[Question] Rationalist Town Hall: Pandemic Edition

On Sunday 1st November at 12 pm PT, Divia Eden, Anna Salamon, Zvi Mowshowitz, Oliver Habryka and I (Ben Pace) are hosting a Town Hall at this Zoom link, for rationalists to share models of the ongoing pandemic and how we’re responding to it.

Topic of the Town Hall

We’re 8 months into a global pandemic, and there’s much to discuss, such as:

  • What are the likely trajectories for the pandemic to take over the next year?

  • What personal risk-avoiding measures should people be taking?

  • How is the pandemic affecting the rationality community?

  • What have rationalists done in response to the pandemic?

We will give some prepared thoughts, but we’re interested in hearing from many others in and around the rationality community about their thoughts, updates and plans.

It’s also the US election 2 days after the event. Several people have discussed tail-risk outcomes post-election, so it seems like a natural time to bring that up, get some clarity over the concerns, discuss whether they’re worth preparing for and what any such preparation would look like, so there’ll be some discussion of this towards the end of the event.

Who should attend? And how do I take part?

This is an event for the LessWrong and rationality community and those around it. You are welcome to attend even if you do not think of yourself as ‘a rationalist’. For example, if you nonetheless care about the community, or think you may find the discussion personally valuable.

The majority of content during the Town Hall will be determined by the discussion here. If you have something you’d like to contribute to the Town Hall, please write it as an answer to this post. It could be something you’d like to let everyone know about, a question you’d like to see answered by the panel, or an issue you’d like to raise to the community.

A week from today, on Wednesday 28th October at 13:00PM (PT), the hosts will pick the speakers and topics for the event, informed by the Answers on this post. For a number of thoughtful and/​or highly-upvoted submissions, we will invite the authors to speak at the event and take questions.

Most people will not get a chance to speak during the Zoom call. If you would like to talk further after that the Town Hall, the LessWrong Walled Garden will be open until 4pm (PT) for people to continue discussion, and many of us will be there to talk with.

Please RSVP with this Google Form, and/​or sign up to the Facebook event so we know how many people to plan for.


When? Sunday November 1st, 12:00PM (PT) to 14:00PM (PT)

Where? Zoom: https://​​us02web.zoom.us/​​j/​​82465740322. After the Town Hall, discussion will continue in the LessWrong Walled Garden until 4pm (PT).

RSVP? It would help us if you RSVP’s using this Google Form and/​or with this Facebook event so we know how many people to plan for.

Advice for video calls? Aim for these three things:

  1. Be in a space without other people (to reduce background noise)

  2. Use headphones (so there’s no audio feedback)

  3. Use a headset mic (to help block out ambient noise)

For more advice see Ben Kuhn’s Tips for the most immersive video calls.

Update from Ben

Alright! I’ll see you all at 12 noon.

The plan is:

  • Zvi will give a presentation on Covid updates over the course of the pandemic, followed by Q&A.

  • Then we’ll have a more open discussion, framed around questions and comments from the attendees via the chat, involving me, Zvi, Divia, Anna, and Habryka and more.

For the latter part, I’ll be taking a lot of discretion (semi-dictatorial) with managing who’s talking and who isn’t (i.e. around choosing when people’s mics are on and off) because I’ve never been part of this kind of event with somewhere around 100 people on a Zoom call, and we’ll be figuring it out as we go.

I think we can have a fairly real group conversation, but please bear with us as we figure out the conversational norms for an event this large.