I think in the modern world there are a lot more truly “unnecessary” things around for no good reason, largely because we have so many resources and our society is so structured. This makes the calculus a lot trickier. But I think it’s still a very important idea.
In some people, antibodies start to wane at that point, but they still have antibodies for some time. So there’s definitely at least some immunity for longer than that, plus other types of immunity (T-cell, etc.) Plus, if everyone is losing immunity over different time frames, they’re not going to contract it nearly as easily as when we were all at zero, since many others around them will still be immune. The staggering probably helps a lot. I think the same is true for colds, and I don’t get a cold every couple of months, though I know some people do. More like once a year, and colds are caused by a bunch of different viruses, so it’s not even once a year for each virus.
The 60%-70% result is based on a fully naive SIR (susceptible, infected, recovered) model in which all of the following are assumed to be true:
People are identical, and have identical susceptibility to the virus.
People are identical, and have identical ability to spread the virus.
People are identical, and have identical exposure to the virus.
People are identical, and have contacts completely at random.
The only intervention considered is immunity. No help from behavior adjustments.
Ugh. I just can’t believe how ridiculous this all is, and how no one can see through it, and how those who can don’t say anything because they’ll get yelled at. And I can’t believe someone insisted on using such a model for such major decisions and that our leaders went along with it. But I’ve seen enough of this stuff to know it’s not all that shocking.
I think a lot of people really don’t grasp the insight. Like, for me, I can just envision a bunch of people in my had and picture them going about their lives in different ways, and it’s very easy for me to see how there would be huge variance here. But most people are shockingly bad at replicating how people behave, especially when it involves a bunch of different behaviors at one time for no real reason. Even though they can see this with their own eyes.
In my head, I immediately run through images of a person who is a loud talker and socializer going around spreading it everywhere. Once he or she stops doing that and gets at least some immunity, you are going to have way fewer cases. I picture an essential worker with a lot of public contact going home and infecting his or her family. Picture these types of people x1000 in a community, and picture what happens when all these people are immune, or, sadly, in some cases, dead. You will most likely see a huge drop in infection rates. Not perfect, but a big drop, and makes social distancing measures more effective for vulnerable people, since they will be less exposed overall. Even if immunity wanes, there will be less virus out there for you to pick up again. I know people want black and white answers, but you can definitely see how it would depend on community dynamics as to when someone infected becomes unlikely to come in close contact with someone who isn’t immune.
It was before that took off, but I’m pretty positive Pinker or a friend of his wrote it up as a pretext for interviews on the topic.
Most or all of these ideas appear in other works, but many of them may still be original in the sense that he generated them largely from his own observations. A lot of it what someone with his intellect and personality would pick up on from personal experiences and by synthesizing wide reading. Few ideas haven’t been independently reached by other people, whether or not they’ve been popularized or applied the same way. To pick one, “And if you don’t say those things, well we know you’re not the person to get tenure,” is pretty much Chomsky’s point about how journalists end up replicating the narratives of the system: “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn’t been sitting where you’re sitting.” And many others have said the same thing in other contexts.
Adding a few more *possibilities*, not all of which I think are likely. I’m not as sure on some of the fundamentals as I once was, partly due to new evidence. The evidence remains poorly presented overall so I could be more off than I thought, but in most cases that would be true for almost everyone.
I’d been confident for a while much of spread was presymptomatic and aerosolized, with handwashing likely not doing much at all. I now think there’s a small possibility something like fecal spread is involved, and that possibly the WHO is right about it being more about large droplets. But they could also be very wrong, and I think they probably are. Even then, one would think masks help slow spread in brief interactions, so they work well enough for anyone practicing social distancing indefinitely, but beyond a certain amount of exposure, the reduction in spread is probably hours or days. Raincoats work, but if you go swimming in one...
It seems like this may be way, way less dangerous for almost everyone than people think. Not saying it’s not a big deal or just the flu. But even with protests and other things, it doesn’t seem like we’re overwhelmed. Cases are going up, but they *will* go up, until we reach some level of immunity. The question is how much death and suffering results. Many of the cases seem minor. I think there is a decent possibility that historians will remember 2020 as a major overreaction, but this is by no means clear yet. It could go the other way, but I really don’t think it will seem scarier than cancer in a few years in terms of death risk. Not anywhere close. Longer term effects in some cases, I’m not sure. Some reports are worrying. But the long-term effects of the shutdown, social and economic, may end up overwhelming such concerns. I’m very concerned about how things are going to go in the next few years—what the heck are we going to do about all the people who lost health insurance and jobs? And many more probably will soon. I don’t see anyway historians consider lockdown anything but a major mistake, certainly past the two-week point. Even if the idea behind it seemed sensible, that idea seems to have rested on assumptions that were obviously mistaken and can’t be easily excused among our leaders (worrying about hospital crowding but not thinking about how that connected to sending infected patients to nursing homes or the hospital as a major source of spread during lockdown, and also making so many people lose their health insurance and hospitals lose so much revenue that the healthcare system itself may end up in even bigger trouble in the long-term.)
Still don’t think vaccines will make much of a difference, if we get them. Not happy with the IMO misleading messaging on this. UV lights in public buildings seem more promising than anything I’ve heard so far.
Most of the world seems to be returning to normal, dropping containment as a strategy, though relatively quietly—the U.S. seems to be an outlier here. I have a feeling Europe will have largely moved on from the virus itself in a year, with the most vulnerable taking precautions. The economy will be the focus, out of necessity. Idk what the heck will happen with the U.S.
It seems like some people may have more immunity than we thought, but it doesn’t seem immunity lasts long at all. Still, some degree of herd immunity will probably help a lot and and subsequent cases may well be milder.
That’s possible. It hardly seems necessary though—he could write the book without that pretext, though I get it helps. There have been sort of partial cancellation attempts already and that will probably continue—like the Epstein stuff, which to me it seems he should defend more vigorously. I get he may just want that to go away, but it seems absurd and dangerous to imply that he couldn’t comment to a friend and co-worker about his judgment of the statute in question, just because it could be used to defend a bad person in court. That seems like a really important thing to preserve—are we supposed to allow the prosecutors to interpret the statute incorrectly to arrest people for things that are not supposed to be crimes, just to avoid the possibility that the correct interpretation would result in an acquittal? We’re talking about analyzing the plain meaning of a common statute, which is pretty fundamental to get right. It wasn’t like Pinker testified as an expert witness, not that I would have seen anything wrong with that in the slightest. He’s already controversial enough to write a book on the suppression of free academic speech for sure. I also assume he’d have done a better job with the letter if he wanted to make it a dramatic story to sell books. He seems to have just wanted an excuse to do interviews on the topic, maybe in collaboration with concerned employees at the NYT and elsewhere, given how positive the response has been.
Update: Pinker has an interview out with the NYT itself. Given that this is the NYT, it is about as favorable a piece as he could obtain. Even with all the insinuation, it’s pretty glowing. And they note the letter is weird (and also that the society’s leadership declined to take action against him).
But the letter was striking for another reason: It took aim not at Professor Pinker’s scholarly work but at six of his tweets dating back to 2014, and at a two-word phrase he used in a 2011 book about a centuries-long decline in violence.
...The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.
Several department chairs in linguistics and philosophy signed the letter, including Professor Barry Smith of the University at Buffalo and Professor Lisa Davidson of New York University. Professor Smith did not return calls and an email and Professor Davidson declined to comment when The Times reached out.
The linguists’ letter touched only lightly on questions that have proved storm-tossed for Professor Pinker in the past. In the debate over whether nature or nurture shapes human behavior, he has leaned toward nature, arguing that characteristics like psychological traits and intelligence are to some degree heritable.
Because this is a fight involving linguists, it features some expected elements: intense arguments about imprecise wording and sly intellectual put-downs.
That last point could explain the odd selection of charges and wasn’t something I thought too much about, but I would still expect a group of linguists to find juicier material to pore over than that.
Thanks for the explanation—that all makes sense. I guess what I was getting at is that as you said, it can be done in a completely sensible way by people who know what they’re doing, but it tends to become split up in awkward ways.
This is my take: I entered college in 2007, and took a few public policy courses with a professor who was excellent. She spotlighted this book, which I’ll admit didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time. But it was the first introduction I had to these ideas, and I think they stayed with me. When I reread it a few years ago, I really enjoyed it and thought it stated perfectly a lot of things I’d already picked up on or heard in more obscure ways in the intervening years. I assume that for many, particularly people who don’t have any background in this sort of thing, this stuff is new to them or has never been stated in a way that resonates.
I’ve always disliked discussing statistics and finance, even though I enjoy learning about almost everything. The sense I got was that to understand and use it at all, you’d have to constantly master it and all its tricks—that there was no real in-between. The rules were always changing, and the underlying conditions.
The way Taleb discusses these topics addresses this exact issue, and is very easy for me to follow. The personal tone of the book establishes a feeling of trust...that, I think, is what he signals with those asides. He acknowledges the game being played, even as he plays it. This appeal to a certain type of reader and explains his fans’ enthusiasm. It definitely isn’t for everyone. But it is definitely my experience that someone like me would not have been familiar with these ideas at the time the book was published. They are much more common now. But Taleb’s combative, eccentric style and unique perspective still stand out in general, and remain a big part of his appeal.
What stands out to me is that this looks low-effort, but stuff like the footnote thing, and some of the rather subtle though simple argumentation, seem fundamentally incompatible with being low-effort. This is what I see as most significant that something is off. And if you try and take the letter at face value or as an effort to be taken at face value, you would expect to see evidence of motivation/effort, since someone has to care enough to bother. That’s also why I doubt the humiliation aspect—if you want to show someone you can enforce absurdity, it’s usually a lot showier with more effort involved, and it would be more clearly absurd. This is more dumb than audacious. It could be incompetence, but the footnote also seems fundamentally incompatible with that. It’s just not a natural kind of shoddy work—more of a generic placeholder.
It’s not particularly brilliant, so I don’t think the letter itself is more than a pretext or experiment, if it’s a false flag thing. It’s not done in the way someone like Pinker would do it if he was trying to sell books or make himself a martyr or be well-guarded against future accusations. I wasn’t sure how sharp Pinker was at first (in a strategically alert sense, not an academic one), or how conflict-averse. After researching this, I’ve concluded he is quite sharp and not afraid of conflict—so it’s too slapped together for it to have been a big move on his part. It would have to be a small component of a larger move.
I think it is a mistake to assume there is much risk if the plan fails, or that it would have to be particularly complicated. A lot of this stuff is normal PR behavior, as ChristianKI says below. There’s a lot of mischief and “inexplicable” stuff that goes on daily on the Internet, and people barely notice many of the crazier things, let alone something like this, which is pretty boring.
Here—there’s an excerpt here. You can include them if you’d like.
Matt Taibbi has written an article that makes me more confident it was a false flag...at least 55%. He doesn’t argue this, but he also noted that the accusations were weirdly chosen and presented. It’s paywalled, but a few quotes:
“When I reached out to the group’s listed email, they declined comment” (citing fear of threats, in a short and vague response.)
“The campaign seems to have failed, as it doesn’t appear the LSA is planning on taking action.” (Why did it die out without any further info?)
“Pinker didn’t see this exact campaign coming, as ‘I don’t consider myself a political provocateur, and I’m a mainstream liberal Democrat.’ However, he says, ‘over the years I’ve realized I have some vulnerabilities.’ … By way of explaining, he referenced [the SSC controversy]...”
He speaks more calmly and intelligently about this issue than almost any public figure I’ve seen. I’m going to read more of his work.
By “operationalize our disagreement,” do you mean agreeing on what wou. I’m now more confident in my position. He’s evidently volunteered to be a champion of the cause and take the heat, and the interview suggests he’s thought a lot about the issue and how it works. So he would know how to “game” it. But it’s evident he’s not taking responsibility for the letter and probalby never will—it’s not like
Literally as I’m writing this, I just saw that Pinker did an interview. I’m now more confident in my position. He’s evidently volunteered to be a champion of the cause and take the heat, and the interview suggests he’s thought a lot about the issue and how it works. So he would know how to observe it and “game” it, and he’s not afraid. But it’s evident he’s not taking responsibility for the letter and probably never will if he was behind it—it’s not clever enough to brag about. But it would have given him reason to step in to the fray and highlight certain things, which he obviously wants to do. He says that “It’s important that there be a public voice, a focal point to break what is sometimes called a spiral of silence.”
ETA: I should clarify that this is technically a different position—I was lumping them together under “he is in on it,” but I no longer think it is mostly about inoculation. More about the other possibility I suggested: “Or perhaps it was a plan by him and others to send the debate in a specific direction that they could more easily address.”
I assume you are asking me to give a probability....maybe 40%. The last few months have been so weird that it’s harder for me to assess this than it normally would be—I have a feeling I’m not tracking the full range of plausible motives now in operation. I also don’t follow Pinker very closely so I don’t have a great sense of his behavior, tactics, and values. But the information given in this post seems to me strong evidence that this isn’t what it appears to be, and Pinker seems by far the person with the most to gain from it (and the most to lose from not trying to preempt it.) It would almost certainly involve cooperation by others who want to see if the technique works and think Pinker is a good trial balloon (his steady, optimistic personality is ideal for this, and he has prominent detractors rising to his defense, which gives momentum), but it wouldn’t work without his active participation.
This definitely explains a lot of it, but I feel like there’s something missing from the analysis.
These are very sharp observations, and I think you’re on to something. Don’t know what the real story is, but your suggestions are plausible. The one that seems most likely to me is Pinker preemptively canceling himself to inoculate against future attempts. I don’t think it’s outlandish. And I think it is quite possible that Pinker has some Machiavelli in him.
Or perhaps it was a plan by him and others to send the debate in a specific direction that they could more easily address. It’s possible that he just caught the eye of some LSA member who wanted to take a stand and didn’t do much research, but your point about the footnote is telling. I didn’t follow the Pinker controversy closely, but I did notice it seemed oddly tame. People are way too wedded to taking things at face value—yes, most of the time, there’s no grand conspiracy, but strategy is a thing and you have to watch for moves or glaring omissions.
In addition to the general craziness, there’s definitely something going on right now that just seems off—incidents that are too neatly executed yet simultaneously too incompetent or bizarre to be natural. I think people are hijacking the current controversies—the issues are mostly real, but there are contrived ones mixed in, I suspect, that go beyond simply riding the wave and seem designed for maximum division and ridiculousness. And it’s happening in mainstream media outlets in a coordinated manner. At first I thought some people or groups were sowing confusion and the media was falling for it, whether by domestic trolls or foreign information warriors, but now it seems more like malicious testing, to see what works and how far they they can go without getting pushback. It could be a show of power demonstrating that absurdity can be enforced, but that kind of behavior is a weird thing to do at such a large scale for such a diverse audience. Powerful status quo figures use spin and selective smear campaigns, but rarely benefit from constant and off-putting provocation. It seems more designed to disorient everyone and make exploiting it in any real direction impossible. I don’t think this would be related to conservatives, but to a person or group who doesn’t have any interest in the country’s welfare or traditional political power. I know this sounds conspiratorial, but something odd is going on, and I can’t quite figure out who benefits, unless it’s pure distraction by panicked and deranged elites who can’t deal with their disrupted future, as Matt Taibbi has argued. I’ve never seen anything like it.
My guess is that most people aren’t infecting many others because of a number of factors, mainly awareness of the issue and social distancing measures. Most people are being extra careful compared to usual, especially about things that would have a high probability of transmission. I’m not sure how good the testing is...even if it is much better than it was, are they really anywhere close to catching all new cases, especially very mild ones? They are probably undercounting. But it doesn’t surprise me that right now it’s not taking off like crazy, especially if so many people are working from home and kids aren’t at school/don’t even really spread it. Initial spread would have been more extensive because of lack of awareness. People weren’t taking precautions because they didn’t know to do so, or didn’t understand the most effective ways to reduce risk, which was really unfortunate for groups of vulnerable people, such as nursing homes and multi-generational homes. If everything was open and no one was aware again, you’d probably start seeing huge super spreader events that could go exponential.
Add: vaccine won’t do much, for reasons I’ve posted elsewhere.
The people it would make the biggest difference for would probably be too high risk to take a vaccine that wasn’t heavily tested overtime, and may not be able to risk such a vaccine at all. They would have to rely on herd immunity. The feeling of psychological security it would offer lower-risk people may have some impact.
1) Going much slower than expected, but still expect a sudden shift at some point. It’s starting to look like the health risks are less severe than many feared in April and May, but of course it’s not no big deal either.
2) This is going as I expected, more or less, but I’m surprised by how much working from home continues. I also think concerts could come back early than expected, but they’ve all been postponed by a year now anyway, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to go forward then, by any means. They are tied with stadium sports for the worst possible superspreadever events, I think. Sports are generally so much more important to most people that they will almost certainly get started first, but it is a bit tough because many venues host both so how do you do one without the other? Mandating masks and banning cheering may be attempted, but the problem with both events is that people can’t wear masks and drink, and it’s real hard to keep quiet even if you’re trying. Sports crowds are generally much older, so the reverse could happen—young people adjusting to remote sports, and the older ceasing to attend. I don’t know.
3) This is going on as I expected—not a whole lot of discussion of it, though. Starting to change a bit.
4) Going as expected, to the extent much can be expected here.
Getting a lot of resistance on these, so adding more:
1) Higher ed is done. Less from logistics than puncturing the illusion surrounding the ponzi scheme nature of it, as well as the current American dream narrative. Makes people reconsider assumptions, but mostly the money won’t be there or won’t be easily spent. Elite colleges for certain things will return—tech and humanities—most people will stop getting a traditional college degree and turn to other types of programs or focus on ones that don’t require it. Credentialism will lessen in many areas.
2) Not as sure here, but pretty significant economic disruption as people can’t pay bills and default on mortgages and try to save money. It seems like the real estate bubble should crash, but everyone pushes back on this. Obviously, will depend on the location, but office real estate most definitely. I don’t see how this can’t cause a problem with residential either. It makes people think of the future differently. This may be mitigated by government intervention, probably a much bigger and more controlling government, or it could lead to decentralization.
3) As a result of 2), I tend to think permanent (for my lifetime, at least) reduction in American standard of living and also probably life expectancy. We were at the peak of living standards and it was unsustainable, borrowed from the future and past in a way that cannot be repaid or regained, because much of it is actually related to ones perceptions psychologically/narrative, as well as other interlocking manipulations, and the whole thing will unravel now—the whole infinite growth and progress thing is not persuasive enough anymore. Nor is the post-truth/post-politics world. Return to object level. This will mean that people are much less obsessed with lengthening their life without any cost-benefit calculation—Boomers will probably be peak healthcare consumption for some time. Everyone else will see a future where people languish in nursing homes, and have a less rosy expectation, and be more aware of the fact of death. This awareness of the tradeoffs, combined with the impact of COVID-19 (assuming it doesn’t peter out, but I imagine it will have some effect), will shave a few years off the average life span.
4) Massive inter- and intra- generational conflict. Appears to already be starting. Major problems between many Boomers and their kids. Their kids mainly dysfunctional and unable to break free of the assumptions they were raised with fully. Overly obedient for good reason. But ultimately will probably still wrench the wheel away from the leadership class eventually, as they aren’t tolerable at this point. There will definitely be some capable factions out there regardless of the overall issues.