I linked to a Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article about why this debunked idea still keeps coming up and the harms associated with it. Just printing articles and pointing people to them wasn’t enough. I don’t have more to say about your specific arguments because I think they’re covered pretty well by the article I linked.
That article is just a list of a bunch of opinions people have and it is nothing more than a gossip piece. Literally all it does is repeat things like:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former Iranian president who seems unable to resist a good opportunity to propagate falsehoods (even Al-Qaida once asked him to stop making things up), also got in on the coronavirus conspiracy action. In an open letter to the UN secretary-general, he wrote that it was clear that the virus was “produced in laboratories … by the warfare stock houses of biologic war belonging to world hegemonic powers.”
Lentzos worries that the parade of prominent figures promoting the bioweapons conspiracy theory could weaken the global taboo against possessing bioweapons—making biological weapon research appear to be widespread.
It does nothing to even begin commenting on why these ideas keep spreading, just that they are and who is spreading them. Likewise, exactly nothing in that article responds to anything I’ve said.
It’s no wonder that linking to trash like this doesn’t convince anyone. To even get started you need to be able to link to things like this. Then you need to have people who can understand why that is credible explain it to their social circle who respect them and wouldn’t understand it on their own. And that means you need an army of people who are capable of empathizing with the very real concerns that these “conspiracy theorists” have instead of falling into the trap of arrogance to hide from their own difficulties in being persuasive and credible.
Yes, it’s hard. Let’s get to work.
“Considered harmful” is what Wikipedia refers to as “weasel words”. By whom? Why do we care what they think? It’s much better to make the case directly than to attempt to weasel in a (false) sense of consensus. Doing the latter damages your credibility, and you’re going to need that.If you’re concerned about conspiracy theories “failing to be debunked”, what you need are honest and credible experts. The public can’t evaluate the claims themselves. Heck, I’m a pretty smart guy and I can’t evaluate the evidence based on looking at the genome itself or even from evaluating the object level claims of people who have. But I and many many others are smart enough to notice a big coincidence when we see one, and smart enough to know that many many people like to think it’s a good idea to censor, distort, or otherwise lie about things to paint their preferred viewpoint. Honestly and openness is critical if you want to persuade anyone of anything. If you say “The bio-weapon theory has been debunked as just a conspiracy theory”, what am I supposed to take from that? That you are very open to this theory would speak publicly about all evidence you find in its favor if only it existed? Or that you want to silence “information hazards” with weasel phrases and like to use terms like “debunked” or maybe even “conspiracy theory” to discredit ideas without even diving into whether or not they might be true? When the latter is a strong possibility, we can’t just take things like “X has been debunked” on faith. I actually don’t think it’s a bio-weapon and I do believe it has been debunked. But the reason for this is that when I look to people who are able to evaluate the object level claims themselves, the ones who are capable of honestly considering and stating “yep, this sure looks like a bio-weapon” are actually saying “yeah, I considered that hypothesis myself because it’s a totally reasonable thing to check, but it turns out that this one looks natural (and here’s why, if you want to check my work)”. That is the only way you can debunk these things, since everyone can’t become virology experts overnight and you can’t declare yourself into credibility by fiat.You’re right that now is not the time to be starting wars, and I think there is a very persuasive case to be made for that. Fighting and posturing are last and second to last resorts respectively, and not ones we want to hastily resort to ever, let alone in difficult times where there might be a flinch to do so. It is a bad idea to pick fights and start wars, especially when the ability to cooperate globally is most important, especially especially without thinking these things through very very carefully. However, this all holds true even if it were a bio-weapon, or escaped from a lab due to negligence, or spread worldwide due to attempted cover-ups/etc. Instead of removing your voice from the conversation that will happen anyway and has to happen anyway, use your voice to say what needs to be said. “Yes, it’s very reasonable to suspect that it might be a bio-weapon, and that’s why we checked. It doesn’t look like it is”. “Yes, it is very important for people and organizations to be held accountable for their actions. It is also very important to first make sure we know what those actions actually are and to give people the benefit of the doubt both on what they did and their willingness to take responsibility voluntarily first. Now is the time to cooperate with one another to fight this pandemic. Later is the time to sort through the mistakes we made and make sure we’re all working honestly to avoid repeating them for personal gain or otherwise”.
Looking at a 50% low risk, 50% high risk scenario, we can only save 50% of what we could save if we started in a 50% high risk scenario.
I don’t think this is right.
It’s worth noting that the 14x difference between the risk for the first kid in the house and the second is a (noisy) lower bound on the degree to which the risk depends on dose. For example, this data is consistent with the toy model that the risk vs dose is a step function going from 0% to 100% at a certain point; it would just require that the kid bringing the disease into the house is 14x less likely to have crossed that threshold. With intentional inoculation we don’t know how much lower the risk can be driven, nor do we know how much of the exceptionally bad cases are simply due to exceptionally high initial dose of the virus. It’s entirely possible that even in your “50% low risk 50% high risk” scenario, all or most of the low risk people that die are because of unusually high viral loads given their risk grouping, and that with careful titration of dosage we can do much better than shifting people from one crude grouping to another.
I’m also quite skeptical that we should find the absence of more evidence to be particularly damning. Where would it come from? Ethics boards aren’t going to be happy about intentionally infecting people with deadly diseases, and it’s hard to get more than a very crude guess at the initial dose of cases caught “in the wild”. Furthermore, if you’re going to intentionally inject people with non-potent virus in order to build antibodies, you’d normally want to go all the way and do an actual vaccine. How many people have been thinking about what to do in case there’s a pandemic where you can’t wait for a real vaccine, and how many of them have been studying variolation? I wouldn’t think many.
To me, it sounds like taking volunteers to empty cruise ships sounds like an easy and potentially big win. There are plenty of young people who aren’t concerned and aren’t at high risk to begin with, and you can offer them both a lower risk (because they’re likely to get it anyway), a free party, and a way to feel like they’re helping instead of hurting other people. In return we get data, a step towards herd immunity, and workers which can safely treat other patients or run nursing homes. Once we need to scale up we can start thinking on how to triage people who are wanting to take this risk. For now, it seems like we just want to rush to get this idea accepted and tried somewhere.
When you’re dealing with a threat that doubles in size every few days, you do not have the luxury of excess caution. Inverted pendulums have an exponentially growing error as well, and no matter what you do (or don’t do) to react, if your control system doesn’t do it faster than the instability grows, you lose. Period. If you try to move slowly in the act of balancing, then you will fall off the tight rope no matter how sure you later become of what the right action would have been. It is fundamentally necessary to be able to react and then correct for errors later (so yes, pre-frame this in your communication so that you don’t over-commit to something you will need to later change).It’s also worth noting that “literally everyone on earth” only starts trying to solve the problem once they know that it’s a problem, and at the time that Pueyo’s first essay came out, that was absolutely not the case. At that time, I was still scrambling trying to figure out how to best leverage my credibility and communication skills to convey the exact same point about “Why you must act now” because people around me had not yet come to realize how serious an issue this was going to be. Sure, they’d have heard it without me too. But they would have heard it later with less time to act, and might not have taken it as seriously without my credibility behind it. If enough people like me took your advice they might not have heard it at all because it could be out competed by other less useful memes.It’s just that, as you manage to find alternative takes (perhaps by credentialed experts, perhaps not) that find flaws in the memes you’ve been spreading, you spread those too. I would say “correct for your mistakes” except that it’s not even a “mistake” necessarily, just “a clarification of oversimplification” or “the next control input given the newest estimate of the state”.As we get deeper into this mess and people start mobilizing, then “do something in this general direction!” becomes less important. At some point you have to wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far, or if we need to be acting in a different direction, or something else. When everyone in the world is thinking about it we now have a very different problem and instead of simply requiring an ability to take back of the envelope models seriously when they are outside the “socially accepted reality”, you actually need more detailed analyses. Still, public opinion will need to get on board with whatever is necessary, and in the absence of your input the memes don’t just stop and wait for science, and neither does the coronavirus. If you try to say “but I can pick nits! This isn’t credentialed and perfect!” and try to replace useful first steps with inaction, then you blow your credibility and with it your ability to help shape things for the better. Let’s not do that.Yes, it is important to not initiate or signal boost bad information at the cost of good ones. Yes, it is important to look for people who are (actually) experts. But it’s also important to provide a path from the real experts to the layfolk, since that doesn’t and cannot happen on its own. The public in general not only can’t evaluate the object level arguments about epidemiology and must defer to authority, they can’t even evaluate object level arguments about who is the real authority—that’s why you get antivaxxers listening to crackpots. It’s appeals to authority (mixed in with justifications) all the way up. If you can’t create the best ideas but you can distinguish between the best ideas and those which merely look good to the untrained eye, it is your job to pass the best ideas down to those who are less able to make that distinction. If you can’t make that distinction yourself but you can at least distinguish between people who can and posers, then it is your job as the next link in the chain to pass this information from those more able to discern to those who are less able to discern than you. This goes all the way down to the masses watching the news, and you better hope you can get the news to get their shit together. I still know people who are in denial because mainstream news told them to be and then failed to appropriately correct for their earlier mistakes. Let’s work to fix that.Exponential memetic spread does not pathology make. Yes, it’s possible for overactive or mistargeted immune systems to fail to prevent things or to do more harm than good. Yes, Dunning Kruger applies and humility is as necessary as ever. However, so is the courage to be bold and to take action when it is called for instead of hiding in false humility. This “intellectual curve” is a part of our collective immune response to an actual virus which is killing people and threatening to kill exponentially more. Do not flatten the wrong curve. Find a role that allows you to guide it in the right direction, and then guide.
Here’s my answer:There is an important distinction between “object level arguments” and “appeals to authority”. Contrary to how it’s normally spoken about, appeal to authority is not really fallacious and at times absolutely necessary. If I am unable to parse the object level arguments myself, I have to defer to experts. The only issue is whether I have the self awareness and integrity to say “I’m not capable of evaluating this myself, so unfortunately I have to defer to the people I trust to get these things right. Maybe you’re right and I’m just not smart enough to see it”. However, this must ground out somewhere. If you listen to people who only appeal to authority (whether it is their own or others) and there are never any attempts to ground things in object level arguments, then there is nothing this trust is founded on and so your beliefs can float away with no connection to reality.What I do is take into consideration all object level arguments which I am not personally qualified to evaluate, and then weigh my trust in the various “authorities” based on how capable they seem in actually getting into the object level and making at least as much sense as the people they’re arguing against. As it applies here, the amateurs linked to actually got into the object level and made very plausible sounding arguments. I didn’t see any major holes in the main premise, even if I could pick less important nits. I never saw any credentialed authority engaging in the object level and making even plausibly correct counterarguments which negated the main point of these amateur models. There were a lot of “don’t worry, nothing to see here”, but there weren’t any that were backed up by concrete models that didn’t have visible holes. The people I’m going to listen to (regardless of how capable I personally am of evaluating the object level arguments) are those who 1) have been willing to stick their neck out and make actual arguments, and 2) haven’t had their neck chopped off by people pointing out identifiable mistakes in ways that are either personally verifiable or agreed upon by a more compelling network of “authority”.I think this heuristic worked pretty well in this case.
I’m not so sure the recommendation for walking over driving holds up. According to the CDC “Per trip, pedestrians are 1.5 times more likely than passenger vehicle occupants to be killed in a car crash.”
Strong disagree. Anyone who knows how to operate their weapon and is willing to use it is a formidable threat to all but the most trained and determined invaders. The level of accuracy needed to hit a man sized target inside a house with a long gun is really low. Low enough that if you miss the problem isn’t that you aren’t yet skilled in the art of aiming, it’s that you didn’t make sure to aim at all before you pulled the trigger.
The bigger barrier is psychological. If you can’t get yourself to take deliberate aim on another human and pull the trigger knowing what will happen, then a firearm might not be useful. If you can do that though, the mechanics won’t be a problem except in the difficult cases.
Right, I got that it was them doing the math correction not you. Still, they did the math and give an age breakdown of the passengers and a crude sanity check gives a number within about 30% of what they report.
I’m not sure what makes you think it doesn’t have sharp edges. In order to not have sharp edges it would need to be a bar, not flexible tape.
Yeah, the 1/8th multiplier sounded hard to believe. A 1⁄2 multiplier based on demographic correction sounds a lot more plausible, and it’s nice to have confirmation that someone else actually did the math. Thanks for finding/sharing it!
The one situation where an entire, closed population was tested was the Diamond Princess cruise ship and its quarantine passengers. The case fatality rate there was 1.0%, but this was a largely elderly population, in which the death rate from Covid-19 is much higher.
Projecting the Diamond Princess mortality rate onto the age structure of the U.S. population, the death rate among people infected with Covid-19 would be 0.125%.
John Ioannidis is making an interesting (and reassuring, if true) claim here. Has anyone looked at the demographics and done the comparison themselves?
Yes, that looks right. The edges of any thin tape are going to be sharp, it’s just that copper is strong enough to hold that geometry instead of folding easily before it cuts you.
Unless you’re underwater or in a hyperbaric chamber, oxygen toxicity isn’t really a big concern, and a cheap oxygen concentrator like the one described above can’t get you close to where problems start. Even if you had a better oxygen concentrator, it doesn’t take any fancy training to add oxygen until 92% saturation or whatever.
Bowing down to authority every time someone tells me not to do something isn’t going to accomplish that.
Not if applied across the board like that, no. At the same time, a child who ignores his parents’ vague warnings about playing in the street is likely to become much weaker or nonexistent for it, not stronger. You have to be able to dismiss people as posers when they lack the wisdom to justify their advice and be able to act on opaque advice from people who see things you don’t. Both exist, and neither blind submission nor blind rebellion make for successful strategies.
An important and often missed aspect of this is that not all good models are easily transferable and therefore not all good advice will be something you can easily understand for yourself. Sometimes, especially when things are complicated (as the psychology of human minds can be), the only thing that can be effectively communicated within the limitations is an opaque “this is bad, stay away”—and in those cases you have no choice but to evaluate the credibility of the person making these claims and decide whether or not this specific “authority” making this specific claim is worth taking seriously even before you can understand the “why” behind it. Whether you want to want to heed or ignore the warnings here is up to you, but keep in mind that there is a right and wrong answer, and that the cost of being wrong in one direction isn’t the same as the other. A good heuristic which I like to go by and which you might want to consider is to refrain from discounting advice until you can pass the intellectual Turing test of the person who is offering it. That way, you can know that when you choose to experiment with things deemed risky, you’re at least doing it informed of the potential risks.
FWIW, I think the best argument against spending effort on tulpas isn’t the risk but just the complete lack of reward relative to doing the same things without spending time and effort on “wrapping paper” which can do nothing but impede. You’re hardware hours limited anyway, and so if your “tulpa” is going to become an expert in chess it will be with eye/hand/brain hours that you could have used becoming an expert in chess yourself. If your tulpa is going to have important wisdom to offer by virtue of holding different perspectives, those perspectives will be generated with brain time you could have used generating those perspectives for yourself. There’s no rule saying people can’t specialize in more than one thing or be more than uni-dimensional, it’s just a question of where you want to spend your limited hours.
We do, and that’s the point. It’s not “hey, we’re not as bad as them so don’t complain to us!”. It’s that there is already a lot of distrust out there, and giving people something to latch onto with “see, I knew the CDC wasn’t being honest with me!” can keep them from spiraling out of control with their distrust, since at least they know where it ends.
Mild well sourced criticism is way more encouraging of trust than no criticism under obvious threat of censorship because the alternative isn’t “they must be perfect” it’s “if they have to hide it, the problems are probably worse than ‘mild’”.
But then I thought the psychological consequences for a not inconsiderable amount of people would be disastrous, as it seems to my girlfriend. [...] I don’t want to be a information hazard source.
It’s important to note that unpleasant emotions are functional when faced with a new threat that one hasn’t prepared for; the whole point of emotions like fear is to reorient ourselves towards the reality we find ourselves in and come up with a more informed (and therefore hopefully more effective) response. It is always unpleasant to realize that things aren’t quite as nice as we’ve been hoping and planning on, but the actual information hazard would be things that “protect” people from the emotion that could have protected their life and well being as well as the life and well being of their loved ones. What you’re talking about doing is the opposite of an information hazard.That said, there are a few things that can be important for doing it right.One is that you want to draw very clear boundaries between the position you advocate and alarmism. You’re pushing for integration of scary information as well, not for blindness to good news and the potential for optimism. You don’t want to push people from “white thinking” to “black thinking”, you want to encourage people to take in all information and pick the most appropriate shade of gray given the current information available. Not only is some shade of gray more accurate than pure black, making this distinction clear will help you persuade people. When people are primed and ready to “not give into alarmist/doomer thinking”, you don’t want them to pattern match you as this opposite form of irrational thought. If you have had/seen any conversations about this where people are saying “it’s not the end of the world” in response to statements like “it’s not ‘just the flu’”, this is what is going on. You’re seeing them argue against what they don’t want to believe rather than what is being argued. I would make sure to include and emphasize everything optimistic you can without sacrificing accuracy, and make sure you’re not trying to “push one side” as much as offer more information as someone who can see both the reassuring and the scary.Secondly, recognize the fact that you are deliberately exposing people to scary ideas which many many people are not emotionally prepared to deal with. The whole reason people dismiss reasonable arguments as “alarmist” is because their emotional response would be somewhat like your girlfriend’s, and they don’t want to have to face that. To every extent you can, ease this transition. Be comforting and hospitable, even if just in body language or vocal tone in a YouTube video. You want to emphasize (explicitly or implicitly) that feeling fear is not a sign of cowardice but of courage—after all, they’ve proven themselves capable of avoiding it if they wanted to. You want to give people an idea of what they can do, and what their cues should be for various decisions. This can help lower the amount of uncertainty that they will have to deal with and make the transition more comfortable, as well as cutting down on the unnecessarily duplicated cognitive effort of “figuring out what the hell to do about it”. People are always free to doubt and question and to disagree, of course, but it can be nice having a “default” value to jump to so that you can update on risks without having to be emotionally and mentally ready to compute all your own ideas on first principles.This is very important work, as there are relatively few people who are willing and able to engage with the scarier possibilities without losing touch of hope and succumbing to alarmist paranoia and losing all credibility. I definitely encourage you to make the video.
I don’t know whether AC or DC would be a better choice if we were starting from scratch now, but both systems were proposed and tried very early in the history of electrical power generation and I’m pretty sure all the obvious arguments on both sides were aired right from the start.
DC wasn’t really a viable option at the start because of the transformer issue you mentioned. The local power lines carry ~100x higher voltage than what you get in your house, and the long distance power lines up to another 100x on top of that. Without that voltage step up, you’d need 100-10,000x as much wire.
Modern semi conductors change the game considerably though. In a lot of areas, the big iron transformers are getting phased out and replaced with switching power supplies, which suggests that it could be economically efficient now, if not for the requirement for a 50 or 60hz sinewave and existing stuff.
A DC based system would have advantages of not requiring rectification on many end uses, give some minor improvement in corona losses in transmission, and would allow for variable speed generators. It would come at the cost of controller-less induction motors and clocks that use the AC signal to keep time. I’m not sure about the cost of doing the voltage step-up/step-down because both methods are still in use. I’m not sure which would be the better choice now, but it is an interesting question.
Over on Facebook (I don’t know if it’s possible to link to a Facebook post, but h/t Alexander Kruel) and Twitter, the subject of missing qualia has come up. Some people are color-blind. This deficiency can be objectively demonstrated by tasks such as the Ishihara patterns
Lacking the ability to distinguish colors well means your brain does not know which qualia to use, not that it doesn’t have all of the qualia available. I’m red/green color blind (according to the tests, and difficulty determining the color of small things), but I have very distinct red and green qualia. Most of the time my experience feels like “I’m unsure if this line is red or green”, which is different than “this line is red-green, as there is not actually a difference between the thing people call ‘red’ and the thing people call ‘green’”.
However, I have also had the experience of having red text show up as bright green and then switch on me. I was reading part of the sequences back in the day, and I could tell from the context that the word “GREEN” was supposed to be red (stroop tests), but my brain took that as a cue that the text was supposed to be green. When I brought my face closer to the screen to check, the text flipped to red. When I backed up it returned to green. In between, individual pieces of each letter would start to flip color.
Okay, I thought that might be the case but I wasn’t sure because the way it was worded made it sound like the first interaction was real. (“You can see I was showing off my mastery of basic economics.” doesn’t have any “[in this hypothetical]” clarification and “This seemed like a good move to me at the time” also seems like something that could happen in real life but an unusual choice for a hypothetical).To clarify though, it’s not quite “doubt that it’s sufficiently realistic”. Where your simulated conversation differs from my experience is easily explained by differing subcommunication and preexisting relationships, so it’s not “it doesn’t work this way” but “it doesn’t *have to* work this way”. The other part of it is that even if the transcript was exactly something that happened, I don’t see any satisfying resolution. If it ended in “Huh, I guess I didn’t actually have any coherent point after all”, it would be much stronger evidence that they didn’t actually have a coherent point—even if the conversation were entirely fictional but plausible.
1) There is a risk in looking at concrete examples before understanding the relevant abstractions. Your Uber example relies on the fact that you can both look at his concrete example and know you’re seeing the same thing. This condition does not always hold, as often the wrong details jump out as salient.
To give a toy example, if I were to use the examples “King cobra, Black mamba” to contrast with “Boa constrictor, Anaconda” you’d probably see “Ah, I get it! Venomous snakes vs non-venomous snakes”, but that’s not the distinction I’m thinking of so now I have to be more careful with my selection of examples. I could say “King cobra, Reticulated python” vs “Rattlesnake, Anaconda”, but now you’re just going to say “I don’t get it” (or worse yet, you might notice “Ah, Asia vs the Americas!”). At some point you just have to stop the guessing game, say “live young vs laying eggs”, and only get back to the concrete examples once they know where to be looking and why the other details aren’t relevant. Anything you have to teach which is sufficiently different from the persons pre-existing world view is necessarily going to require the abstractions first. Even when you have concrete real life experiences that this person has gone through themselves, they will simply fail to recognize what is happening to them. Your conclusion “I showed three specific guesses of what Michael’s advice could mean for Drew, but we have no idea what it does mean, if anything.” is kinda the point. When you’re learning new ways of looking at things, you’re not going to immediately be able to cache them out into specific predictions. Noticing this is an important step that must come before evaluating predictions for accuracy if you’re going to evaluate reliably. You do have to be able to get specific eventually, or else the new abstractions won’t have any way to provide value, but “more specificity” isn’t always the best next step.2) It seems like the main function you have for “can you give me a concrete example” is to force coherence by highlighting the gaps. Asking for concrete examples is one way of doing this, but it is not required. All you really need for that is a desire to understand how their worldview works, and you can do this in the abstract as well. You can ask “Can you give me a concrete example?”, but you could also ask “What do you think of the argument that Uber workers could simply work for McDonald’s instead if Uber isn’t treating them right?”. Their reasoning is in the abstract, and it will have holes in the abstract too.You could even ask “What do you mean by ‘exploits its workers’?”, so long as it’s clear that your intent is to really grok how their worldview works, and not just trying to pick it apart in order to make them look dumb. In fact, your hypothetical example was a bit jarring to me, because “what do you mean by [..]” is exactly the kind of thing I’d ask and “Come on, you know!” isn’t a response I ever get. 3) Am I understanding your post correctly that you’re giving a real-world example of you not using the skill you’re aiming to teach, and then a purely fictional example of you imagine that the conversation would have gone if you had?I’d be very hesitant to accept that you’ve drawn the right conclusion about what is actually going on in people’s heads if you cannot show it with actual conversations and at the very least provoke cognitive dissonance, if not agreement and change. Otherwise, you have a “fictitious evidence” problem, and you’re in essence trusting your analysis rather than actually testing your analysis.
You say “Once you’ve mastered the power of specificity, you’ll see this kind of thing everywhere: a statement that at first sounds full of substance, but then turns out to actually be empty.”, but I don’t see any indication anywhere that you’ve actually ruled out the hypothesis “they actually have something to say, but I’ve failed to find it”.