Some quick notes on hand hygiene 2020-02-06T02:47:33.981Z · score: 67 (27 votes)
What are the best self-help book summaries you've read? 2020-01-03T17:45:46.102Z · score: 5 (3 votes)
Should I floss? 2019-12-24T16:06:27.379Z · score: 18 (12 votes)


Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-19T20:00:39.943Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also worth noting that, depending on the virus, particles outside a host can often survive for hours or sometimes days. To get infected by direct inhalation you'd need to be fairly close to a sick person when they were shedding virus into the air – i.e. to be very close to them in both space and time. To get infected through surface contamination the time requirement is much less stringent: you only need to be where an infected person was fairly recently. If you don't have good hand/face/mouth hygiene, they can infect you without your ever seeing them or knowing they were there.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-12T17:31:03.475Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Instead of sanitising light switches, stop having light switches. Movement sensors/Google Assistent can switch lights without any need for touching switches.

But if, like the crushingly vast majority of households and most workplaces, you do in fact have light switches, you should sanitise them.

Doorknobs are awful technology to the point that Australia recently outlawed them for new bulidings. Handles are still problematic but have a larger surface area so different people touch at different places and less pressure is also helpful.

I was using "doorknobs" as shorthand for any kind of door handle. If you have door handles, you should sanitise them. I think this is unhelpful pedantry.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-12T03:04:41.133Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This argument has always seemed suspicious to me from a rationality perspective. Do you take other steps to deliberately expose yourself to pathogens (e.g. playing in the mud, or deliberately dropping your food on the floor before eating it, or licking unsanitary surfaces, or seeking out coughing/sneezing people to be close to)? If not, why not? Do you have some reason to believe the current level of exposure you get from not washing your hands is optimal (or at least close-to-optimal) from the perspective of improving your immune system through exposure?

The above paragraph probably sounds uncharitable. I can think of ways the "improve your immune system" argument might be true. There is an argument that early-life exposure to germs might strengthen the immune system and decrease allergies (the "hygiene hypothesis"). But it does seem to prove too much, especially given the vast and obvious gains in public health through hygiene and sanitation over the past 150 years. And it should seem especially suspicious when you're (a) going against a very strong expert consensus, in favour of (b) being lazy about something everyone kinda wishes they could just be lazy about.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-11T22:53:18.044Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hey, at least (2) is good rationality practice. :P

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-11T22:51:58.023Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, this is something I worry about as well. It's probably a good idea to clean your phone with hand sanitiser regularly, but unless you're doing it multiple times per day (which nobody is) it's still going to be a big problem. AFAICT most people never clean their phones at all.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-10T00:04:47.526Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd guess that washing your hands has some diminishing marginal returns, so if washing your hands for 30 seconds 15 times a day is approximately as good as not washing your hands at all, you can probably do better than both by being somewhere in the middle (e.g. washing your hands for 20 seconds at the 10 points during the day when they're most dirty).

My personal guess would be that if you want to minimise the time cost of hand washing your best bet would be to really drill in (a) always washing your hands before touching food, and (b) not touching your face. If you can be very confident in those two things you can probably let up on the general hand hygiene slightly. I was going to say that this applies if you don't care that much about externalities, but to be honest if you always wash your hands before touching communal food you'd already be doing much better than most people.

(ETA: Also see David's other comment below)

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-07T01:10:01.630Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Bite your fingernails, or stick you fingers, hands on/in you mouth a lot? Stop or be aware of what you've been touching since the last cleaning.

That's not at all practical, though. Changing a habit such as biting fingernails is extremely difficult, and definitely not worth it to reduce the risk of getting a virus.

I was pretty surprised to see "definitely" here. If it significantly reduced your risk of getting a serious respiratory infection I'd expect it to be worth the effort.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-07T01:07:53.932Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a long reply to this yet since I didn't get the chance to look up actual data (as opposed to recommendations) but I'd be interested to

Insofar as a health intervention is ineffective it could be for one of three reasons:

  • The base rate of the thing it prevents is low
  • The intervention is not good at preventing the thing
  • The thing is not that bad even when it does happen

Which is your main sticking point here?

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-07T01:04:46.224Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is there good epidemiological data that estimates how many disease transmissions have insufficient hand hygiene as an important/necessary vector?

As opposed to what? Direct airborne transmission via breathing in droplets?

My model of the spread of colds and flu and so forth is that it is primarily down to bad hand hygiene. I'd predict (with pretty low confidence) that more people get infected through getting virus on their hands and then onto their face / into their mouth than by breathing in virus directly. I'll look into this more when I get the chance, though, since lots of people are asking about this.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-07T01:01:19.782Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Studying this with Anki is a waste of time in my opinion. Just execute the instructions three times and you're good to go. Physical skills are best learned physically.

So this particular physical thing has one big advantage, in that you can go through the motions of it anywhere without much inconvenience or embarrassment. I think that makes at least a basic "practice this" card useful as a reminder. I'd predict that someone who had a periodic ping to check on/practice the habit would be more likely to keep it; do you disagree?

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T19:16:26.899Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless, I would also suggest that, while it's definitely worth putting in some time and effort (and gathering of multiple opinions) to optimise terminology, it may still sometimes be worth adopting a term that is less ideal at describing what you want in order to avoid cross-term confusion.

I do want to flag that, following my own advice above, I would switch to "cognition hazard"/"cognitohazard" if that has the most consensus and we can't come up with a better term, as long as we also find some new term for the other competing meaning of "memetic hazard"; this seems to be the strategy that minimises total confusion/conflict.

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T18:40:00.091Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW


  • Cognition hazard
  • Knowledge hazard
  • Awareness hazard
  • Knower hazard (sounds too much like "Noah hazard"?)
  • realisation hazard
  • comprehension hazard
  • ...

I also thought of "culture hazard" but that sounds like a different thing.

I think it's probably okay for the term to not be immediately intensely evocative of the thing we're going for, as long as it's (a) catchy and (b) makes enough sense once explained to be memorable. I do think "memetic hazard" meets both of these criteria, though perhaps (a) more than (b).

Ironically, and perhaps unfortunately, the current usage of "memetic hazard" does seem to be very memetically fit. :P

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T18:31:19.695Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for this. I think that even with the edits I was probably too confrontational above, so sorry about that. I'm not sure why this issue is emotional for me, that seems weird.

To start off, I agree that, ceteris paribus, the current usage of "memetic hazard" is strange. It has the advantage over e.g. "direct IH" of sounding cool and scary, which was probably desirable for SCP-like uses but is perhaps not ideal for people actually trying to do serious work on info-hazardy concepts.

I notice a conflict in my thoughts here, where I want to be able to refer to knower-harming hazards with a term that is (a) distinctive, evocative and catchy (such that it seems compelling and is actually used in real situations) and (b) sober, precise and informative (such that it can be used productively in technical writing on the subject). "Memetic hazard" satisfies (a) but not (b); "direct information hazard" satisfies (b) but not (a). This is not ideal.

I think for academic-ish work the term "direct info hazard" or something similarly bland is a fine descriptor for "knower-harming information". I'm not sure what sort of term we would want to use for more popular work. "Knowledge hazard" seems okay to me? But I agree more suggestions here would be valuable.

So this paragraph is me suggesting that, while perhaps we shouldn't repurpose the term "memetic hazards", we should still avoid spreading or further entrenching the current, confusing usage of that term, and should jump aboard a different term for that concept instead.

Insofar as "memetic hazard" is being used simply to mean "knower-harming information hazard", this seems reasonable. The term is still obscure enough that if enough people jumped on a new term it could probably gain more traction, and "memetic hazard" can be left as an obscure and kinda-confusing synonym of [whatever the new term is] that people bring up from time to time but isn't widely used outside SCP.

[One counter-consideration. Having skimmed some existing usage of "memetic hazard" on the internet, it seems some people are using it to mean a directly (?) harmful idea that also encourages its bearers to spread it. The blandest form of this would be an idea that is harmful to know but fun to talk about; sci-fi (including SCP) contains many much more extreme instances. This usage does seem to make more use of the "memetic" aspect of the name. It also seems to (a) be hard to really capture precisely and (b) deviate from how I typically use (and how eukaryote originally used) the term, so it might be better to just leave that aspect alone for now.]

The question remains of what to call the concept you are trying to capture in your work. At present I don't think I have a good enough understanding of what it is you're going for to offer great suggestions. From my limited understanding, I do think "communication hazard" could do the trick – it seems to me to capture (a) the generality, i.e. that we're not focusing on true or false info; (b) the selection idea, i.e. that part of the hazard arises from how well different ideas spread via communication, and (c) part of the mutation idea, namely the part that arises from imperfect person-to-person communication (rather than within-mind mutations).

Assuming you still think "communication hazard" is no good, I might suggest making a top-level post explaining the concept you want to capture and looking for more/better suggestions? That seems like it could generate some new ideas; we could also use a similar approach to look for suggested replacements of the current usage of "memetic hazard". Regardless, I would also suggest that, while it's definitely worth putting in some time and effort (and gathering of multiple opinions) to optimise terminology, it may still sometimes be worth adopting a term that is less ideal at describing what you want in order to avoid cross-term confusion.

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T05:35:35.586Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So I think there's an interesting distinction here between bad terminology you just made up, and bad terminology you're inheriting from others.

If you just invented a new term and several people think it's not a good term, they'll probably seem wrong to you, and there's a good chance you'll be wrong about that and should change it — before your new term has time to take root. There should definitely be a duty on people to make sure their new terms are not confusing.

On the other hand, if you (and at least some other people) think an existing term is bad you have two choices: you can accept it for the purposes of consistency or try to change it to something less confusing before its reach grows further. Both strategies are trying to avoid confusion in some sense, but differ in their variance; the first is accepting the existing confusion for the sake of not creating further confusion, and the second is risking further confusion to try and reduce existing confusion.

Which of these is the correct course of action probably depends on how problematic the old name is, how widespread it is, and how much power you have to change it. Personally, I think it's less confusing to memorise one bad term than to remember the relationship between one bad term and one better term, so I think the risk of proliferating terminology is probably not worth taking most of the time. But sometimes there'll be a pretty compelling reason to make the change, especially if you can co-ordinate enough top people in the field to make it stick.

So far I've mostly been talking about the situation where something is called X, and for some reason you think it should be called Y. This is pretty common (see e.g. the debates around what to call clean/cultured/cultivated/... meat). I think this current disagreement over "memetic hazard" is worse than that, though, because rather than trying to change the name of a thing, the goal is to change the thing a name refers to. So we have a sort of shuffle proposed, where the name X is transferred from thing A to thing B and a new name Y is proposed for thing A. This seems much more likely to cause confusion to me.

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T01:36:26.462Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Regardless of scuffles over the name, I do want to express support for the idea of spreading awareness of memetic hazard (/whatever) as its own distinct concept. I've definitely been in conversations where I've said something mildly memetic-hazardy (e.g. "hey, that thing kinda reminds me of this other, unpleasant thing") and got the response of "hey, info hazard". And I think having a more precise term for that kind of knower-harming information in slightly wider parlance would be helpful.

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T01:18:31.075Z · score: 6 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is an unfortunate fact that everyone who starts to work on info hazards at some point decides to come up with their own typology. :P

As a result, there is a surfeit of terms here. Anders Sandberg has proposed "direct information hazard" as a broad category of info hazards that directly harm the knower, and I've largely adopted his usage. It does seem desirable to have a term for any kind of communication/information that harms the knower, regardless of whether it is true or false or neither.

"Cognition hazard" kind of gestures at this but doesn't really capture it for me. I would guess a cognition hazard would be something that (a) is hazardous because it causes you to think about it a lot (brooding/obsessing/etc) or (b) is hazardous if you do so. This feels like a smaller/more technical category than what is usually captured by "memetic hazard". Maybe "knowledge hazard" would do the trick, if you definitely want to abandon "standard" usage (such as it is)?

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T00:48:55.110Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

On reflection, I think I maybe need to give some justification for why I object so strongly to muddying the terminological waters. Also, this and the preceding comment are directed at MichaelA and Convergence Analysis, not at eukaryote (I put it in the wrong thread, sorry).

Anyone who's been educated in a technical field knows what it's like to encounter a really nasty terminological tangle. Over decades, lots of different terms build up for lots of related but distinct terms, many of which are similar even though their referents are importantly different, or different even though their referents are the same. Teachers spend a lot of time untangling these terminological difficulties, and students spend a lot of time being confused by them. They also make explaining the issues to laypeople much more difficult than they need to be. Even though a better, simpler terminology would clearly be preferred, the costs of switching are nearly always greater than the costs of sticking with convention, and so terminological confusion tends to get worse over time, like junk DNA accumulating on a genome.

This will almost inevitably happen with any intellectually tricky field, but we can at least do our best to mitigate it by being aware of the terminology that has gone before and making sure we pick terms that are minimally likely to cause confusion. We certainly shouldn't deliberately choose terms that are extremely similar to existing terms, even though their meaning is very different. Especially if the issue has been brought to your attention, since this provides additional evidence that confusion is likely. Deliberately trying to repurpose a term to mean something importantly different from its original meaning is even worse.

In the case of the various Europe-associated councils, it would clearly have been desirable for the namers of later ones to have stopped and tried to come up with a better name (e.g. one that doesn't involve the word "council", or provides some additional distinguishing information). Instead, they decided (perhaps with some justice, I don't know) that their usage was better, ploughed ahead, and now we're stuck with a horrible confusing tangle.

Ditto this case with "meme hazards" and "memetic hazards". The meaning of "memetic hazard" is somewhat established (insofar as anything in this field is established). But those proposing "meme hazard" think (with some justice) that their usage makes more sense, and so want to try and override the existing usage. If they fail, we will have two extremely similar terms persisting in the culture, meaning importantly but confusingly different things (one roughly a subset of info hazards, the other a superset). We'll all have to spend time first understanding and then explaining the difference, and even then someone will occasionally use "meme hazard" to refer to (the established meaning of) "memetic hazard" or vice-versa, and confusion will result. And all this will have been avoidable with just slightly more considerate choice of new terminology.

There are plenty of other terms one could use for the superset of information hazards that includes false information. I've previously suggested some in the past (communication hazard, concept hazard); I'm sure more could be come up with with a little effort. I'm not convinced the superset concept is important enough to be worth crystallising into a term at all, but I wouldn't be too surprised if I'm wrong about that. Even in that world, though, I think one still has a duty to pick terms that are optimised to avoid confusion, rather than (as in this case) to cause it.

[Edited to remove "idea hazard" as a suggestion, since MichaelA correctly pointed out above that it has a different meaning, and to remove inflammatory language I don't endorse.]

Comment by willbradshaw on A point of clarification on infohazard terminology · 2020-02-03T00:14:43.113Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Memetic hazards" is a fairly well-established term for the thing referred to as "cognitohazard" here. If you google it you can find its use in several places, not just SCP (where I think it arose). I honestly object to trying to establish "meme hazard" to mean something different, especially since I don't think that concept (a superset of "infohazard" that also includes falsehoods) is very useful (most people agree that falsehoods are bad, and the harms of spreading false information are well-known).

To say that meme hazards has already been used in that sense is technically true, but the term's usage in that post was defecting from common usage, and its use in other draft posts has been objected to by several people, including (but not limited to) me. I've been working on info-hazardy stuff for a while, and have been asked by several people about the relationship between info hazards and memetic hazards, with the latter being used in the original "harm to the knower" sense. I take this as evidence that the term is in (somewhat) common usage, and as such should not be repurposed in a way that is virtually guaranteed to cause confusion and derail conversations with lengthy explanations.

As an analogy, the fact that the Council of Europe, Council of the European Union, and European Council are all existent and different things is widely perceived as silly and bad. Similarly, given that the term "memetic hazard" is already taken to mean one thing (which is kind of but not exactly a subset of information hazards), introducing "meme hazard" as a term for a related but importantly different thing (which is a superset of info hazards) seems to me to be clearly a bad move. Just find a different term already, and leave "memetic hazard" where it is.

Comment by willbradshaw on Should I floss? · 2019-12-24T21:43:05.473Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I like this answer a lot, because (a) everything's better with experiments, (b) I hadn't heard about oral probiotics before, and (c) thinking of it as an experiment could conceivably be the best way of tricking myself into learning to floss.