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: 25 (16 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.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2020-02-16T01:03:48.543Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Follow up on Herbert Simon. From his book "Models of my life"

Worked 60-80 hours a week. But does not detail what "work" means.

When collaborating with someone he comments that most of his day's work would be usually done by 10am, about the time his collaborator would be getting started. This perhaps hints that early in the day he did a few hours of really hard intellectual work.

What HS regarded as hard work may differ from other people. For example he learned about 20 languages to the point of being able to read papers, and 4-5 to the level of reading literature. But he regarded this as a fun/hobby thing.

He had a problem of hobbies turning into work, and had to drop several of them (e.g. playing musical instruments).

At college he only did enough work to get graded at A. Early on he spent too much time playing ping-pong and his grades slipped.

He published ~1,000 papers and 37 books and accrued to date over 350,000 citations. So he was amazingly productive.

He spent a lot of time on office politics and other managerial and administrative things.

He found writing easy and so wrote many/most of the papers he was a collaborator on.

Conclusion: HS was very smart, very productive, found things that were challenging for others to be fun/hobbies, and while it seems he did work long hours, it is not clear how much time he spent at the highest level of effort. There are hints he did concentrate his top tier work in the first few hours of the day.

Comment by waveman on A Cautionary Note on Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2020-02-16T00:56:29.218Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
As the emotional part of our brain sees imagination and memory as the same, this resolved the trauma

I think you are talking about something downstream from the problem OP reported. What you said explains why changing the memory would help. But I think it is not relevant to the question of whether you *can* change the memory.

If there are parts of you that think that holding on to the memory and to whatever partial solutions you came up with at the time are important, you will have trouble changing that, no matter what the benefits would be after the fact.

And of course given the traumatic nature of such memories, holding onto them and to the solutions you found do tend to seem very important. Books and reports of therapy are full of examples of this kind of thing.

Comment by waveman on How deferential should we be to the forecasts of subject matter experts? · 2020-02-13T09:57:20.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also to reinforce a very important point: even when experts are not very expert, they are probably a lot better than you+google+30minutes!

Comment by waveman on How deferential should we be to the forecasts of subject matter experts? · 2020-02-13T09:55:40.209Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Good post. To which I would add...

There is much more to expertise than forecasting. Also

  • Designing and building "things" of various kinds that work
  • Fixing "things"

"Things" could include social systems, people, business structures, advertising campaigns, not just machines of course.

A person may be a very good football coach in the sense of putting together a team that wins, or fixing a losing team, but may not be too good at making predictions. Doctors are notoriously bad a predicting patient outcomes but are often be very skilled at actually treating them.

I think to a degree you confuse assessing whether a group does have expertise with assessing whether they are *likely* to have expertise.

As far as factors that count against expertise being reliably or significantly present, to your politics I would add

1. Money. The medical literature is replete with studies showing huge effect sizes from "who paid the piper". In pharmaceutical research this seems to result in a 4X different chance of a positive result. But there is more than this; the ability to offer speaking and consultancy fees, funding of future projects etc can have a powerful effect.

Another example is the problem alluded to in relation to the consensus about the historical Jesus. When a field is dominated by people whose livelihood depends on their continuing to espouse a certain belief, the effect goes beyond those individuals and infects the whole field.

2. The pernicious effects of "great men" who can suppress dissent against their out of date views. Is the field pluralistic, realistically, and is dissent allowed? Science advances funeral by funeral. Have a look at what happened to John "Pure white and deadly" Yudkin.

3. Politics beyond what we normally think of as politics. Academia is notoriously "political" in this wider sense. Amplifying your point about reality checks, if feedback is not accurate, rapid, and unambiguous, it is hard for people in the field to know who is right, if anyone.

4. "Publish" or perish. There are massive incentives to get published or to get publicity or a high profile. This leads to people claiming expertise, results, achievements that are bogus. Consider for example the case of Theranos, which seemed, if media reports are accurate, to have no useful ability to build systems that did pathology tests, yet apparently hoodwinked many into thinking that they did.

You make a good point that claims of expertise without evidence or, worse, in the face of adverse evidence, are really really bad. I would go as far as to say that if you claim expertise but cannot prove it, I have a strong prior that you don't have it.

There are large groups of self-described experts who do not have expertise or at best have far less than they think. One should be alert to the possibility that "experts" aren't.

Comment by waveman on Epistemic Spot Check: The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance · 2020-02-13T05:58:29.807Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Having said all that, there is a crying need for more work in this area.

The current lead I am following up is Herbert Simon. Will also check out Knuth.

Someone suggested Flaubert, who worked 12 hours a day. And produced 0.7 (really well honed) words per hour.

Comment by waveman on A Cautionary Note on Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2020-02-09T07:55:00.864Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I see now how this could happen, and evidently it happened to you.

It has not happened to me, even though I used it quite aggressively e.g. to instil objectively false but useful beliefs.

I am trying to work out what is different... I did this as part of the IFS (Internal Family Systems) process, as a more powerful way to resolve exiles that are hard to fix.

I suspect maybe the difference is that in IFS they make a huge deal about honoring the 'parts' including exiles. In your terms this would be the unhelpful beliefs. You need ideally to fully accept that they are there for a reason and have good intentions. In IFS it is a common rookie mistake to try to shove 'bad' "parts" (in IFS terms) away prematurely and tell them to stop doing or believing that thing right away. If you do this they will often resist vehemently in open or in covert ways. Once you do get to know them, appreciate them, acknowledge their good intentions, they are then often very willing to form the intention to change, and in this case they will not resist.

So my suggestion would be to try to get to know the 'false' belief better and to acknowledge why it is there, the good it did, the good intention behind it - and with associated beliefs - there can be quite a complex structure of chained beliefs and practices. Only then do you ask it, are you happy with the current set-up? Would you like to change anything? Ask if you do really want to change the belief in every bone of your body. Usually at this point it is pretty easy to change and you are done.

If the 'exile' *wants* to change but cannot then the UTEB techniques can be very useful. I will give one example.

As a very young student I had a vicious and sadistic teacher. Apart from her beatings, she employed psychological terror tactics seemingly designed to maximize our terror and helplessness and humiliation. I had frequent flashbacks which I see as a form of hyper-vigilance whose intention was to keep me safe. I tried all the usual techniques for resolving my flashbacks. We are here now, she is dead, I have adult resources that can protect you, I can hold you, etc, etc. These helped a bit but not entirely.

So when everything else did not succeed entirely I tried the "nuclear option" - rewriting history. I implanted a belief that the very first time she exhibited her toxic behavior a group of parents stormed into the classroom, beat her up, threw her out of the school, and warned her never to set foot in a school again, which she never did (in the rewritten history). We reverted back to our previous teacher who was lovely. This worked, even though - at some level - I know it is false. I think it worked because all the parts of me were united in resolving this issue and there was no internal conflict apart from the ongoing feelings of fear and anxiety being too strong.

So again I think you may perhaps have had some residual internal conflict about changing the belief and this may be why you did not succeed at times. I hope this helps.

Two notes

1. People may confuse what I did with a revenge fantasy. I don't think revenge fantasies are very often useful. This is different because the bad thing, in the rewritten history, did not happen. There is nothing to revenge.

2. Assuming my post makes sense to you, it may illustrate why the seemingly preposterous IFS model can be quite useful - it gives you a powerful language and structure for dealing with all these internal complexities.

Comment by waveman on Emergency Prescription Medication · 2020-01-24T04:42:31.091Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is a good example of where the system makes it difficult to do sensible rational things.

It's also an example of how the medical system assumes it will always be there, will not make mistakes, don't you worry etc.

It is not just for natural disasters that you need a backup supply. I found out the hard way that the capriciousness of the medical system can really hurt you. I showed up at the doctor had he told me that the drug I needed was not longer available from him, and I had to see a new specialist and "requalify". There was no way this could be done before I ran out. No-one had thought to warn me that the rules had changed. In fact they had not changed, formally. There was just this silent 'crackdown'. The word was put out that you betta not prescribe that any more, or maybe you would get audited, or raided, maybe lose your licence or medicare accreditation - there are a lot of ways we can hurt you. Maybe there will be a complaint against you that will burn a couple of years of your life to fight it.

There was a similar recent case of this with the prescription opiate crackdown. This was not what affected me, but the situation was similar. People showed up at the doctor's for a renewal and were told "nope". Your choice is cold turkey or the street. Doctors were prescribing opiates like candy and then they were not. Too bad if you were caught up in it.

As for solutions, most people suggest that putting a little bit away over time is the only solution. It is a waste of time trying to persuade the system to help you put together a just-in-case supply.

Comment by waveman on Predictors exist: CDT going bonkers... forever · 2020-01-14T22:27:26.156Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have guessed that by CDT you mean

But why make people guess?

Protip: define and/or provide links for opaque terms upon first use.

Comment by waveman on [Book Review] The Trouble with Physics · 2020-01-06T08:02:26.513Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
GR and QM are valid each in their own domain.

Their domain is supposed to be the universe, I think. Later people said GR is for the large scale and QM is for the small scale but nothing in the theories actually says this, AFAICT.

It could be that a straightforward extension of one or the other would solve the problem, somehow embracing or correcting the other. But all the obvious ways to do that have been explored and have failed.

Or it could be that both are fundamentally conceptually wrong, like Newtonian gravity was 'wrong' (though quite accurate most of the time). If that is the case the actual solution would look very different and would then be shown to approximate QM and GR in limiting cases.

String theory is not really a theory of physics; it is more like the idea that a certain type of theory, not yet identified, may work. So it is more of an approach or a program. But even if ST is successful, it would leave a lot of unanswered questions. And after decades their is not much sign of a breakthrough.

To be fair one key problem is a lack of data. If we could build accelerators 10^12 times as powerful as current ones, we may have something to work on. But there are so many possible theories given current data. Given no data, and no way to test theories, physics degenerates into a popularity contest.

Comment by waveman on Rule Thinkers In, Not Out · 2019-12-14T00:18:20.894Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
experimental proof that hidden variables is wrong (through the EPR experiments)

Local hidden variable theories were disproved. But that is not at all surprising given that QM is IMHO non-local, as per Einstein's "spooky nonlocality".

It is interesting that often even when Einstein was wrong, he was fruitful. His biggest mistake, as he saw it, was the cosmological constant, now referred to as dark energy. Nietzsche would have approved.

On QM his paper led to Bell's theorem and real progress. Even though his claim was wrong.

Comment by waveman on Causal Abstraction Toy Model: Medical Sensor · 2019-12-11T23:30:46.111Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It looks like I have to read the whole post to see whether it is of interest to me, because there is no summary. Instead you seem to just wade in to the detail.

I tried reading the first sentences of each paragraph but that was useless because they are almost all opaque references to the previous material.

I suggest you add a summary and start paragraphs with a sentence encapsulating the key idea of the paragraph.

Comment by waveman on A letter on optimism about human progress · 2019-12-04T10:11:40.406Z · score: 5 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted because in brief a) this article is very one-sided b) When you read human history, the plethora of collapses IMHO puts a strong onus of proof on those who argue it won't happen again c) There are many warning signs of huge problems ahead - global warming, resource depletion (soils, fresh water, phosphates, oil, coal, uranium, numerous other minerals), overpopulation, increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons d) Our so clever civilization depends utterly on cheap energy and this looks like ending fairly soon e) There is no clear evidence that technological progress is rapid enough to solve these problems.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:33:16.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On bias see here and references. There is a lot of research about this. Note also that you do not even need to bias a particular researcher, just fund the researchers producing the answers you like, or pursuing the avenues you are interested in e.g. Coke's sponsorship of exercise research which produces papers suggesting that perhaps exercise is the answer.

One should not simply dismiss a study because of sponsorship, but be aware of what might be going on behind the scenes. And also be aware that people are oblivious to the effect that sponsorship has on them. One study of primary care doctors found a large effect on prescribing from free courses, dinners, etc, but the doctors adamantly denied any impact.

The suggestions of things to look for are valid and useful but often you just don't know what actually happened.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:17:58.786Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly belatedly realizing that studies I took as Gospel turned out to be wrong. This triggered an intense desire to know why and how.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-12-03T03:17:16.580Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly medicine, nutrition, metabolism. Also finance and economics.

Comment by waveman on In Defense of Kegan · 2019-11-18T21:32:13.918Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For people wanting to understand Kegan's key ideas without too much pain, I suggest "The Discerning Heart" by Philip Lewis. It is a concise and excellent introduction to the topic.

Comment by waveman on Climate technology primer (1/3): basics · 2019-11-12T02:02:11.153Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent post.

One oversight I see often in this space, and here, relates to a carbon tax. It is stated that the revenue from a carbon tax can be used to compensate people, especially lower income people, for the increased cost of living resulting from the tax. The fatal problem with this is that in a zero emissions world, there will be no emissions and therefore no carbon tax revenue.

Of course it may be possible to compensate people via other means such as other taxes. But a carbon tax is only required because it is otherwise cheaper to emit carbon. This means costs will go up overall and that there will be a net loss (in the short term at least). There is no free lunch and someone will have to pay.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-10-30T02:10:40.938Z · score: 21 (10 votes) · LW · GW

One of the most miserable things about the LW experience is realizing how little you actually know with confidence.

Comment by waveman on How do you assess the quality / reliability of a scientific study? · 2019-10-30T02:09:40.846Z · score: 43 (24 votes) · LW · GW

I've probably read about 1000 papers. Lessons learned the hard way...

1. Look at the sponsorship of the research and of the researchers (previous sponsorship, "consultancies" etc are also important for up to 10-15 years). This creates massive bias. E.g: A lot of medical bodies and researchers are owned by pharmaceutical companies

2. Look at ideological biases of the authors. E.g. a lot of social science research assumes as a given that genes have no effect on personality or intelligence. (Yes, really).

3. Understand statistics very deeply. There is no pain-free way to get this knowledge, but without it you cannot win here. E.g. a) The assumptions behind all the statistical models b) the limitations of alleged "corrections". You need to understand both Bayesian and Frequentist statistics in depth, to the point that they are obvious and intuitive to you.

4. Understand how researchers rig results. e.g. undisclosed multiple comparisons, peeking at the data before deciding what analysis to do, failing to pre-publish the design and end points and to follow that pre-publication, "run-in periods" for drug trials, sponsor-controlled committees to review and change diagnoses... There are papers about this e.g. "why most published research findings are false".

5. After sponsorship, read the methods section carefully. Look for problems. Have valid and appropriate statistics been used? Were the logical end points assessed? Maybe then look at the conclusions. Do the conclusions match the body of the paper? Has the data from the study been made available to all qualified researchers to check the analysis? Things can change a lot when that happens e.g. Tamiflu. Is the data is only available to commercial interests and their stooges this is a bad sign.

6. Has the study been replicated by independent researchers?

7. Is the study observational? If so, does is meet generally accepted criteria for valid observational studies? (large effect, dose-response gradient, well understood causal model, well understood confounders, confounders smaller than the published effect etc).

8. Do not think you can read abstracts only and learn much that is useful.

9. Read some of the vitriolic books about the problems in research e.g. "Deadly Medicines and Organised Crime How big pharma has corrupted healthcare" by PETER C GØTZSCHE. Not everything in this book is true but it will open your eyes about what can happen.

10. Face up to the fact that 80-90% of studies are useless or wrong. You will spend a lot of time reading things only to conclude that there is not much there.

Comment by waveman on SSC Meetups Everywhere: Brighton, UK · 2019-09-14T06:03:40.494Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am thinking that "Australia" is not correkt and should read "England".

Comment by waveman on Examples of Examples · 2019-09-07T01:12:33.860Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Examples of "proof by theory"

That someone has a theory that supports something is evidence for something.


1. Once 3 people tell us something, we believe it. Some people think it, so it's true. Even knowing they are in cahoots and trying to manipulate us. I cannot source the study, but try it. It is scarily effective.

2. Ancel Keys formulated his dietary fat / heart disease hypothesis in the 1950s. Over a period of 3-4 years he moved from "hypothesis" to "almost certain" even though no new evidence arose in support of the hypothesis. It appears that every time he wrote on the issue, he noted that he himself, a very intelligent and credible authority, believed the theory, which seemed to weigh in favour of the theory. He cited his own previous papers which then added to the weight of the case, in his mind. [Keys may also have been influenced by the fact that his chief rival John Yudkin believed that sugar was the chief culprit, which view was therefore clearly wrong (theory in this case as anti-evidence). We are still sorting through the wreckage of his catastrophe].

3. Teenage fashions in clothes and politics. Teenagers are very concerned about acceptance by the group, and at the same time they have little experience and knowledge. So they seek cues from those around them as to what fashion statements and political opinions are acceptable. They are seeking cues from those around them, who are just as clueless as they are. Result: strongly held but more or less random fashions and opinions. One late teen recently told me he considers himself fortunate indeed to have been born at that one magic time when his peer group adhered to basically every right and true political and social opinion.

4. Contagion in financial markets. Didier Sornette has had some success in modeling the structure of financial bubbles and crashes based on the premise that speculators are very anxious about the direction of prices and highly uncertain about them at the same time. They have very little good information about future prices. In Sornette's model, traders take cues from traders they are in contact with, resulting in violently fluctuating "phase changes" in investor opinion leading to log-periodic hyper-exponential price moves. Again the opinions of other traders are taken as data when in fact they have little information content.

Comment by waveman on How do you learn foreign language vocabulary, beyond Anki? · 2019-08-28T04:20:07.258Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I found early on, when learning a foreign language (German and French), that it was better to read English books translated into the language at first. They tended to be lighter on the colloquial and idiomatic expressions.

There is a great book "Teach yourself a foreign language quickly" by Azzopardi tha I would recommend. It is really excellent for languages with phonetic scripts. PM me if you can't find it; I can lend you a copy.

One thing that slowed me down is my failure to 'believe' that gender of nouns is important. In German it is vital to learn the genders of nouns. Similarly in Italian (and you also need to remember the doubled consonants and where the accent lies).

You cannot learn a language in a big rush. Persistence is the key.

Comment by waveman on How do you learn foreign language vocabulary, beyond Anki? · 2019-08-28T04:12:58.893Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

1. Obviously there are many general techniques for memorization you can use, which mostly amount to moving the task into either sensory/visual or spatial memory. Visual and spatial memory are huge, fat larger than verbal memory.

2. With Anki specifically:

2.1 Include an example of use in a sentence (as a separate note from the bare word).

2.2 I find it is very very useful to bring words in initially only a few at a time e.g. 5 at a time. If I bring in 50 new words I find, as with your experience, I am cycling around and the cycle time exceeds my memory.

2.3 Do it every day. I found my progress more than doubled

With these techniques I learned 1500 Italian words pretty fast. (the vocab required for B1 level).

3. Reading really helps to build vocabulary. You get exposed to the most common words more frequently, in an automatic and natural way. Start with really simple material and build up.

Comment by waveman on I'm interested in a sub-field of AI but don't know what to call it. · 2019-08-25T22:56:07.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models has some material about deciding between models on this though pretty low level.

Looking at my bookshelf most general AI/ML books have starting points.

"Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning" Bishop

"Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems: Networks of Plausible Inference" Pearl

"Probabilistic Graphical Models: Principles and Techniques" Koller

This is a super-hard problem but worth tackling.

Comment by waveman on Am I going for a job interview with a woo pusher? · 2019-08-25T22:35:47.643Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

N=1: Person close to me had NF treatment for ADHD and it was very effective. Unfortunately the outfit closed up, there was no local alternative, and he/she regressed. I think there is something to it.

But no doubt there is a lot of woo woo everywhere. Use as interview practice and ask them what is their evidence (other than X on their web site which no doubt you will closely examine).

... looks further ... they look pretty serious to me

Comment by waveman on A misconception about immigration · 2019-08-20T02:12:37.249Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You yourself are ignoring a huge part of the issue - capital.

If there is excess capital then this is not relevant. But this is not usually the case. Each immigrant requires capital to support their life and their work. The numbers involved are huge, perhaps $300,000-500,000 per person.

Using econometric data from Australia I estimated that about 25% of its GDP is expended just keeping up with population growth, mostly from (highest in the western world) immigration. New roads, hospitals, schools, colleges, fire stations, houses, power stations, subways etc have to be built. This is why many roads that used to be free to drive on are now toll roads even though the traffic is slower. Taxes go up to pay for new public services.

The rate of spending here is proportional to the rate of growth. For a static population you only need to pay for depreciation and maintenance.

This issue is why it is a cliche in development economics that high population growth rates make it almost impossible for poor countries to get rich. All the growth is consumed paying the the higher population.

It also explains why Japan remains prosperous, clean and a nice place to visit in spite of low GDp growth. With more or less zero population growth the need for new infrastructure is low, free up ~25% of GDP.

Another (more widely viewed) form of capital is land. Combined with restrictive land use regulations in many parts of the rich west, this is a recipe for higher and more volatile land and house prices. See e.g.

Your essay reads - to me - a bit like you are working backwards from a preordained conclusion rather than working forward from the data. Could I suggest going back to square one and taking another look at the whole question.

Comment by waveman on How to improve at critical thinking on science/medical literature? · 2019-08-07T02:03:58.880Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Usually conflicts of interest and funding are disclosed (these days) in the paper. Usually I go there first, before the second step which is reading the methods section.

There are also registers of funding for medical researchers.



But it is imperfect

and of course disclosure is not a complete answer. Disclosed funding greatly affects the reported results.