can explain things in a way that is as simple as possible, illuminating, and gives one clues as to how things might be better.

Not only that, but they have evidence for this. An example of the opposite: After thirty-five years of Freudian psychoanalysis, someone thought to do a study of whether they actually helped people get better more than doing nothing. No, they did not.

Things that do not mark out an expert:

1. Status among peers. The peers may be equally clueless or useless.

2. Great confidence. This is more a sign of arrogance than of competence. In "A Mind for Numbers" it is pointed out that claims of skill or competence or knowledge not accompanied by proof are actually far worse than acknowledged incompetence.

3. Ornate certificates on the wall.

4. Having attended high status institutions.

5. Having been successful, after taking huge risks. They may be a lucky idiot - look closely.

6. A few lucky breaks.

In the current context, I am willing to listen to experts who have a proven track record, who have relevant experience, and who have the skills needed to do the job. Even then I look hard for biases.

I welcome any additions/corrections/clarifications to all this.

Comment by waveman on Breaking quarantine is negligence. Why are democracies acting like we can only ask nicely? · 2020-03-25T02:54:02.862Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have a look at the Civil war and WWII for what governments are able to do in a crisis. Tl;dr - a lot. All these constitutional guarantees are not absolute. You are not allowed to own a nuclear bomb. You are not allowed to yell fire in a crowded theater. Internments have been a thing.

Nor is negligence or worse always a requirement for a crime. Remember that speeding ticket? Did the government have to prove negligence - there is a thing called strict liability.

You could have something like: Be a person suspected of being infected with CV / with a quarantine order, who gets within 2 yards of any other person not an immediate household member. Penalty 10 years.

(Source: actually passed a university course in Criminal Law, before I decided I did not want to be a lawyer after all).

The presentation below suggests that centralized isolation is needed not just home confinement. This would be more difficult to get through the courts I think.




Comment by waveman on Ideas on estimating personal risk of infection · 2020-03-24T00:07:43.575Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW


1. Any estimate is likely to be very inaccurate. Also there are fat tails. There might be one very infectious person there such that you actually have a very high risk of infection in this case. A single point estimate of risk throws away a lot of information. What would be better would be a Bayesian type probability density.

2. This may be the wrong question. Given in Iceland for example half the infected showed no symptoms, it is important to consider the risk that you may infect other people.

3. (total) Risk (across the crowd) goes up approximately with the square of the number of people in the crowd.

4. This is somewhat analogous to the situation with STDs. It is not just the number of people you interact with, but the number of people they have interacted with, and the number they have interacted with. The rather disconcerting image with STDs is that you are actually in bed with maybe 1,000 people; similarly here you are actually in a room with who knows how many people.

5. Also take into account that in many situations at present, there is a bias to the people you are going to interact with. In any given bar or conference, the risk averse, careful people will be staying at home. The risk-blind careless reckless people will be over-represented. E.g. the people who attended Chinese New Year gatherings in NYC.

6. You need to update the calculation on a daily basis.

7. I think that with viral diseases the initial viral load is important because it greatly affects how long your body has to mount a defense against the disease. No idea how to model this. There are also differences in individual vulnerability etc.

8. You might also take into account the flow on effects. If you get infected, how many people will ultimately get infected as a result, similarly if you infect someone, how many people will ultimately be infected.

Here is my attempt

IR: Reported infections in NY 20k, I assume that the true number is 2X, 10X or 20X that. So the rate is about 20k/9M = 0.002 (reported) 0.004 2X, 0.020 10X, 0.04 20X

B: Bias for people attending a gathering, maybe 2X 5X or 10X more risk-loving than the average.

PT: Chance of transmission 1% 2% or 5% if you come into contact with people

If a gathering has X people that you come into contact with then the risk of infection is

1 - (1 - IR*B*PT)^X

and the risk of infecting someone else would be similar.

I sum across all combinations of the estimates. Note do the formula above for each combination and then average the results. Do not average then do the formula - this is wrong because of the nonlinearity.

Plugging this into a simple spreadsheet (Guaranteed to be wrong - use at your own risk I get

#People => Risk to me

10 => 5%

100 => 27%

1000 => 66%

10000 => 95%

This is most sensitive to the higher factors above and to the numbers of people. But even with low factors, with large numbers it is bad.

Comment by waveman on What's the upper bound of how long COVID is contagious? · 2020-03-22T22:58:37.082Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Worth pointing out that if we quarantine for X days and do not actually test, relying on symptoms, then we are selecting for slow incubation and/or mild/no symptoms before X days.

Comment by waveman on Why Telling People They Don't Need Masks Backfired · 2020-03-18T06:52:34.922Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lying to people gives a short term benefit but longer term destroys your credibility.

Comment by waveman on When will total cases in the EU surpass that of China? · 2020-03-18T00:38:55.962Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The assumption here is that the CCP-ruled China figures are accurate. I have been trying to find some way to validate them. As one example, contrast the claims that things are rapidly getting back to normal with traffic data from Wuhan

Comment by waveman on Rationalists, Post-Rationalists, And Rationalist-Adjacents · 2020-03-14T00:16:41.191Z · score: 7 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I found the framework in the book "Action Inquiry" by Bill Torbert very helpful in this context. In Torbert's framework, a typical young rationalist would be in "expert' mode. There are many good things to be had in later levels.

A brief outline of the framework is here

The post-rationalists, in this view, do not think that rationalism is wrong but that it has limitations. For example a more relaxed attitude to the truth of one's theories can leave you more open to new information and to other ways of seeing things. A recent conversation I had with a young rationalist illustrates this. He criticised me for denying the 'science' showing, in his view, that statins are highly beneficial medications, and felt I was succumbing to woo-woo in being sceptical. I tried to argue that it is not a simple matter of science versus woo-woo. The scientific process is influenced by financial incentives, career incentives, egos, ideologies, the sometimes excessive influence of high-status figures especially in medicine; the ideal of open and complete publication of data and methods and results are by no means met. At the same time one should not assume that with 15 minutes + google you can do better than a highly trained specialist.

Comment by waveman on More Dakka for Coronavirus: We need immediate human trials of many vaccine-candidates and simultaneous manufacturing of all of them · 2020-03-14T00:04:49.261Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So why won't this happen?

Part of the problem is the incentive structure faced by regulators. If they allow a vaccine out that kills 100 people they will be crucified. On the other hand if they delay a vaccine and 10,000 people die then nothing bad will happen to them. There are few incentives to make balanced assessments of risk/reward.

You have the same problem with the introduction of strong measures to control the Wuhan virus. It seems that in almost every country things have to get pretty bad before there is support to do anything serious. Taiwan is one of the very few exceptions:

Please note Taiwan's swift response. “42 confirmed cases & 1 death.”

Taiwan’s epidemic prevention policy (EPP) i. Travel limitations ii. Cancel big gatherings iii. Public health interventions iv. Behavioural changes v. Daily briefings vi. Compensation vii. Counter disinformation

I see in President Trump's announcement of a state of emergency he has cut some red tape inhibiting mass testing. So it is maybe not an entirely lost cause.

Comment by waveman on A practical out-of-the-box solution to slow down COVID-19: Turn up the heat · 2020-03-12T07:40:17.738Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Consider possible confounders:

Warmer weather coincides with more sun, which coincides with higher vitamin D levels, related to immune system function. Sunshine does lots of other good things too.

In colder weather people stay indoors, with more opportunities for sharing infections, and get even less sun.

In colder weather people close windows leading to more retention of infectious agents.

I am sure there are many more. Temperature may be a proxy for something else.

Or it might be "the thing" as Joe Biden might put it. Maybe aerosol droplets evaporate fasted in warm air. In this case turning up the aircon might help.

Comment by waveman on When to Reverse Quarantine and Other COVID-19 Considerations · 2020-03-11T06:31:25.495Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Very dangerous assumption here that death is the only adverse outcome. Survivors of some other Corona virus infections have had lasting debilitating effects. We just have no data on this for the current pandemic.

As OP mentioned this was a purely "from my self-interest perspective". Even extending this to the risk of infecting family members would change the equation markedly I think.

Comment by waveman on Winning vs Truth – Infohazard Trade-Offs · 2020-03-08T06:46:03.352Z · score: 30 (8 votes) · LW · GW
expertise does not generalise.

To me it also brings home the difficulty of working out if "experts" are really expert. Or if a given organization is optimized to deliver the benefits of expertise. Many times I have been seriously harmed by 'experts' who didn't know what they were doing.

One indication: The CDC been subject to some trenchant criticism from medical people.

Another: Their problems seem not to be so much in highly technical issues but basic organisational failures.

<Maybe it is better not to speak the truth> pseudo-quote

The long term costs of past lying, or even of signaling that you would lie in certain circumstances, can be very severe. Consider the fact that people are by now basically discounting everything the CCP says to zero. Even when they tell the truth, they are not able to transmit that information to people because we assume they are lying.

Comment by waveman on Coming Back to Biking · 2020-03-07T05:06:28.124Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I rode to work (20km each way) for six years rain hail or shine.

Hurting knees can be due to riding in too high a gear. Or by riding too far, or not having rest days. Maybe start with Mon Wed Fri and then move to Mon Tue Thu Fri. If the distance is substantial, even MTTF may not be viable. A more efficient bike made a big difference to me (your bike looks quite inefficient, from a cursory glance - heavy, no clip-ons, etc).

One thing for men to watch out for is pressure on the groin area from a too-narrow seat. This can cause lasting damage to nerves and to the prostate.

I found bike lanes useless unless protected in some way (e.g. by raised dividers). Many car drivers bitterly resent bike riders, in part due to bad behaviour by some riders, so you are at risk from cars.

Comment by waveman on Motte/bailey doctrine is often a byproduct of distributed argumentation · 2020-03-05T05:50:45.043Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is good cop / bad cop applied to argumentation.

There is another, quite common and devious, way to split Motte and Bailey. The Motte is the definition actually used operationally, while the Bailey is the cover story used when this is questioned.

Aristotle called this the fallacy of equivocation. If we remembered everything we already knew, we would be unstoppable as a civilization. Koestler pointed out (in Sleepwalkers) that in 1000 AD (now called CE) we knew less math than we knew 1200 years earlier.

Comment by waveman on Making Sense of Coronavirus Stats · 2020-02-20T23:34:57.854Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is one situation where we should value the lesswrong maxim of being aware when your level of knowledge is very limited. Hold onto your uncertainty.

As a long term investor I am very aware that statistics out of China are particularly unreliable. Even the hierarchy in China seems to have trouble getting a true picture. I saw an interview with one of the doctors in Wuhan where he related the extreme difficulties of getting people to report the bad news about what was happening up the management tree. Perhaps reflecting this, President Xi sent his man, Shanghai Mayor Ying Yong, to Wuhan, to get a first hand view.

Even on the official statistics it appears Covid-19 is an order of magnitude more contagious than influenza and has a fatality rate also an order of magnitude worse. The fact that over 10% of the passengers on the Diamond Princess contacted the virus in a few weeks testifies to the contagiousness of the disease. There are troubling hints from China that deaths are far higher than admitted. The admitted deaths from covid-19 in Wuhan are no more than 10% of normal deaths in the city, yet, cremation houses are said to be having trouble keeping up, and are bringing in supplies and staff from outside to manage the workload.

Comment by waveman on Taking the Outgroup Seriously · 2020-02-17T00:19:01.092Z · score: 18 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is sometimes true but often not.

An example:

Andrew Denton, an Australian journalist, did a podcast about the question of euthanasia ( well worth the listen During this process he attended a right to life conference. During the conference speakers spoke openly about the fact that the arguments they used in public against voluntary euthanasia were not at all their own reasons for opposing it.

In summary their actual reason for opposing VE is that in Christian theology you are not allowed to die until Jesus decides to take you / that you have suffered enough. Because this reason is unacceptable to most people, they said that they would try on various arguments and use the ones that seemed to resonate e.g. Hitler used euthanasia as an excuse to murder people, people will kill granny to get the inheritance, people will kill the disabled and other "useless eaters" , governments will encourage euthanasia to save aged care dollars.

In American politics Donald Trump started using the phrase "Drain the Swamp" frequently when he noticed that people responded to it. I leave it to the reader to judge whether it was his intention to drain the swamp, or whether he even thought it was possible.

In general IMHO people often advance bogus arguments because they know their real reasons will not be acceptable. In fact there is some evidence that confabulation is a core competency of the human brain. See e.g.