Posts

Gifts as free exploration 2020-12-03T10:51:57.290Z
Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm 2020-11-27T10:43:02.796Z
Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories 2020-05-26T17:41:19.142Z
An addendum on effective population size 2020-05-25T12:35:52.481Z
Why We Age, Part 1: What ageing is and is not 2020-05-24T09:06:08.897Z
Evolution is sampling error 2020-05-23T16:21:46.864Z
Some quick notes on hand hygiene 2020-02-06T02:47:33.981Z
What are the best self-help book summaries you've read? 2020-01-03T17:45:46.102Z
Should I floss? 2019-12-24T16:06:27.379Z

Comments

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-30T20:08:22.573Z · LW · GW

I haven't used it for that, but it sounds like a good application; and in this case, you only need to select one thing, so you can do it memorylessly (just keep your finger on the active dish).

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-30T08:17:55.211Z · LW · GW

Can you clarify your question? I started writing a response, but then realised I wasn't sure if I was interpreting it correctly.

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-29T15:04:54.980Z · LW · GW

Right, for a single pass it's a find-the-maximum-element algorithm in O(n).

I think if you eventually do every task on the list it's equivalent to sorting the list? But this basically never happens to me. 

Presumably intermediate states (doing e.g. half the items) is of intermediate efficiency? But my grasp of the underlying theory here is pretty weak.

Comment by willbradshaw on Why are young, healthy people eager to take the Covid-19 vaccine? · 2020-11-29T12:28:51.911Z · LW · GW

It's not often I see someone claim that the US medical regulation system is too lax.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was halted in the US for a month on the basis of a single, potential adverse event. Huge numbers of lives were on the line, and the US regulators were willing to hold up one of the frontrunner vaccine candidates for weeks on the basis of the faintest hint of unsafety.

There might be long-term adverse effects of the vaccine we don't know about, though no-one I've heard speak about vaccines seems to think these are likely to be severe; most vaccines are very safe. But if the FDA gives approval we can confidently assume that, at least over the timescale of the trial, the vaccine is extremely safe. In fact, we can assume we have far too much evidence of safety, that it should have been approved on the basis of substantially less evidence than we have.

As far as efficacy is concerned, as I understand it the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have very simple designs (which were pre-approved by the – again, extremely over-conservative – FDA) and are overseen by an independent data-monitoring organisation. So while I agree their incentives are perverse, their ability to distort the data should be relatively limited. 

(Here's a piece claiming the same is not true of the AZ/Oxford vaccine; I'm not sure how to evaluate this, but it's worth noting that the author is explicitly contrasting their data with the much more reliable Pfizer and Moderna data.) 

I also think you're excessively sceptical of the evidence of long-term risks from COVID in young people. But in my case, avoiding a significant risk of (a) a really unpleasant and really long (multi-week) illness, and (b) accidentally killing people is sufficient for me to want to take a vaccine as soon as possible, even without a (in my estimation quite small, but nontrivial) risk of long-term sequelae.

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-28T18:18:38.626Z · LW · GW

This sounds like it could work. I might well try this. Thanks!

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-27T18:18:30.265Z · LW · GW

Nice, this sounds like a good system.

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-27T18:16:54.774Z · LW · GW

At least partially it seems like part of the benefit of the system forces you to look at and confront things that you've been trying to avoid.

Definitely agree with this.

In my own life and also in my work as a procrastination coach, I've found these sorts of methods that through brute force cause you to have to look at things you're avoiding often have a shelf-life. Eventually, it seems like people's avoidance mechanisms reassert themselves through meta-avoidance like avoiding using the technique, or avoiding adding certain items to your list.

I'm curious how long you've been using this algorithm, and if you've encountered any of this meta-avoidance.

My usage of FVP has fluctuated a fair amount over time; I used it a lot in the last year of my PhD, then not much in the year after that, then have since started using it regularly again. I think this is at least partly due to my life in the intervening time being very unstable, which disrupted a lot of my systems.

I don't think I've started avoiding adding items to the list. I do think my usage of FVP may have become gradually less effective at having me do difficult tasks. As using the technique becomes more routine, I become less agent-y while doing it, which leads to that aspect of the technique becoming less effective. In particular, if the same item is on the list day after day, it becomes increasingly easy to skip over it until the rest of the list is empty (which never happens).

I don't think this decay effect is all that strong so far: I think I'm still substantially better at doing important-but-aversive tasks with FVP than I'd be without it. But I wouldn't be too surprised if the decay was stronger than I thought, or gets substantially stronger in the future. I do think I could probably "refresh" this aspect of the technique's effectiveness if I put some effort into it, e.g. by forcing myself to use an explicit verbal question to choose between tasks, or mixing up the phrasing of that question.

Comment by willbradshaw on Final Version Perfected: An Underused Execution Algorithm · 2020-11-27T18:14:48.227Z · LW · GW

Mark Forster (who originated the technique) puts a lot of emphasis on the exact phrasing of the question you use to decide between tasks. I'm sceptical that it's all that important; I think it's fine to experiment with different phrasings and see what works for you. There might even be benefits to switching up the exact phrasing from time to time, e.g. to keep you focused and agent-y while doing it.

After using the technique extensively, it's become more of a nonverbal feeling for me than an explicit question. It's nontrivial for me to exactly describe the feeling: some combination of desire, obligation, and endorsed choice-worthiness. The nonverbal version is both faster and mentally easier, but it's plausible to me that explicitly switching back to a verbal question from time to time is worth it.

Comment by willbradshaw on Spoiler-Free Review: The Stanley Parable · 2020-09-25T12:39:35.081Z · LW · GW

Worth noting that there's a new expanded version coming out next(?) year.

Not sure how that should affect first-time players, but I'm delaying a replay until it comes out.

Comment by willbradshaw on Property as Coordination Minimization · 2020-08-07T18:05:59.078Z · LW · GW

A major quibble with a minor point:

[The first patents were for restaurants, giving them exclusive rights for a year to new dishes they invented.]

According to Wikipedia, this is not true for patents in Europe, nor for patents in English-style common law, nor for patents in English-speaking North America, nor for patents in the USA.

The Wikipedia article on the history of patent law doesn't even mention the word "restaurant", nor indeed "food". In general it seems like the concept of patent has meant roughly what it currently does for many centuries.

What's your source for this claim?

Comment by willbradshaw on The New Frontpage Design & Opening Tag Creation! · 2020-07-13T07:47:15.768Z · LW · GW

I don't have especially strong feelings on the functional aspects of the new layout, but I do find the white-on-grey colour scheme quite dramatically more ugly than the old white-on-white scheme. I thought the old look was unusually elegant for a website and am sad that the site is now so much less pleasant to look at.

Comment by willbradshaw on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-25T16:41:35.958Z · LW · GW

The dispute here, then, is whether doxing is a concept like murder[1] (with intent built into the definition) or homicide (which is defined solely by the nature of the act and its consequences).

I think it is useful to have a general word for "publicly revealing personal information about someone without/against their consent in a manner that is likely to foreseeably damage them". Calling that thing "doxing", and saying that doxing is generally bad unless you have a very compelling reason, seems more useful to me than restricting the use of "doxing" to malicious cases and being left without a good handle for the other thing.

That said, I am generally pretty opposed to label creep; I think it's often very harmful when terms that were previously restricted to very bad things get applied to less bad (or just differently bad) things (Scott's own work has plenty of good examples of this), especially when this is done as a rhetorical technique to coerce action. So I'm in agreement with the general spirit of the objection, I'm just not convinced it applies in this particular case.


  1. Murder in the UK, that is; I think the US does things differently? ↩︎

Comment by willbradshaw on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-25T13:50:31.482Z · LW · GW

I don't think I agree that a central example of doxxing requires intent to do harm. I think if you carelessly reveal, say, someone's home address on the internet, you have doxxed them. If the person first asks you not to, and you do it anyway in spite of them, then the fact that you didn't intend to do harm seems fairly irrelevant to me. I don't buy the intend/foresee distinction at the best of times, and this one seems especially shaky.

Revealing someone's name against their will isn't as bad as revealing their address or workplace or so on, but it seems close enough in spirit that I don't think splitting hairs over the definition of doxxing is very useful.

Comment by willbradshaw on SlateStarCodex deleted because NYT wants to dox Scott · 2020-06-23T13:03:13.551Z · LW · GW

I fear the growing Twitter storm will have the same effect, even if successful.

Comment by willbradshaw on Open & Welcome Thread - June 2020 · 2020-06-05T19:13:32.104Z · LW · GW

How much rioting is actually going on in the US right now?

If you trust leftist (i.e. most US) media, the answer is "almost none, virtually all protesting has been peaceful, nothing to see here, in fact how dare you even ask the question, that sounds suspiciously like something a racist would ask". 

If you take a look on the conservative side of the veil, the answer is "RIOTERS EVERYWHERE! MINNEAPOLIS IS IN FLAMES! MANHATTEN IS LOST! TAKE YOUR KIDS AND RUN!"

So...how much rioting has there actually been? How much damage (very roughly)? How many deaths? Are there estimates of the number of rioters vs peaceful protesters?

(I haven't put much effort into actually trying to answer these questions, so no-one should feel much obligation to make the effort for me, but if someone already knows some of these answers, that would be cool.)

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-30T09:35:33.235Z · LW · GW

Interestingly, Other Minds (a recent popular science book about cephalopods) seems to mostly put credence in non-adaptive theories, and indeed has a very nice general exposition of these theories (the section of the book after the passages I quote in that link talks at length about octopus semelparity).

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-30T09:28:01.665Z · LW · GW

I don't believe it.

  1. The Jundishapur Journal of Natural Pharmaceutical Products doesn't exactly scream "credible source" to me. My honest inclination is to ignore this paper and wait to see if the theory pops up somewhere more reputable. I somewhat doubt it, since this paper gives off pretty strong crank vibes.
  2. Even if we ignore the credibility signals, the paper doesn't show any effect of DDW on lifespan. The fact that they make claims about geroprotective effects without looking at lifespan is a big red flag. The paper is also just pretty bad and unconvincing in general (e.g. it appears to contain absolutely no statistics).
  3. Even if DDW did increase lifespan, there are lots of other things that increase lifespan in mice. There's no particular reason to just ignore all that and attribute everything to deuterium.
  4. Even if DDW was as effective in mice as all other ageing treatments combined (which would be a huge finding), it still wouldn't tell you why mice live so much shorter than naked mole rats (or humans).

So unless there's solid evidence that DDW makes mice immortal, as opposed to making their coats (maybe, subjectively) a bit glossier, saying that "aging could be simply caused by deuterium and evolutionary explanations would then be a red herring" is flagrant hyperbole, verging on making stuff up.

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-27T18:59:59.326Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure about this. I have to think about it.

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-27T15:09:50.877Z · LW · GW

But that sort of thing is pretty rare, so the claim that it happens in a particular species with no such obvious mechanism (or indeed in practically all animals) is a little harder to swallow.

I think it's important that the AP theory holds even if the early-life gain is very small and the late-life cost is very large; that should broaden the list of potential ways to achieve that trade-off.

More generally, the idea of antagonistic pleiotropy as a general phenomenon doesn't seem that surprising to me: trade-offs are everywhere in biology, and if one side of a trade-off is underweighted by selection then it'll get shafted. It's basically just overfitting: it would be surprising if the optimal set-up for growing, surviving and reproducing over a span of (say) 20 years were also the optimal set-up for doing the same over (say) 100 years, and natural selection is almost entirely optimising for the former.

I meant that I would expect a mutation that causes tissue repair function to degrade with age to decrease fitness (slightly) overall, since there's no obvious connection to some beneficial effect earlier in life.

One potential response to this is that this is systems thinking rather than genes thinking. Many genes do lots of things across lots of systems, so you could see a mutation that improves functionality in a way that's relevant to one system early in life, at a cost to another system in late life.

(I'm personally more of a fan of relaxed purifying selection, which seems like the more general and less contingent theory, but I do think antagonistic pleiotropy theory is solid enough that finding more concrete examples of it wouldn't surprise me.)

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-27T14:56:52.547Z · LW · GW

Cells don't just die of nothing. Their deaths have causes: causes like telomere attrition, genomic instability, cellular senescence, mitochondrial dysfunction, or loss of proteostasis.

The paper is not trying to enumerate every thing that changes for the worse with age (it doesn't include immunosenescence, for example, even though that's among the most important systemic changes you see with age). It's trying to distill down to a list of things that cannot be adequately reduced to other processes.

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-27T12:44:40.029Z · LW · GW

Isn't it fairly obvious why juveniles are smaller? They have to fit inside the mother, or inside an egg which had to fit inside the mother. Even if the egg could potentially grow, you're limited by the energy reserves you started with until you hatch and find more. Staying in the egg also seems very dangerous (can't hide or run away from predators, can't move away if temperature/water/etc levels aren't good, etc).

I can't tell whether or not your second paragraph is disagreeing with anything I said in my post.

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 2: Non-adaptive theories · 2020-05-27T12:40:20.022Z · LW · GW

Antagonistic pleiotropy is certainly plausible in the abstract, but it's not obvious how it would work in humans.

Are you suggesting antagonistic pleiotropy is particularly non-obvious in humans (vs other animals), or that it's non-obvious generally but you particularly care about humans? This isn't directly related to your question, I'm just curious.

Something like tissue repair, for instance, is obviously beneficial in old age but it's hard to see how it would be harmful early on.

This sentence confuses me. Why would you expect it to be harmful early on? Antagonistic pleiotropy predicts mutations that are beneficial in early life and harmful later. Is this a typo (switching old and young)?

Also, it seems like this kind of explanation suggests we should be fairly pessimistic about finding a "cure" for aging, since there are likely many different unrelated causes.

Yeah, I think this is basically right. In general my impression is that most experts don't believe ageing is "one thing" – a single underlying cause we could neatly target. On the other hand it also doesn't seem to be, like, a million things: there is an enumerable list of key causes, on the order of ten items long, which together account for most of the physiological ageing we see in mammals. It's not obvious to me what to make of this theoretically.

(Of course, there are still plenty of people who like to claim they've found the single mechanism underlying all ageing, usually fortuitously closely related to the thing they study.)

Comment by willbradshaw on Why We Age, Part 1: What ageing is and is not · 2020-05-25T12:27:05.024Z · LW · GW

Speaking for the intuition of wear and tear, it does seem surprising to me that an "embedded repair system" has enough redundancy to not get worn down by the real world.

I think this is a priori reasonable, but we do have existence proofs of animals that don't seem to age. Even if you think (say) naked mole rats are probably ageing a bit (just too slowly for us to detect on the timescales of our experiments) that doesn't address why all other rodents don't age at the same (very low) rate. I don't think wear-and-tear will get you anywhere when trying to address divergence in lifespans between related species.

As for bones, there are vertebrates that can regenerate whole limbs, so it's certainly doable.

Comment by willbradshaw on Highlights of Comparative and Evolutionary Aging · 2020-05-24T16:57:28.783Z · LW · GW

Yup, agreed.

(Unless you're interested in how that kind of influencing is done, in which case it might make a useful case study.)

Comment by willbradshaw on Highlights of Comparative and Evolutionary Aging · 2020-05-24T09:13:14.079Z · LW · GW

Remember, it's not that they're immortal, it's just that their chance-of-dying-per-unit-time stays flat; that still implies that the number of survivors drops off exponentially over time.

This is true, but does still raise the question of what exactly these 30-year-old mole rats are dying of. They barely get cancer, they don't seem to have high baseline rates of the kinds of intrinsic causes of death you see in humans (heart disease etc.), and in captivity they're not exposed to predation or starvation, so...inter-mole violence? Status anxiety?

According to this popsci article:

Naked mole rats generally don't get many chronic diseases that become familiar to humans as they age, like diabetes or Alzheimer's, Buffenstein said. In the wild, the animals might die by predator attack or from starvation, infection or lack of water, she said. In the lab, the cause of death is usually hard to find; the main issue that shows up in necropsies, Buffenstein said, are mouth sores, indicating the animals weren't eating, drinking or producing saliva well in their last few days and infection set in.

So as of 2018 the answer seemed to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

(Buffenstein is a mole-rat PI at Calico.)

Comment by willbradshaw on [Meta] Three small suggestions for the LW-website · 2020-05-24T08:56:16.308Z · LW · GW

I agree with other commenters that this is a non-issue unless a post is high-karma or curated, in which case unlisting it would be a bad idea and it should get a disclaimer instead. I'm pretty strongly opposed to "editing the record" in the way you describe in the OP.

(Less opposed to suggestions 2 and 3, though they don't seem terribly useful.)

Comment by willbradshaw on Highlights of Comparative and Evolutionary Aging · 2020-05-24T08:50:10.593Z · LW · GW

I think I would claim that the semipolitical fluff is probably the most valuable part of the book. In terms of moving the needle on mainstream acceptance, having a Harvard professor say fairly directly that "ageing is bad and we should cure it" is something I'd expect to make a significant difference.

Comment by willbradshaw on Evolution is sampling error · 2020-05-23T22:27:41.742Z · LW · GW

Nice.

Edited to add:

For the same reason, please correct me if I am going against guidelines or acting in a way which is unusual on LessWrong.

This is a great comment and I upvoted it.

Comment by willbradshaw on How does publishing a paper work? · 2020-05-22T17:13:11.846Z · LW · GW

I'm currently in the process of trying to convert a preprint into a journal article (and another draft into a preprint), so this is very near-mode for me right now. Restricting my comments to points where I can add something over the other answers (or disagree with them):

  • 1. I personally quite like 2-column PDFs. At the very least they are far preferable to 1-column PDFs. :-P

  • 2. Yes, but a lot of it is pretty important work. I'm generally the plots guy in my collaborations, so a lot of the extra work is coming up with the best visualisations I can for the data, which is valuable. Though there is then a lot of extra extra work of making sure all the visualisations use consistent colour schemes / legends / layouts etc, which is slow and tedious.

  • 3. This is extremely field specific. In mathematics authors generally go alphabetically. In biology the person who did most of the lab work generally goes first, the person who did most of the analysis (if there is one) generally goes second, the first author's boss goes last, and everyone else goes in the middle. Sometimes you have awkward things where the first two or three authors get marked as "co-first-authors", where they did roughly equal amounts but someone has to go first. And so forth. In many arts/humanities subjects almost all papers are single-author so they haven't really worked this out yet. For most other fields I'm not familiar with the conventions.

  • 5. My limited prior experience of peer-review has been frustratingly slow but otherwise broadly positive. Our paper was definitely better after peer review than it was before, and I expect this to be generally true and good. Stephan Guyenet had some recent comments on this that got linked by Slate Star Codex.

  • 6. As others here have pointed out, I think it's generally the other way around.

  • 7. Contrary (or possibly just less diplomatically than?) to Richard_Kennaway, I think the situation here is exactly as terrible as you describe. I consider the major journal publishers to be parasites of the lowest order. But! This does not necessarily apply to the editors who work for those companies, many of whom do useful work.

  • 8. How much preprints substitute for papers varies hugely by field. Physics is an outlier. In biology it's becoming increasingly common but is still far from universal (but at least most of the important journals accept preprints). In other fields it's much rarer, and in some fields the best journals won't take your paper if you preprinted it first (though I think/hope this is dying out?).

  • 10. Is "publishing" in this point supposed to be distinct from preprinting / publishing not-in-a-journal? Assuming it is, "allows future research to frictionlessly cite your findings" is increasingly a non-issue (preprints have DOIs and most journals let you cite them, at least in my field/s). On the other hand, here are two other useful roles served by publishing in journals.

    • Peer-review is pretty good. You need some kind of peer review, broadly defined. I think there are probably vastly better ways of doing it than the current system, but the current system is much better than what most places outside of academia have.
    • When you're deep in the maw of Goodhart's Law it's easy to forget that the metrics everyone is now savagely gaming were originally good metrics. In the absence of another system (arXiv + karma?) for legibly aggregating expert opinion on the quality of academic work, a journal hierarchy does contain useful information. I have never (yet) published in Nature or Science, but my experience of personal encounters with those who have is that they are generally (certain sexy topics excluded) very impressive.
Comment by willbradshaw on How does publishing a paper work? · 2020-05-22T15:46:51.426Z · LW · GW

The Open Science Foundation has a whole pile of arXivs, most of which nobody has ever heard of.

Comment by willbradshaw on April Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-04-02T21:30:59.109Z · LW · GW

From the Center for Health Security's covid19 brief:

PANAMA IMPLEMENTS GENDER-SPECIFIC SOCIAL DISTANCING In an effort to further enforce nationwide social distancing measures, Panama recently announced that it is implementing gender-specific rules for when people can leave their homes. Women will be allowed to be outside on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and men will be allowed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On Sundays, everyone must remain indoors.

More info here. Maybe someone was listening to Scott's surname-based lockdown suggestion.

Comment by willbradshaw on What should we do once infected with COVID-19? · 2020-03-21T15:39:12.478Z · LW · GW

I'd appreciate knowing why someone downvoted this.

Comment by willbradshaw on LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda · 2020-03-20T20:50:09.927Z · LW · GW

Sorry, I think these comments came across as more aggressive than I was intending. I think there's mutual confusion/talking at cross-purposes here. I'm not sure it's worth digging into too much since I'm not sure there's actually any decision-relevant disagreement, so feel free to disregard the following (uh, even more than usual) if you don't fancy digging into this further. :-)


I'm not sure why you think I do.

From my perspective, my confusion arises from the following:

  1. You included basic coronavirus biology on something called a LessWrong coronavirus agenda, as an example of something you wanted to "nudg[e] LessWrong to pursue";
  2. You then gave a counterexample of something that both assumed too much background knowledge and left too much out, suggesting that you'd like whatever LessWrong pursued in that area to not have those deficiencies;
  3. This suggested to me that you'd like LessWrong coverage of basic coronavirus biology that simultaneously assumed less background knowledge and left less out than that counterexample;
  4. But I don't see how that would be possible without someone on LessWrong writing a complete from-first-principles molecular biology course.

Based on this conversation I think I'm probably misinterpreting what inclusion on the agenda implies you'd like to see LessWrongers do.

Comment by willbradshaw on LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda · 2020-03-20T18:28:14.139Z · LW · GW

Okay, but those are textbook chapters. If you're looking for those I recommend Chapter 28 of Fields Virology, 6th edition (similar information to Fehr & Perlman, better presentation, somewhat more comprehensive).

But do you really think LessWrong should be going for something more comprehensive than that? I don't really see the value in that, as opposed to getting a smart-person's-summary that links to more comprehensive resources.

Comment by willbradshaw on LessWrong Coronavirus Agenda · 2020-03-19T15:41:00.261Z · LW · GW

What is the basic science of coronavirus? E.g. this guide is trying, but requires more background knowledge than ideal and leaves a lot out.

It's very unclear to me how you can simultaneously overcome both "requires more background knowledge than ideal" and "leaves a lot out", at least without just giving someone a stack of textbooks to read.

I'm like ~2/3 of the way through writing a post on coronavirus structure, which might turn into a series of posts on coronavirus biology if I have time, and this is actually pretty hard. The amount of background knowledge required to really understand what's going on is huge; I have a biology PhD and I'm only skimming it.

So any post that attempts to attack this has a high chance of being at least two of incomprehensible, useless, very long, and dull. I'm doing my best to overcome this, but it's tricky.

Comment by willbradshaw on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-17T09:49:02.593Z · LW · GW

Last month, NIAID RML released an album of SEM and TEM images of SARS-CoV-2. This includes the multi-coloured image everybody is using but also a lot of other very striking images. Check it out!

Comment by willbradshaw on Should we all be more hygenic in normal times? · 2020-03-17T09:22:14.178Z · LW · GW

In my post on hand washing David Mannheim did a quick estimate suggesting that the time costs of handwashing more often would roughly break even, based only on the expected work time saved from not getting colds. That's before factoring in effects of your cleanliness on the health of other people, the physical unpleasantness of being sick, or any diseases other than common colds. So my guess is that the cost-benefit analysis of having better hand hygiene is strongly positive even on a normal year; even more so when you take into account the small chance of stemming the next big epidemic.

For two of the other main things that generally get recommended for day-to-day hygiene, not touching your face and coughing/sneezing into your elbow, the cost is mostly in building the habit, so if the habit is already built as a result of this pandemic then the cost seems trivial.

Comment by willbradshaw on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-15T22:19:28.285Z · LW · GW

Thanks but I'm not asking for sources. I have lots of sources already.

Comment by willbradshaw on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T14:59:09.400Z · LW · GW

I think this is probably a good idea. I don't think it conflicts with what I said, though.

I personally find sanitising the keyboard quite annoying if the computer is already on, so would probably restrict this to the start/end of the day and try to prevent contamination from hands the rest of the time.

It's not a big deal, especially if I'm using sanitizer anyway: just smear some on the keyboard from the hands before it all dries up.

This suggests to me that you're either using too much hand sanitiser or (post-keyboard-transfer) too little.

Comment by willbradshaw on Possible worst outcomes of the coronavirus epidemic · 2020-03-15T14:35:36.292Z · LW · GW

Coronaviruses in general, including the original SARS-CoV, do indeed have proofreading enzymes, which is why their genomes are so unusually stable (and hence so unusually large) for RNA viruses.

I didn't dig down on the SARS-CoV-2 genome yet (I only started looking into this in depth yesterday) but a quick search suggests that the proofreading exonuclease is indeed there.

Comment by willbradshaw on When are the most important times to wash your hands? · 2020-03-15T14:12:01.173Z · LW · GW

Probably so obvious that you left it off, but:

  • After touching another human

For me the biggest one left after these is:

  • After touching the dog

You already have "after using the computer". I think I'd add "before using the computer" as well, or even instead – keeping the computer a safe zone seems like a good move, and this seems more doable than constantly cleaning the keyboard.

Comment by willbradshaw on Recommendations for a resource on very basic epidemiology? · 2020-03-15T14:00:05.818Z · LW · GW

I'm currently focusing on molecular stuff but after that I plan to start reading Rothman's "Epidemiology: An Introduction", which I've seen broadly recommended as the gateway drug to Rothman et al's "Modern Epidemiology", which is the standard textbook on the subject. So either of those might be worth a look?

[And yes, it's .]

Comment by willbradshaw on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-15T11:41:56.039Z · LW · GW

Thanks, this is a nice layman's overview. I'm not a layman, though, and I'm planning on going much deeper than this (I've spent a lot of my weekend buried in virology textbooks).

From the article: "HIV and SARS-CoV-2 have about as much in common as a human and a satsuma" I wonder whether this is just journalistic flair or actually grounded in something. They don't cite their sources very well, unfortunately.

Comment by willbradshaw on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-15T08:43:48.258Z · LW · GW

I'm working on a document / series of posts about coronavirus biology – viral structure, replication cycle, that sort of thing. This is mostly for my own education but I figure it's also a useful exercise to make the result public in a presentable form. I'm posting this here (a) as a commitment device to get something out in the next week or so, and (b) to see if anyone has any questions they'd like answered in this area that I could look into.

Currently I'm mainly learning about coronavirus biology in general, expect to switch to COVID19 specifically in a couple of days.

Comment by willbradshaw on March Coronavirus Open Thread · 2020-03-15T08:40:43.631Z · LW · GW

Clarification: you don't need everyone to be immune or dead. Just enough people that the remaining population can't sustain a continuous epidemic.

Comment by willbradshaw on The Lens, Progerias and Polycausality · 2020-03-10T13:12:13.607Z · LW · GW

Thanks Phil. I should probably just put these on LessWrong to be honest.

The lens-growth phenomenon sounds like it might be a neat case of antagonistic pleiotropy as applied to developmental rates: a process calibrated to give good results in early adulthood might be selected for even if it gets wildly out of whack in later life. IIRC Williams gives the example of male Fiddler crabs, whose major claw grows faster than the rest of the body: the difference is calibrated to give them big sexy (but still manageable) claws in early adulthood but can severely impede movement in late life (I have not independently validated this example). One could imagine something similar happening here.

Comment by willbradshaw on The Heckler's Veto Is Also Subject to the Unilateralist's Curse · 2020-03-10T11:10:11.181Z · LW · GW

This seems basically right if the community of possible actors is the same as the community of voters assigning karma. If the community of voters is different from, or much larger than, the community of actors, you might still encounter the unilateralist's curse as seen from the perspective of the community of actors, especially if the latter is better-informed than the former.

Comment by willbradshaw on The Heckler's Veto Is Also Subject to the Unilateralist's Curse · 2020-03-10T11:08:18.953Z · LW · GW

I don't understand what work the term "Heckler's Veto" is doing here. In my understanding, "the heckler's veto" refers to situations where someone can prevent someone else from speaking by being loudly offended, either directly (by shouting them down) or indirectly (through laws or norms against "offensive" speech). A heckler's veto is one kind of veto, but I'm not sure what the value is in applying the term to vetoes in general.

This re-framing of the underlying statistical insight (the unilateral veto being "dual" to the unilateral act) seems relevant to its application to censorship: an author deciding to publish a blog post (even if other forum members think it's harmful) is in the position of taking unilateralist action—but so is a member of a board of pre-readers of whom any one has the power to censor the post (even if the other reviewers think it's fine).

I'm not sure you can call it a reframing when it's present fairly prominently in the original paper espousing the concept. But yes, if any number of pre-readers can unilaterally veto publication of a topic, then you might run into the unilateralist's curse. That doesn't mean pre-reading for info hazards is a bad idea: the pre-readers (including the authors) can simply take a vote to avoid unilateralist issues.

Comment by willbradshaw on Some quick notes on hand hygiene · 2020-02-19T20:00:39.943Z · 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 · 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.