(briefly) RaDVaC and SMTM, two things we should be doing

Having not apparently the energy to write this longly, I write it shortly instead, that it be written at all.

People sometimes go about saying now, in this community, that there is collectively enough money that we could potentially go do more things with it, if there were things worth doing.

If that’s true, I’d like to see us planting seed grains now for replacing the now-defunct state capacity of the USA and Earth, with respect to biodefense and ultra-high-leverage med R&D.

As a poster child of a previous intervention I backed here, Seasonal Affective Disorder affects 0.5%-3% of the population and higher in countries at extreme latitudes. Call it a hundred million people at a guess. Standard lightboxes don’t work very well for treating it. The Sun works great for treating it. Reason suggests trying more light. Earth, however, previously lacked the state capacity to investigate this obvious question of massive scope. I put a private funder in touch with a group that did a preliminary investigation; they need to run a larger study but preliminary results suggest that they may, in fact, need to use more light and that doing so might be effective. Again, that’s for a problem that probably over a hundred million people have. So it’s not very surprising that investigation of it bottlenecks on there being a single interested medical researcher, who writes Eliezer Yudkowsky as the person who posed that question, and gets funding arranged by that route. It was less than $100,000.

This sort of thing seems obviously competitive to me with QALYs/​$ or DALYs/​$ on global poverty interventions.

Really obviously competitive, actually. I will not argue the point further because I expect that most readers who can be persuaded found a glance at the numbers sufficient.

EA’s ability to do more things in this space, if it is not bottlenecked on money, is very likely bottlenecked on: good ideas to pursue; people who can pursue those ideas; and/​or admin staff who can investigate grants, make them, and operate them.

I suspect that people who can do these things are, at the very least, valuable. They should therefore be nurtured even in their earlier stages. If you ever want an apple tree that bears fruit, you may need to at some point plant a seed that doesn’t have any apples on it right then, and invest effort into watering it in proportion to how many apples you hope for later, rather than how much this tiny sapling has proven itself right now.

I think it was a huge, huge mistake that more money was not spent on AGI alignment when it was small and weird and unproven. The resulting damage was not something that could be fixed by any or all of the money that became available later. Someday I may write more about this. Anyways, don’t do that.

The Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative, aka RaDVaC, is now past the small weird stage. They’ve pretty much proved themselves. They should be nurtured and scaled up to where they can start to replace US and Earth defunct state capacity to do the R&D that leads up to being able to rapidly design new vaccines that rapidly scale in production and deployment. If we can’t give RaDVaC $2M I’d like to know what it’s being spent on that’s more important. Covid-19 was not very much of a pandemic and if Earth ran into a serious pandemic in its current state that would be a serious problem.

Some weird person [correction: 2 weird people] wants to investigate whether the real driver of our massive planetwide obesity epidemic is lithium contamination, probably in water. If you are completely unfamiliar with the actual science on obesity you probably think that’s dumb because obesity is caused by high-palatability foods. Read the first page linked if you’d prefer to know why that’s obviously wrong. If you know about the actual epidemiology of obesity and how ridiculous it makes the gluttony theory look, you are still probably saying “Wait, lithium?” This is still mostly my own reaction, honestly. But obesity remains a massive growing planetary problem, and almost nobody is investigating it in a way that takes the epidemiological facts seriously and elevates those above moralistic gluttony theories. If some weird person wants to go investigate, I think money should be thrown at them, both to check the low-probability massive-high-value gamble, and also to encourage them to maybe go investigate something else in the same space if the lithium thing doesn’t pan out. $200K maybe. They advertise their effort under the name of Slime Mold Time Mold (SMTM) for no particular reason I can discern. I think this is the kind of decision that some people make when they are small and weird, and I think that if we allow that to prevent us from throwing money at them then we are stupid and not learning from history.

That’s all. Writing this up now, briefly and hurriedly, because the lithium person wants lithium people want to apply for some EA grants. Consider this my recommendation thereof.