The Next Pandemic Could Be Worse, What Can We Do? (A Happier World video)

by Jeroen_W1 min read21st Dec 20206 comments

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VideoCOVID-19 pandemicEffective altruism messagingExistential riskBiosecurity
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I recently got my masters degree in television directing. For my masters project I had to conceptualise a video series and make one episode.

The episode I made is about engineered pandemics and what we can do to help prevent them.

I was thinking of making a longer EA forum post where I'd get more into detail about the process and the results, but this made me postpone sharing it here altogether. So I think the better approach may be to just answer your questions instead.

I know about infohazards, so I discussed the script with a couple of people who had written on the topic before publishing the video.

I've recently tried to share bits of the video on my Twitter and will continue doing so, but at the moment it has had very little impact on the views.

Any feedback on the video is welcome!

6 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:40 AM
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Hi! Just watched the video and I think it's super well produced, good job.

I was surprised how you managed to summarise a lot of the knowledge I already had on this topic in under 15 minutes.

Furthermore, I have talked to lots of people who mentioned that EA seems underrepresented in video format. YouTube seems like a good opportunity here that could be used more. Regarding this, I think this is valuable work. Also I like that you didn't give it the Effective Altruism "stamp". There should be more discussion on when it's appropriate to publicly advertise EA as a concept and when it's better to just introduce a topic we're concerned about without explicitely relating it to EA. This is related to the idea of external movement building:

Thank you! There is actually a longer version of my video (that I didn't publish) where I mention the EA longterm future fund and quickly pitch EA itself. But I decided to cut out that part because I already share it in a link in the description and it didn't add a lot to the central claims of the video. It would've made the video longer and lose its focus.

Good thinking! Attention spans are short enough these days so 15min seems plenty :) 

Michael Montague, 7:48:

"I think the argument for extinction level events from artificial pathogens is profoundly weak. These complex systems--things like transmissibility, lethality--that's a hard thing to predict, to actually engineer. Just ask yourself how hard is it for record labels to predict which songs are going to be a hit. Until it hits the market, there's really no where to know. And that's a relatively simple situation, which pathogen is going to be immunologically a hit. You might have dialed in this little detail just a little bit wrong--oh it killed the patient too fast to transmit it."

This sounded like an improvised answer instead of a succinct summary of the strongest argument against extinction level events being likely--which I think would have been a more ideal thing to include in the video.

In particular, Michael's answer leads me to wonder how he knows that future technological developments wouldn't make it much easier to predict which pathogens would "immunologically be a hit" and yet the video doesn't tell me.

Or a second objection: Why, given a long enough time horizon, wouldn't the possibility of a bad actor engineering many, many pathogens until one of them finally hits wouldn't be a concern?

This generally looks great!

I hadn't been expecting a professional narrator (at least, I assume that's not your voice, unless you were born to narrate YouTube videos). He does sound a little bit matter-of-fact in some places (like he's trying to sell me a product instead of expounding on the wonders of scientific development), but I think his presence is still a strong net positive.

A few notes  -- I'm avoiding tiny notes for things not worth editing, but thinking about ways to improve future videos:

  • When you mention the drop in extreme poverty being reversed, I think it comes on pretty suddenly. Many or most people don't actually know that poverty was quickly falling. When you have good news to share (even in the context of bad news), I think it's important to make that clear -- a big part of EA's appeal is that we've actually been seeing things get better.
  • The "Al Qaeda pursuing bioterrorism" point had no real detail and no clear external source. If you don't have time to get into something like that, consider making sure it shows up in a "sources" document you include alongside the video.


Things I really liked:

  • The graph lines moving around when you were comparing an engineered to a natural pandemic -- very simple, very clear visual!
  • Same goes for the graphic showing how bioweapons can easily backfire.
  • The really high proportion of the video dedicated to solutions -- that's not typical of this genre, but it really feeds into the EA spirit of the project.

Great video! I didn't know the history about the weaponization of smallpox, cholera, anthrax and plague.